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Guy Pearce set for glory

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Guy Pearce renounced daytime TV for the big screen. As his latest Oscar-tipped film hits cinemas, Andrew Dickens discovers it’s paid off.

Soap operas are usually the kiss of death for a serious film career. To our knowledge, Al Pacino never had a role in Sunset Beach, while it’s unlikely Steven Spielberg’s going to be calling Dot Cotton any time soon. Guy Pearce, though, is an exception to this rule, shaking off the image of wrestling a labrador in Ramsay Street and garnering a reputation as one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, with roles in films such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the exceptional LA Confidential, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.

Pearce is about to be seen in yet another cracker of a film (Christmas gag intended), playing the throne-chucking Edward VIII alongside Colin Firth’s stammery George VI in The King’s Speech — a multiple Golden Globe nominee and a 2011 Academy Award contender. With a cinematic CV such as his, there’s only one question we can begin with…

Do you still get called Mike?

Yeah. Here I do. If I walk down the street people go, “Oh my God, it’s Mike from Neighbours. How come you’ve not done anything else since then? Are you going back on the show?” “No, I don’t think so.” It’s quite strange. It was in everyone’s living rooms twice a day and I guess quite a prominent part of everyone’s lives.

One or two of you have done all right off the back of Neighbours. Jim Dale’s doing really well…

Alan Dale, who played Jim.

That’ll be the one...

Yeah, Jim and I actually worked together last year. We did an American film in Melbourne with Katie Holmes called Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. It was great to work with him again.

Is there an Aussie acting fraternity in Hollywood that gets together?

There is, but I tend not to do it. I’m a bit of a solo act when I go to LA. I prefer to just go, hibernate, do my thing and leave. But there’s very much a strong band of Aussies that stick together. There kind of is anywhere.

Has the group disowned Mel Gibson?

I’m not really sure. Maybe. Every Aussie knows that Mel’s not actually Australian, he’s American, so it always felt a little odd claiming him as an Aussie.

You filmed Memento with director Christopher Nolan in 2000. Did you recognise the genius at the time?

Yeah. I read Memento and then I saw [Nolan’s first film] Following a couple of days later. And then I met him. And it was very obvious that he was a bright spark with a wonderful cinematic knowledge and a great interest in psychology. I had no idea what he’d go on to become, but it was no surprise to me. Chris can say in one line exactly what he’s after — he’s very articulate. He’s just the real deal. He has a great eye and great brain and a very playful, creative quality about him.

So you wouldn’t complain about working with him again?

No, not at all.

So, on a completely different tack, you’re a confirmed atheist…

Heathen, I think they call me.

How does that go down in Hollywood? Do you think it’s ever held you back?

I don’t think so, unless it has and I don’t know about it. I guess I tend not to advertise it, but then people don’t really ask. “We’d like you to do this film, but do you believe in God?”

That’s probably why you don’t hang out with Mel Gibson…

I did have a meeting with a producer once and he started talking to me about terrorism and religions and he got quite Bible-beltish about it all. And I said, “Look, I’m a dirty rotten heathen, so you’re talking to the wrong person,” and it was highly offensive to him that I even used that word. And I’ve never worked for him since, so…

Have you ever come across the Hollywood Scientology movement?

No. I’m certainly aware of it and I know some Scientologists. I know Tom [Cruise] a little bit and he’s certainly not one to spread the word uninvited. But it’s pretty fascinating and I’ve passed the Celebrity Centre. I’m very curious to go and have a look.

Do you find it sinister?

I don’t know. There’s a part of me that thinks it might be, but then if it works for people, it works for them. Is it any more sinister than Catholicism? It’s a language I don’t speak, so I don’t know.

Read part two of our Guy Pearce interview here

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