The actor says there's a "point" to his role opposite Kate Winslet in the HBO drama.

Everyone's a suspect on HBO's Mare of Easttown, including the man currently winning over Mare (Kate Winslet) herself. Guy Pearce plays Richard on the HBO drama, a writer who comes to town and develops an immediate interest in the hard-shelled detective. EW spoke with Pearce about Richard's role in Mare's life, reuniting with his Mildred Pierce costar Winslet, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with this project?

GUY PEARCE: Well, my lovely old friend Kate Winslet called me and said, "Darling, darling, darling, I'm doing this show and you have to come and do it." I went, "I'm in." You just don't say no when she calls. She told me all about it. I read the scripts, obviously, and got a great sense of what it was about and what was required from me, because it was quite specific, the point of my role, I suppose.

You mention the point of your role, as you put it, so what do you feel like is the point of Richard in this story?

Well, the thing that Kate talked about, and you see as you watch the show, that Kate's character Mare is fairly well ensconced in this small community, and that by being ensconced, her own personal stuff gets kind of put aside. Richard as an outsider enables some of that stuff to be brought off the shelf a little bit and be sort of opened up. The question of her being a lovable human being, her being worthy of love, of being able to love, et cetera. I think my understanding is that we've got a character in Mare who's so ensconced in the work she's doing and the family drama around her that — and I think this happens for a lot of people, particularly when there's grief involved — we put our own stuff aside, because that's how we survive it. We get on with work and we just move forward. We keep on pushing through. Because if we allow the vulnerability to sort of rise up, we fall apart.

And that's made more difficult when you're in a town where everyone knows everybody.

Right, being in that world for her essentially means that everybody's personal lives are too intertwined for anybody in that community to change things for her. She's too cynical by this point to believe anything that anyone would say to her, from within that town, that would make her go, "Oh, what, me? I'm lovable, really?" Whereas an outsider, there's no denying that he doesn't know. As much as she resists it, I think it's a prerequisite that he is an outsider. He's got his own story as well and his own slightly wobbly history with women. He's had a bit of fame, and so he's probably had a bunch of meaningless sex and things that have gone nowhere. He's a decent guy, but he's a bit slightly confused about his own personal needs.

Mare of Easttown
Credit: Sarah Shatz/HBO

The thing I enjoy is that it feels like he brings out a different side of her that we otherwise wouldn't get to see.

There's something genuine about him seeing her and going, "You're interesting, and I would like to get to know you more." He manages to sort of crack something open a little bit that she probably doesn't even know she needs at this point. Or she knows, but she's just not ready for it. So, it takes a bit of work, and they're both older people. That's what I liked about it. There's something about an outsider that comes in, I suppose, that sees you for what you are, but there's still room for discovery. I think his role is quite integral in her growth.

Her dates with Richard almost feel therapeutic. Because like you said, especially in a small town, she not only knows everyone, she's probably dated everyone she's ever wanted to date already.

Yeah, yeah. That's right. So, where do you go from there? I'm sure she's going, "Okay. I'm closing the door on relationships in this town because," as you say, "dated everybody or everyone knows too much information, or it's just too complicated now." I think it's important, that idea. I mean, even people who are in their 70s and 80s who meet each other and have a bit of a spark with each other, there's something in that spark that's similar to 16-year-olds who meet each other. There's something about not knowing each other.

There are lines in the show about how she does not talk about her life to her immediate family. She just doesn't talk. So when it's a someone new, it forces her to talk.

Yeah, she's a bit like a bloke in a way. In that typical cliched way that men don't talk about stuff. I mean, Kate, she's just brilliant. She's so brilliant. I think the gender topic and the idea that she probably has taken on a bit of a male sort of personality is interesting. I struggle with this a bit, where often, I mean, it's a slightly different subject, but you see politicians, for example, or women in business where they're perhaps only taken seriously if they act like men. You go, "But, is it a male thing to be bossy and arrogant and horrible? Is that a male thing? It certainly seems like it is, and is that the only way that women can actually can progress?" But I also think that maybe it isn't just a male thing, but it's more of a default position for men to go, "Oh, just don't want to talk about stuff." But Mare has done that a bit, just for self-preservation.

Mare of Easttown airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

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