Some actors zig. Others zag. Guy Pearce is a zagger. In 1997 he starred in L.A. Confidential opposite another then-little-known actor, Russell Crowe. A few years later, in 2000, the actors’ paths diverged: Crowe went on to the megahit Gladiator and dizzying fame, while Pearce chose the low-budget indie darling Memento, directed by a young Christopher Nolan.
We’ve seen Pearce perform a chameleon’s magic trick over and over — in The Proposition, The King’s Speech, Prometheus, Mildred Pierce — with portrayals that beg for IMDb double-checking: Wait, was that…? In The Rover, he does it again, playing Eric, an inscrutable man living in a post-financial-collapse Australia where the fabric of society has disintegrated to its barest threads. After Eric’s car is stolen, he sets off on a murderous mission to retrieve it, forming an uneasy alliance with Rey (Robert Pattinson). Writer-director David Michôd — who first worked with Pearce on Animal Kingdom — wrote the role with the actor in mind. ”Guy is still a mystery to me, by which I mean despite him being a lovely and warm human being, there is still something hidden about him, something unknowable,” Michôd says via email. ”That unknowability was the main reason I wanted him. [The part] required an actor who can embrace stillness and simplicity while filling that simplicity with detail. Guy is a master at that stuff.”
Pearce, 46, also has a great disappearing act. ”I’m a real hermit,” says the actor, who lives with his wife of 17 years, psychologist Kate Mestitz. ”I never even see other Aussie actors when I’m in Hollywood. The couple of times I did early on I thought, ‘Are we all supposed to be hanging around together ’cause we’re actors?’ Not that I have anything against anybody, but I feel like I have enough friends. When I go to L.A., I really just do my thing and go.”
When Pearce first went to Hollywood, he was uninterested in playing industry games. ”I was really grumpy and didn’t want to be pushed around. At all,” he says with a laugh. ”I saw it as a gift to be given the opportunity, but I’d read scripts that felt ridiculous — parts in daft, big movies. I just didn’t want to do it. I might have had a bigger career had I done that stuff, but I might not have.”
Instead he picks projects by instinct: ”Things have to surprise me on some level. It comes down to whether or not I can really step inside a character and play it.” He pauses. ”When people ask, ‘What are you looking to do next?’ it makes no sense to me whatsoever. I need to see what the universe brings.”
But he allows that his attitude has changed over the years. ”I’m certainly much more open,” he says. ”The idea of saying yes to the big, fun Adam Sandler movie” — Pearce appeared in 2008’s Bedtime Stories — ”I wouldn’t have said yes to that 10 years beforehand. But as long as I can do things like The Rover — stories that are serious and quite meaningful — I’m more than happy to delve into a variety of things.” He laughs. ”I have fun when I work hard.”