It’s been ten years since the inverted psychological thriller Memento put Guy Pearce on the map — although in Australia, he had long been a part of the geography. From his early days an Aussie teen idol (he was on Neighbours with Kylie Minogue), Pearce became an indie star (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Memento), flirted with leading man roles (L.A. Confidential, The Time Machine), then turned back to character roles with a vengeance (The Proposition, Factory Girl). His résumé these days is hard to pin down, but he’s got a strong instinct for good projects: Pearce was a memorable, if brief, presence in last year’s Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker and this year’s front-runner The King’s Speech. Next up: the highly anticipated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, opposite Kate Winslet. Vulture spoke to Pearce upon the release of the 10th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition of Memento and found him surprisingly humble for a guy who once turned down the role of Daredevil.
So are you going to the Oscars?
No, I’m not actually. The reality is that we have all these awards and all these festivals that give out awards, so you sort of go, okay, well, people liked the film, and I think it’s a good film, and it’s up for an award — well, I guess it should win the award then. I hope it does. And you end up hoping all these things, but then you question yourself for hoping them. [Laughs.] So I’m really mixed up about it, to be honest.
Did you have a particular moment when you threw up your hands and gave up on awards shows?
No, I don’t think I’d want to allow myself to go down that road, to be honest. I do think it was a bit of a joke that L.A. Confidential got beaten by Titanic ten years ago.
I just kind of went, ugh, all right, okay. But at the same time, if something’s out of your hands, there’s no point in being too disappointed. And the unusual thing with Hurt Locker winning last year and The King’s Speech being up this year, is that I really only worked on those films for a very short time. So I feel a little embarrassed by people saying, like, “God, you must be so excited about The Hurt Locker!” And I think, well, for the three days I worked on it, sure. You feel embarrassed when people give you the congratulations that Colin Firth should be getting.
Your IMDb page is fascinating, because you have one of the most wildly varied résumés I’ve ever seen. Do you try to keep surprising yourself?
I certainly have an idea about what I like, and I just really enjoy going from one extreme to another. I don’t understand the actor who plays the same role from movie to movie. Maybe it’s because I worked on long-running television when I was in my teens, and so the idea of playing the same role just bores me intensely. I’d rather not do it at all.
So is Mildred Pierce the closest you think you’ll ever get to doing TV again?
Well, I’d like to think so. You never say never, but I don’t think I’d want to do a long-running series. But obviously, Todd Haynes and Kate Winslet on an HBO mini-series doesn’t really feel like standard TV. There was no question about saying yes to that.
Between Memento and L.A. Confidential, you were perceived as a film noir type for a while there.
Look, I enjoy the fact that people find the work that I do quite varied. And I probably don’t want to be pigeonholed. But I was probably okay with the fact that that might have been how I was perceived back then, and then I think years later in choosing to do things like Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories — I quite like the fact that that was a bit of a surprise to people. [Laughs.] But in 2007, I did four films that were all very dark: I did a film about a girl who murdered another girl (I Am You); I did Traitor with Don Cheadle; I did The Hurt Locker; and I did Winged Creatures [a.k.a. Fragments], which is a film about a shooting in a diner in L.A. So when Adam Shankman rang me and said, “I want you to do this big dark comedy with Adam Sandler, but I don’t have a script yet,” I said, “Fine! Fine, I’ll come and do it. I don’t even care. I’ll just come and do it.” I just really wanted a change. So I didn’t do it consciously to surprise people. I did it because I felt nicely surprised, I think.
There was a point, though, where I suspect you were getting offered a lot of big blockbuster things. Did you make a conscious decision to move away from that?
I didn’t really get offered a lot of big blockbuster stuff. There were a couple of things that sort of came my way but were terrible. I think I was the guy who people thought was getting a bit of a name, but was cheap enough that they could afford. They couldn’t get Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, so, Let’s get the cheap Aussie guy. Yeah, he’s an up-and-comer! And they were terrible scripts. So I just stayed away from terrible scripts. Had they been good films, then I might have said yes.
So there’s this persistent Internet rumor that you were offered the role of Batman in Batman Begins …
I absolutely wasn’t. Chris Nolan flew me to London to talk about one of the other roles in it, ‘cause he sort of had this idea of going a different kind of way. But it didn’t happen, and I don’t know why exactly, and that’s cool.
Can you say what the role was?
It was Liam Neeson’s role. And there was talk about having the mentor be the same age as Christian Bale, rather than be an older mentor. But maybe they tossed the idea around and other people went, No, that’s not gonna work.
Your name was also associated with 2003’s Daredevil, and came up again when they started talking about a Daredevil reboot last year.
Oh, well I was offered the first Daredevil, yeah.
And you turned it down.
Yeah. It wasn’t really my — I mean, I wasn’ t really sort of — I don’t know. Comic-strip stuff isn’t really my cup of tea, really.
In an interview from eight years ago, you said that you’d like to play Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror when you reached your mid-forties. And there’s been talk about Glee’s Ryan Murphy directing a remake …
Oh, really? I didn’t know about that. Yeah, I love The Rocky Horror Show. I just think the songs are great. The problem with it now is — I don’t know about the rest of the world, but it’s done here in Australia every two years, and they do it in London all the time, and it almost feels like something that’s been done to death a bit. So that would be my reticence now. But I’ve just always loved it, and I think it would be a fun role to play. But I don’t know how you top Tim Curry, really. It would probably just be a Tim Curry impersonation. And I am, I suppose, getting close to my mid-forties now. Well — 43 I suppose is your mid-forties, isn’t it now?
Well, my agent will keep telling everyone that I’m 34.