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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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What to do? Music or musing? Nothing or acting? As his fame grows and the films get bigger, Guy Pearce is in a bit of a quandary, he admits to Jenny Cooney Carrillo, while discussing his starring role in Memento.

Though he is perhaps one of the most brilliant actors of his time, Aussie actor Guy Pearce has remained relatively unknown in Hollywood; but his new film, Memento, may change all that. The hit of the Sundance Film Festival, Memento is a small-budget drama directed by Englishman Christopher Nolan, starring Pearce as a man with a rare short-term memory disorder who is unable to make new memories and yet driven in his search for his wifeís killer despite his constant confusion and need to use Polaroids and tattoos to keep track of his own life on a daily basis.

Born in England and raised in Australia, Pearce quickly put his early soap days with Neighbors and Home and Away behind him when he broke out as the cross-dressing star of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy (and an AFI plus an Oscar for Best Costume. . . ). He then followed it up with his unforgettable role as the straight-laced detective at the heart of L.A. Confidential, also starring Russell Crowe. Currently residing in Melbourne with his wife Kate, Pearce is again turning heads in the industry with his finely-nuanced role in Memento and with larger and more visible roles on the horizon.

This film was fascinating to watch. I can only imagine what it was like making it. Did you film it in sequence?
Well, we shot the film any way you would shoot a film and that is location-based. The nice thing for me was that the entire black and white sequence of the film was shot in sequence. That was the last three days of the shoot and was essentially a one-man play. I found it more difficult reading the script the first time than actually shooting the picture. There were various days we would come across a few logical questions like I would be walking around with Polaroids of pictures that I had shot but we had not filmed the scene yet. There were a few odds and sods but overall it was such an inspirational piece of work that anything that seemed difficult or perplexing went out the window.

Speaking of memory, as your movie does, how is your memory?
Well, I have always known that I have a slightly bad memory but I question my memory even more now after having made this film. I mean, you think you have a particular image or memory; for example my father died when I was very young and I put him on a pedestal. But after having done this film, I went back and looked at a lot of old photographs and questioned what I might have remembered, what may have been fantasy. Your memory is broken up into so many different elements, you know. There are days when I canít remember what I did five minutes ago. Also nerves, anxiety, will all affect oneís memory.

Was the post-production done in Melbourne to accommodate you?
In a way. I was working in Melbourne on an Australian film called Till Human Voices Wake Us with Helena Bonham Carter and so I couldnít really get away. So, thanks to the wonders of modern technology we were able to have me literally in a booth in Melbourne communicating with Chris and the sound guys in L.A. We re-worked some of the voice-over stuff and also re-worked some of the looping that needed to be done.

What about the character? Does this condition really exist and were you able to research the role?
The condition actually does exist. I did a small amount of research on this, spoke to a doctor at home about the various forms of short-term memory loss. There are various ways to lose memory but I really did not feel a need to do a great deal of work at all. As I mentioned before, it was an incredibly inspired piece of writing. Chris did such a beautiful, delicate job of observing this character in this ridiculous or very extreme situation. I mean it may seem ridiculous from an outsiderís point of view and definitely a situation none of us would like to find ourselves in.

How do you go about choosing the roles you play? You seem to reinvent yourself in every role. What is it that attracts you to these projects?
In general the actors I respond to are the actors that reinvent themselves. They are the people that are able to lose themselves in the story, who do not simply make you feel as if you are watching the actor, as such. I am more interested in the extreme personalities that exist out there in the world and if I am inspired by something, I respond. I donít have people telling me what I should do so I find it a really simple process. Sometimes there is a story I quite like but the characters need to be developed, but I like the director and his vision so I will give it a go. It is not really about reinventing myself. It is about discovering characters.

How do you feel about fame?
Actually after having done Neighbors in Australia, which is very popular, I had my fair share of fame. It got a bit mad, being spotted everywhere. Maybe thatís a by-product of why I seek roles where people will not recognize me. It is nice in America where I am hardly recognised at all. If it builds up and I get to that stage again at least I have some experience in knowing how to deal with it.

Do you keep your home in Melbourne to stay grounded and keep track of who you are?
I guess so. I mean, I just donít feel the need to leave Melbourne. If I had to analyse it then yes, I would say that I see Los Angeles as a big workplace and I like to be able to go home on the weekends. I play a lot of music and it is really important for me to be able to go home and play music by myself, kind of recharge. I am constantly questioning whether I want to do this forever, so being able to return to Melbourne is a stabilizer, in a way.

Has your perception of tattoos or Polaroids changed?
Well, it is funny because when you are filming on a set you are constantly being ĎPolaroidedí by either the make-up department or the wardrobe department or the continuity lady. I do kind of listen to it differently now and I canít help but be conscious of the fact that now a moment has been caught. Tattoos you also mentioned. My wife just got another tattoo so I am fascinated by tattoos, by the actual finality of getting a tattoo. I never had the courage to get one myself.

So your wife has one but you donít? What does hers say? ĎGuy Foreverí?
Yeah thatís right, ĎI love my husband!í (laughs). No, she has the Ohm symbol on her stomach and she also has a ganesh elephant on her back. They are quite beautiful images, so I live out my tattoo fantasy through her!

If you were not acting, what would you be doing?
I am constantly questioning why I am there on the film set getting paid to act for people. I am not one of those actors who at the age of twenty thought I would try acting. I got into it when I was about eight in Australia. I found myself going to theater productions with my mother and I so in awe of the feeling that these people on stage gave me that I wanted to get up there and do the same for other people. I wasnít conscious of the decision to make it a career at that time, and now as a thirty-three year old I question the decision that was made when I was young. I question the value of what I do. I question the need for me to get on stage and manipulate peopleís emotions. I look at my insecurities and my inability to feel confident in front of other people and the way in which I might manipulate a situation, act confident or funny or whatever, and it becomes a survival tactic. Ironically, it is what Leonard, my character, does in this film. It is what an actor does. I would rather find a place in my life where I feel calm and confident and content. I feel the more I work and the bigger it gets or the more recognition you get, the more I question if this is what I should be doing. I actually get a lot more satisfaction sitting at home playing guitar and singing to myself, so I am often wondering if music means more to me. I am in a quandary about the whole thing, to be quite honest.

Can you tell me about your up-coming roles in remake of The Time Machine, produced by Steven Spielberg, and the new big-budget version of the classic story The Count of Monte Christo?
I canít tell you anything about Time Machine because I am currently working on it - I find it very difficult to talk about things I am working on. I do find it a fascinating project, I mean the effect the original had on me was great. And now I am sitting in the time machine and being reminded of how I felt when I was a kid watching Rod Taylor in it so that is a really exciting experience. The Count Of Monte Christo, I havenít seen yet but I do know I had a wonderful time shooting it in Ireland and Malta.

Published April 5, 2001

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