guy pearce on fame, fake fans, and anger management
The actor sits down with i-D to discuss his new film, Results, where he plays an Australian gym owner.
In modern Hollywood, superlatives have a tendency to be hurled with as much insincerity and consistency as Mike Huckabee putting his foot in his bigoted mouth. Perhaps that's why, when I sat down with Results director Andrew Bujalski at Sundance, I was skeptical of a line he dropped mid-conversation: Guy Pearce is one of the finest "specimen of humanity." It's unusual to hear another human being bestow such a compliment onto his fellow man. And yet, after spending an afternoon on the phone with Pearce, it's hard to refute this grandiose claim. The Australian expat, whose tremendous work dominates everything from L.A. Confidential to Memento to Iron Man 3, does indeed come across as a kind, generous soul. His ability to speak from the heart is apparent both in conversation and in Results, where he plays a quixotic gym owner whose sense of purpose is predicated on physical fitness.
What immediately struck you about the work and person of Andrew Bujalski?
He has a great sense of trust in allowing the murky, weird, uncomfortable details that exist within any dynamic between two or more people to come through. He's interested in capturing that stuff on film, and letting you sit in it as an audience member. Other films are more conventional, hitting certain beats throughout the movie -- following a bit of a path that's standard. He makes things for really honest reasons, and I love his take on personality and psychology.
In talking to Andrew he mentioned that there was some pushback from you regarding the accent. Do you not like performing in your native tongue?
Originally when he sent me the script, he never talked about the character being non-America. But at a certain point he said, "What do you think about him being Australian?" And I was resistant at first because I started to get it in my head that he was this American guy and was picturing a different character. I had to undo that and start again. But once I got my head around it was fine. It was still unusual to be working on an American film in America with an Australian accent, because I've never done that before. It's so much easier to work without an accent.
People are used to hearing you with an American accent.
Yeah, and it's great fun to do, but it is an extra level of work that you have to constantly monitor and maintain. To be able to let that go was a bit of a relief.
Did you still feel like you were playing a character, despite speaking how you normally speak?
Absolutely. I certainly didn't use my own Australian accent, and it wasn't even so much about the accent. It was more the attitude. I needed to find somebody who had that real earnest focus where he could be almost evangelical, really believe what he's saying. In America, you have much more national pride and patriotism. There's a real sort of belief about the country here. In Australia we are much more ambivalent about our own country. And the interesting thing is, I've met a number of Australians that have lived in American for some time that have taken on that American self-belief. So it was fascinating to play an Aussie who has transformed and embraced "the I can do anything" quality that Americans seem to inhabit naturally. We applaud failure in Australia.
So you're not an upbeat, earnest person?
I'm more cynical than that. I can certainly be earnest, and I can more upbeat now than I used to be.
Why is that?
Well, I just got sick of being the miserable sort. I knew I had to change and had to work on myself. I really do prefer to laugh than to be angry.
When did this change come about?
I started to really work on it in 2001. I was just getting angrier with everybody and grumpier, and less tolerant, and I found myself being so bitter about everything that I knew I had to do something about it. So years of therapy and working on changing my attitude has really helped. I can still get angry and moody as my mother would say, but I can get myself out of it quicker. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy to be cynical.
Have you ever grown cynical about the movie industry?
I think I was already cynical about it, because I was working as an actor in theatre when I was a kid. When I was eighteen I was on a television show in Australia that was incredibly popular. And I found the whole fame stuff annoying, and completely fraudulent and it didn't feel balanced. I have a sister with an intellectual disability who struggles just to get through each day, and I found it disgusting that people I didn't know in the streets would come up and tell me how incredible I was because of some stupid TV show that I was on.
And then when I started working in America, as happens in Hollywood, you hear a lot of people say, "Oh my god, you're incredible" and all this stuff that isn't true. From 1996-2000 I was angry again.
Do you not believe in compliments?
I believe in real compliments. There's a lot of fake ones in Hollywood. If you're recognisable at all, people behave in strange ways around you. I get it now.
How do people act now when they see you?
In different ways. The more I've changed my own attitude, I find I get recognised less now anyway. It's just like water off a duck's back to me now. And it's not like I have people throwing themselves at me like Tom Cruise would have.
Pivoting to your character in Results, has physical fitness always been a vital part of your life?
I was into gym training when I was pretty young. I won a body-building contest when I was 16 years old. I know there's value in maintaining a certain level of fitness. I wouldn't call myself fit these days. I just feel better in my life when I'm in good shape, but it's harder when you get older.
My issue is that there needs to be an objective in working out, which is why basketball is so great.
(Laughs) For me the objective is just staving off depression. Also, I have two dogs and they need to be walked anyway. I find that it changes the colour of my day, even if it's a fast walk for an hour. I really feel stagnant if I don't. We almost treat diets and working out as a religious experience, as if it's going to give us all the answers to our lives. And I know the marketing and advertising behind that sometimes suggests that's the case. Obviously it's very important to watch out for our bodies, but I do think the marketing, whether it's in the form of Hollywood or television ads, can really suck a lot of people in. People can get obsessed with working out and forget about the other aspects of their lives.
Text Samuel Fragosoa