Known for his physically and emotionally challenging roles in Memento, L.A. Confidential, and The Hurt Locker, Guy Pearce trades in his dramatic roles to become a supercharged action hero. In Lockout, all the world's most cunning, dangerous criminals are kept as far away from the general population as possible -- in space. When the convicts escape and take the President's daughter (Maggie Grace) hostage, only one man can save her. Snow (Guy Pearce), a former government agent wrongly accused of a crime, is offered his freedom if he can rescue her. Pearce seems at first glance, not a likely choice for a ripped, *ss-kicking antihero. He explains how he bulked up for the role, switching genres, and just how dead he would be if he were to dish on his next project, Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
Izumi Hasegawa: Do you see Snow as a classic anti-hero, smarter than anyone else on screen, cynical, and yet romantic at heart?
Guy Pearce: Yes to all of the above. I don't know that I seem smarter than everybody else in the room. I don't think he was smarter than Maggie's character by any means. He's obviously a misogynist on some sort of level. So Maggie's smarts kind of get shoved aside a little bit. But I don't know, I think the typical sort of action hero is somebody who is really earnest and takes themselves very seriously is not what the guys wanted. They made it very clear from the beginning that they wanted somebody who was irreverent, a little tired of all of this, and really scared of heights, and found this whole thing, that he's kind of past all this now. But really in the situation that he's in, he's obviously somebody with tremendous skill and he's capable of executing an escape if need be. So it's finding that balance I suppose between somebody who was capable and somebody who didn't care.
IH: Did you draw inspiration from John McClane or Snake Plissken when doing this movie?
GP: I didn't no. I'm sure subconsciously those Bruce Willis characters and various others sit somewhere in the back of my psyche, but I find it best not to delve back into that stuff too much otherwise it does kind of feel like a plagiarist act. I'm always struggling to try to feel original in what I am doing anyways. I remember when we did Mildred Pierce and Todd said to us, “Look, by all means have a look at the original film but it's nothing like what we're going to do,” and I watched the entire thing, and I know Kate watched it for about ten minutes and was like, yep that's enough don't need to see anymore, because sometimes that kind of thing can go a bit wrong for you, and then it's too present, and you're fighting against anything that's slightly similar, and you end up screwing yourself up a bit -- but I can see the connection. I haven't seen Escape from New York in a long time. So I don't really remember it that well, but I remember Bruce Willis and his performances and various things.
IH: Did Luc Besson encourage you to take on such a drastically different role?
GP: He might have done. I don't remember to be honest.
IH: You’re seen more as a dramatic actor than an action hero, at first glance.
GP: I don't know. I am trying to remember back to the conversation. A matter of fact I met him here, at this hotel, downstairs, just before I went off to do Mildred Pierce, and I can't really remember the conversation other than him explaining the character to me. And then when I was in New York doing Mildred Pierce I met with Stephen and James and really got a sense from them about the humor and irreverence I guess. Not so much the humor, but Stephen said, I want an action leading guy who we can laugh at and laugh with. Who, you know, kind of thinks he's really funny himself, but really it's just that he's probably more troubled than he gives himself credit for and allows himself to be, so he masks that with humor being a smart aleck.
IH: Can you talk about the opening sequence in the movie?
GP: Yeah, just going from those extremes of somebody who was getting belted as hard as he was getting belted, and clearly is tough enough. Those guys out there who were built like tanks, who really can take a beating, they don't really crumble under that sort of pressure, and to still maintain a sense of humor was two ends of a spectrum they wanted to try and get across, and clearly wanted to establish that in the beginning. So it was really clear to me and that's what I found interesting about it. I didn't want to play, I've not really been asked to play action heroes before, but I've been asked to play kind of heroic characters before, and sometimes they are a little bit too serious. I think if you are going to do a action oriented film it needs to be super cleaver, or at least funny, or have something going for it other than straight action. I personally don't get a lot of that. So I enjoyed where his head was at. I love the fact that really he was only going out to MS1 to rescue his friend he didn't give a sh*t about the president's daughter. The most important woman in the world is the president's daughter, but not to him. So I thought that was funny.
IH: In your last few roles you’ve had to maintain a leaner frame. How did you bulk up so much for this movie?
GP: I know. I went back to the gym, and steroids, pumping steroids as much as I could. No, it was a healthy regime of -- I say healthy sarcastically -- healthy regime of protein powder and lots of Serbian meat, and lifting weights at a Serbian gym.
IH: Aside from the protein powder and Serbian meats, what was the physical training? Did you do any martial arts training?
GP: No. No, I've done enough stunts throughout my life. I mean, we had to learn the choreography of the fights as such there's that sequence which keeps being referred to in the film which is in the bathroom in the hotel room sequence where its misunderstood that I shoot the guy they think that I shoot. So that fight scene where we end up in the bath and I'm hit across the head with a toilet seat etcetera. That was highly choreographed, like a dance I suppose. So we had to learn that as such, but I didn’t have to learn martial arts or anything. It was more about staying flexible going to the gym, and I'm fairly coordinated.
IH: Would it have been more difficult if you had injured yourself?
GP: I did injure myself. Every week there was some injury, not necessarily major injury, but I'd pull a muscle in my leg. I fired a gun at one point in this tiny little tunnel. Maggie and I had this big sequence where we're crawling through these low tunnels, and I shot somebody, and the bullet casing flew out of the gun and ricocheted off the roof and went straight down the back of my shirt. And of course I had that flak vest on, which is kind of tricky to get off, and the casing was really hot. It burned a mark on my back in the shape of a bullet casing, which I think is gone now. So that happened one week. Every week, literally every week, I should have brought my diary, because every week there was something that happened.
IH: When something like that happens to do you just let go and scream?
GP: I actually did, and they have me on film. I'm so nervous that is going to be on the DVD.
IH: Did they schedule the stunt scenes near the end of shooting in case something went wrong?
GP: No, they pretty much work to the schedule of what's possible as far as setting up things in different studios, because it was all done in studio basically. We did a couple of things in the streets, but it was basically all done in the studio. No, I think the hope is that we're not going to get hurt. I'll last through the film.
IH: Who was the translator while making of this film?
GP: The Serbian and French crew, it was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Surprisingly though, and I don't know why I should be surprised, but all the Serbs spoke very good English. So they were most accommodating. Yeah, just trying to understand the some of the translation I would say the Irish director say something to the French first, then the French to the Serbian lighting team, and I 'd think, no that's not what the Irish director said. Or he'd be saying it to the French stunt team, no I'd be reckoning that's gone a bit wrong. So I'd have to go to the French stunt team it's not what he wanted, what he wanted was you to do was this, this, and this. I was the translator.
IH: Can you talk a little bit about your co-star, Maggie Grace?
GP: Oh yeah, she was great. She was an absolute delight. We connected very easily when we first met. She's such a smart girl, and she's got such a lovely sense of humor as well, and she so gorgeous and lovely to be around, and she really wanted to make sure that everything we did, because it's a fun piece, a kind of big piece of entertainment really, but within that as characters we're playing real people, and you're trying to find the credibility in it. I think for her particularly, she's playing a character who's out there on a particular mission and then she's caught in this heroine situation, whereas the character I'm playing he's been in heroic situations before so he can be a little more relaxed. So Maggie just wanted to make sure that everything we did had credibility, and she didn't look like she was sort of panicking more than she should be or that she was panicking enough, and that everything kind of looked as it should. We had a lot of discussions about and keeping each other supported through everything we did, and she was a great one for that. She was as ready to give support as she needed it. I love it when you work with actors and you feel that kind of connection.
IH: Can you talk about Prometheus and your role?
GP: No, I can't, because they'll sue me. That's right. I'll never work in this town again. What I can say is that I can't say. No, obviously there’s the online clip of my character doing the TED lecture. I think that was a very clever way of establishing some of the ideas and themes that are in the film in a real subliminal, I mean they’re kind of direct, but until you've watched the film you don't know, and I can't give them away, unfortunately. It is hard to keep a secret. I'm pretty good at keeping secrets, but it is hard, yeah. But they’re also still working out their kind of marketing strategy. What they want to be able to say about it and what they don't. Obviously everyone is talking about it like it's an Alien prequel.
IH: But Ridley Scott said it’s not, right?
GP: No, they're basically saying look it's not. I mean, you can connect the dots to the Alien films, but it's far more a stand-alone film. The ideas and themes in the film actually far outweigh any of the Alien films. It's fascinating I have to say. So obviously the Weyland character is there. You know about Weyland in the original films, but they're very keen to push that it's not just an Alien prequel, that it's actually something far grander.
IH: Did that role just kind of come to you? Did your agent tell you?
GP: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, it's not like Ridley came straight to me by any means. It was a role, I think he established some of the other roles first. Chris, my agent, was obviously very keen for Ridley and I to meet, and I think we were scheduled to meet anyways to talk about just a variety of things, and it was just one of those serendipitous things that just kind of worked out. It wasn't a direct offer, no.
IH: Do you think that now this is going to be the Sci-Fi period of your career?
GP: Clearly. I went to Comic-Con funnily enough. I went last year for Guillermo Del Toro's film, Don't be Afraid of the Dark, but of course everybody wants to talk about Prometheus. I'm sure they'll want us to go back. Well, the film comes out in June yeah that's right. In fact, I think Ridley and Charlize [Theron] did something at Comic-Con last year after, because I knew they were there. I think it was around the time I started shooting for Prometheus.
IH: Do you have any plans to work with Christopher Nolan again?
GP: No plans at this stage. He's obviously a brilliant guy. So it would be great.
IH: Was there any truth to the rumors that you were going to be one of the Batman villains?
GP: It was pretty much rumor. I did talk to him about one of the characters, but only sort of vaguely, but I think those rumors had started even before that anyway. So, as soon as people knew he was doing Batman I think people sort of linked me to him anyway.
IH: Can you say which character it was?
GP: It was Liam Neeson’s character, but I was too young. Way too young, too handsome, too talented. They needed a schlubby old kind of everyman. Sorry Liam. That's not true.
IH: Are there any work goals that you wanted to have accomplished by this stage in your career?
GP: No, I don't work like that at all. I really thrive on maintaining an openness to the universe and seeing what it brings, because I find that surprise in that really keeps me going. Maybe that's kind of immature, or maybe that's a part of me that needs to change too, but at the same time I don't think so. I think that's a big part, where spontaneity is where I find inspiration. I don't have an ideal character that I want to play. I don't have a sort of desire to sort of specifically go do something, you know, or try something I've not tried before. I feel like every time I read scripts, and choose a new job is trying something I haven't tried before, to a certain degree, you know. So no, not really.
IH: What are you doing now?
GP: Having a break. Taking six months off, yeah.
IH: Why is that?
GP: Because I've worked way too much in the last two years and I'm just sort of blank. I read scripts and glaze over them at the moment. I need to just kind of go and be me for a while.
IH: You've always done that, work and work, and then take a break.
GP: Yeah, you just get to a point where you become vacuous. I just don't have any energy to be anyone else other than me. So yeah it's really important. People sort of say, but just read this one script. I'm like no, there's no point in me reading this script, because I'll resent it. I won't actually get anything from it. So yeah, I'm in the middle of taking some time off. Other than this, but I still get to be me though.
IH: Have you ever had these moments as you age where you feel different?
GP: All the time, yes. I definitely think you feel yourself mature. You look back at things in the past and go, okay I might do that differently now then how I would have done it then. So that's the best thing about getting older is being broader minded about things, and being able to deal with things better, you know. I used to struggle with work a lot, years ago.
IH: You mean you were self-critical?
GP: Oh, all sorts of things really. I found the whole thing kind of duff really. So I needed to step back and find the validity in it, and look at it from a mature point of view. I've worked as an actor since I was a kid. So I think I continued on, and before I knew it I was having this career as an actor, but it was all based on the decision of an eight year old. I needed to kind of step back and go, hang on a second as a thirty year old or however old I was at the time find its worth, and find its importance if there was any.
IH: Was it a mid-life crisis ten years too early?
GP: I think so. Yeah, because I started my working life since I was eight instead of eighteen. It happened ten years before it should have.
IH: Is that why you still live in Australia? So you can cocoon yourself there?
GP: Well, that's not why. I just love Australia. So there's no reason for me to move really, and I do enjoy the distance. I do enjoy when I finish work being able to go home and not being in the office still. So there is no reason for me to leave.
Open Road Films' 'Lockout' is released in theaters Friday, April 13, 2012.