In town to promote Andrew Bujalski’s Results, Guy Pearce was articulate, seemingly unguarded, and quietly enthusiastic as we talked this week at the Crosby Hotel. Pearce’s character, a gym owner and manager named Trevor, is one of three main characters who spar, spark, and bond throughout the film, which our own Chuck Bowen praised as the “rare romantic comedy that’s hopeful without resorting to condescending, deadening platitude, temporarily lending respectability to the phrase ’life-affirming.’” A fan of his director’s “slightly odd, asymmetrical rhythm,” Pearce spoke of finding just the right balance between sharpness and cluelessness for Trevor, and about why it was a relief to play the part in his own Ozzie accent. He also had plenty to say about why Tom Hardy is the new Brando.
You usually play characters who are very self-aware and smart and capable, but Trevor is pretty clueless, in a sweet and funny way. Was it fun to play a bit of a dim bulb for a change? Or did you not think of him that way?
Yeah, yeah, I do. [Laughs] Andrew said, “I don’t want him to be too dumb.” I said, “No, but in all my years of going to gyms and seeing gym junkies and trainers, there’s a real sharpness to them, there’s a real confidence about spreading the word about fitness and stuff, but there’s a slight blind spot. And I’m interested in that blind spot.” He said, “So am I,” so that was great.
There’s something about that fixation on fitness, almost to a religious extent, for a lot of those guys, where to me they’re hiding a lot of emotional stuff, whether they know it or not. And we all know that if we go through a difficult time in life we tend to do things to assist getting through, and that might be eating too much, drinking too much, or suddenly starting to get really fit, or we obsess over things. I get the thing about obsessing over fitness, because I’ve been there myself. So it was a really interesting world for me to delve into, because it’s a world I’ve known, on and off, for many years. I mean, I won a bodybuilding competition [Mr. Junior Victoria] when I was 16, 30-odd years ago.
And it’s interesting because it wasn’t a world that Andrew was very familiar with. He said he’d put on a bit of weight after one of the last films he had worked on, so he entered a gym in Austin to work out and get fit and started to examine that world. Andrew’s so delightful to work with. He’s so insightful. His interests are human dynamics, and the ways in which we try to survive every moment of every day, and our levels of consciousness, and the things in our subconscious that we either try to repress or are blissfully unaware of. Or we’re unhappy about things and we don’t know why. All that kind of stuff, the complexities of which hit us every five minutes.
At the same time, there’s a nice kind of comic undertone in his work, which isn’t in too many of your other movies.
Yeah, that’s right. I think a lot of the stuff I’ve done before is fairly earnest and kind of serious and miserable—and I love that as well. I really do. I love the weight of the world that we feel in them, because I can feel that in my own life. But as I get older, I enjoy feeling a bit lighter about things too. And it was funny when Andrew asked me to play Trevor as an Australian. I was picturing him as some American guy. I was resistant at first, but I did a bit of work on it and got my head around it. In a way, it’s a relief not to have to put on an accent, ’cause then you can do all sorts of stuff that just naturally falls out of your mouth, without thinking what shape it’s going to be. Is it “ahr” or is it “arrrr,” you know? I love doing accents, but it’s fucking hard work sometimes. At times, it just gets in the way. I can’t really improvise when I’m doing an accent.
How much of a factor is the director when you’re picking a project? Was wanting to work with Andrew a big part of wanting to do this movie?
He and I met on something else a couple years before. I think it’s called Underage, but at the time it was All Good Kids, I think. About a teacher at a school.
This is a movie?
Which hasn’t been made yet. They’re still talking about making it. I think we both realized I probably wasn’t right for it, but still it was good to meet and start a bit of a relationship. And then a year ago, or whenever it was, he contacted me and said, “I’ve written something else which you’re perfect for. I’ve written it with you in mind.” He had me and Kevin [Corrigan] in mind from the outset. He told me, “I just wanted to put you two in a movie together. And I thought, “What’s a good world to put them in?” Then he started to look at the gym, and he went, “I’ve got it.”
I just love Andrew’s take on the world. I love his slightly odd, asymmetrical rhythm, because it’s natural, it’s how things work. He’s one of those guys I’d do anything for. It’s like Todd Haynes. When they rang me up for Mildred Pierce, they said, “So, Todd Haynes, doing Mildred Pierce for HBO with Kate Winslet,” and I said [shooting his hand up in the air and laughing], “Yes!”
You grew up in Australia when the movie industry there was blossoming. You’ve worked with some good Australian directors, like John Hillcoat and David Michôd. Are there others you’d like to work with?
Oh, Peter Weir! I’d love to work with George Miller, Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi. All those incredible guys that made their mark in the ’70s and ’80s. They all kind of progressed to Hollywood and I unfortunately missed them. I’m 47 now ,so I was 12 in 1980, and I didn’t really start working in films until I was 20, 21. Fred and I have talked a number of times about different jobs. I’m sure we’ll get to do something together one day.
Did you try out for the latest Mad Max movie, or did you feel like one post-apocalyptic road movie, The Rover, was enough?
Actually, my agent, a while back—six, seven years ago—said, “They’re redoing Mad Max and you’re perfect for it, and I really want you to meet George!” I don’t know why we never met. Maybe George just said, “No, I’ve got my mind set on someone.” As much as your agent pushes, sometimes things just don’t happen if the director has a vision in mind, which is fair enough. I’m not interested in making somebody employ me if I’m not right for their film. There’s nothing worse, to be honest. And, Tom Hardy. Whoa! I worked with him a couple years ago.
Yeah, he’s just great.
He’s phenomenal, isn’t he?
He’s like you in that he can do just about anything. Both of you have played such a range of parts and been great in all of them.
And he has that amazing physicality too.
Well, he really does. He’s so compelling to me. I can’t take my eyes off him. I was on Lawless for a month and I couldn’t take my eyes off him for the whole time I was there. I hate to use the word Brando, but there’s a quality about Tom, to me, that’s reminiscent of Brando—that incredible masculine physicality. He’s more sort of messed-up-looking than Brando, but he’s kind of beautiful. So masculine, but he has this incredible delicate sensibility, in this body that’s—wow! And he’s so unpredictable, which I think is the greatest quality an actor can have. Like Kevin Corrigan. Being on set with Kevin was just amazing. I’m not unpredictable. I’m so predictable. Really, I rehearse a scene and I say, “This is what I’m going to do,” and I just keep doing the same thing all the time, and try to make it as natural as I possibly can. I can’t change it up between takes, really, not like some guys can. Those guys, they’re like electricity. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Your wife is a psychologist. To me, a really good actor has to be kind of an amateur psychologist.
Is that something you feel like you two have in common, being sort of unusually tuned in to other people’s feelings?
Well, I guess. She’s a social worker. She works for an organization for disaffected youth, 12- to 25-year-olds. It’s funny, because I’ll theorize about human behavior and then she’ll correct me.
Do you ever talk to her when you’re developing a character?
I’ll always show her a script I’m reading. I always want to hear her take on it. If she says, “I don’t know what to say. I just don’t believe it,” I say, “Thanks, that’s all I needed to hear.” [Mimes throwing the script away.]