Interview: Guy Pearce, Lockout


Guy Pearce is best known for his role as Leonard Shelby in Memento, but he’s been popping up in films like The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, and The Road ever since, without any real starring role to catch the public’s eye. Well, now that role has come. In Lockout (our review coming shortly), he plays super badass action hero [Redacted] Snow, tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from an outer space prison.

It’s a very different role from the ones he usually plays, but maybe it will be a second coming. It worked for Liam Neeson. Speaking of Liam Neeson, we will have an transcript sometime soon of an interview with Maggie Grace, who played his kidnapped daughter in Taken (something of a pattern for her, it seems). 

Anyways, in this interview, he talks about Lockout, Prometheus, budgetary concerns (or lack thereof), and prison conditions, among other things. Unfortunately it was a roundtable interview, so getting a pterodactyl photo was not an option, nor was touching his magnificent chest. Maybe next time.

Guy Pearce

What was the appeal of this particular character for you? Why did you choose to do this particular project?

Umm… I think his sense of humor, ultimately. I think, you know I sat down with Luc Besson, and he ran me through the project, and we had a great meeting about it and he gave me a script, and he said, “Look, these two Irish guys that I’ve written this with are very keen to make sure that this character is amusing and he finds himself amusing and wanting to sort of get back I suppose in a retro sense to some of those Bruce Willis type characters we’ve seen in action movies of the 80s, etc.” So I found the idea interesting, but I needed to make sure that he wasn’t just flippant for flippant’s sake or insensitive about killing people, etc. I didn’t want him to fall into that two-dimensional world of action heroes we’ve seen in the past that, for me personally, don’t delve deeply enough into human psychology, because the movie doesn’t require it.

Because the character was very Duke Nukem if you’re into videogaming.

Well, no I’m not into gaming, I’m afraid. And I didn’t really want to go back and look at a whole lot of characters. I didn’t want to consciously plagiarize anything.

Do you think he was as insolent as he was cynical because of the way that the world has developed?

I think it’s probably a combination of things. I mean I think his age, he’s just getting tired of the work that he’s doing, but I do think yes, that the way the world is developing and the fact that we have a prison that’s been thrust into outer space when obviously the prison system here on earth in dire need of some reassessment in the same way that the planet is becoming overpopulated with prisons that are clearly overpopulated, so I do think that some of those elements as well I found obviously interesting, but I think what clinched it for me was his ability to have a humorous view of that but ultimately that is there just burying some serious emotions.

Guy Pearce

We’ve seen you play tough guys before, but never something quite at this level of physicality. Could you tell us what it was like to work with Besson’s amazing team of stunt guys and what some of the challenges were in doing some of these amazing action scenes?

Well, funnily enough, that stuff was really easy for me. (laughs) I’m quite agile and quite physical and very fit, so that stuff, and I really work from a physical point of view as an actor anyway, so even if I’m not in fight scenes or doing stunts and such, my physicality and the character’s physicality is very present in my mind and that’s how I answer a lot of my questions I suppose when trying to put a character together, so that stuff, it’s always challenging, but it wasn’t difficult, no.

Did you work from the outside in then?

Well, I dunno. Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say it’s as clear as that, because you’re also trying to understand him from the inside ultimately, but I do, it’s a bit of a… I’ll get so far from the inside then I have to get on my feet and start moving around before I can answer some more questions and then I can delve a little further. I mean I can’t sit around a table for weeks and weeks on end discussing a play and discussing the characters in the play. I need to get on my feet to start moving it around before I can actually find some of those answers. I’m not really an intellectual, and a lot of my work does come from a physical place.

So, your character isn’t a “stealthy” guy. When you land on that ship, everyone knows you’re there and you kind of lumbering around. Was that a conscious decision to play it that way?


And did you guys ever have a discussion of, “Maybe he should be a little stealthy”?

Well I think that, you know, we needed one of those prisoners to see him when he arrived on the ship. I think perhaps ten or twenty years ago he might have been a little more stealthy, but he just… he just doesn’t care so much anymore. He doesn’t want to be there. He’s there to rescue his friend. He doesn’t care about rescuing the president’s daughter. You know, this all sort of falling under the guise of entertainment, I think that this sort of led to a humorous sort of situation, but when called upon, the skills of his past, being able to fight with people or use equipment is something that he can do blindfolded. He’s clearly a skillful guy, but he’d rather be sitting at home on the couch watching sports drinking a beer now.

Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace

Do you think that the relationship between Emily [Maggie Grace’s character] and Snow will last?

Probably would actually. I think that he probably needs to be challenged and I think she’s somebody who could challenge him as well as anybody can. And clearly he finds her attractive and there’s some sexual chemistry in there, but just through their differences they immediately get off on a particular footing with each other, and there’s bickering from the outset, and that’s obviously something we’ve seen through the history of filmmaking. It’s kind of a nice way to create drama onscreen between two characters who, on some level, we hope are going to get together. So it’s a nice entertaining way to kick that along.

How much input did Luc Besson have during the production?

He really wasn’t there at all. I think all the work that Luc did was in the establishing of the script and he came to set when we were beginning and talked through each department and really just to make sure that everyone was feeling good about what they were doing and if he could help he would, but I don’t think that he wanted to inflict too much of his own style on the piece of work. I mean, the thing that he really impressed upon me was how impressed he was with [the directors] Stephen [Saint-Leger] and James [Mather] and the short film that they had made, Pray Alone, and he wanted them to allow to do what they were good at doing, and having said that, the impression that I get is that he was far more present in the postproduction stage, so throughout editing and throughout… I mean, they had a lot of visual effects they had to render for this movie, and I think Luc was very present during that period.

How deep did everyone on set go into this alternate future? Obviously the audience doesn’t know much about the world. How much did the actors know about this world that the audience would never find out?

I don’t know how to answer that question actually, to be honest. I don’t think it was anything that the guys were interested in developing to any great length. I mean, they just wanted to make a piece of entertainment and they thought the idea of this story being set far enough into the future that it established a different kind of world but not so far that we couldn’t relate to it, you know, but we all had various questions about how the world would be at this point in time, but I imagine each actor delved into it on a different level. But the impression that I got from Stephen and James was that, what they were interested in was the dynamic between Maggie’s character and my character, and the extreme nature of the situation I suppose moreso than a real analysis of what the world would be like at that point in time.

Can you talk a little bit about your character from Prometheus?

I really can’t. I’m not really allowed to. Obviously what’s been posted on the internet is an opportunity for people to get a sense of some of the philosophies and ideas behind the film, Prometheus.

It was a great TED talk.

Uhh… thanks (laughs awkwardly). But beyond that, I’m not really able to talk about it at this stage.

Do you have a partner called Utani? Can you at least clarify that.

Well, we know that I’m playing Peter Weyland, so we know that there’s a connection with the original Alien film, well, with all of the Alien films I guess, even though I find it difficult to connect [Alien 3] and [Alien Ressurection] with Alien and [Aliens]. Just personally, I think that [Alien] is the only one worth looking at. Well, you know, I just think it’s by far the best one, you know? But I think to label Prometheus as just a sort of prequel to that is probably a little limited. I think the ideas that Ridley developed through the creation of Prometheus kind of expanded and expanded and kind of took it outside of the realm of being just a prequel.

Prometheus and Lockout are examples of one of the many blockbusters you’ve done—

I haven’t done many blockbusters at all, what are you talking about?

No, I think you have! I don’t know, there’s that Oscar nominated thing you did. But anyways, you go from films like this which have big, or will have big audiences to very independent movies, and I wonder what are you more comfortable in? Doing something new with a new, untested director or something that’s sort of like Prometheus.

Well, I don’t cut the pie that way. The way I look at it is, it’s about communication and honesty and creativity and inspiration and ideas, and whether that comes about in a really low budget independent movie with a first time director or a massive studio film with a highly established director doesn’t actually matter to me, because I’m just responding the feeling I get when I read the story. So, I’m aware that there is a difference, and I’m aware that from the outside there is a difference, but that’s never the driving force for me, and so what I feel most comfortable in… I mean, working on Prometheus for example with Ridley, he’s able to make the world that we’re in and the set that we’re on feel intimate and connected and small and like we’ve got time. You’re really able to get your ideas across and have great discussions with him without feeling like the monster of this historic kind of franchise is sitting there on your shoulders.You just forget about all of that with Ridley, and I can feel the same thing with a first time director.

I worked on a film that Drake Doremus has just done that doesn’t have a title yet, and he’s the guy who won Sundance last year with his film Like Crazy. You know, very low budget, all improvised, but wonderfully communicative, so in a way they feel the same to me. And I’ve worked on bigger films before that are just terrible, because you don’t have any real contact with anybody. You’re sort of dealing with somebody’s assistant’s assistant’s assistant and… you know, I just feel lost in that situation. But you can also feel like that on an independent movie, because somebody’s personality might mean that they might not want to deal with the directors directly. They’d rather have someone else tell you their ideas, so if I don’t feel like I’m communicating with the head of the beast, I struggle.

Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace

I always wonder, on a slow-paced movie, if making the movie is slow paced. [Lockout] is obviously the other extreme. Was it was a high energy set?

Yeah. We had fun though. It didn’t actually feel too rushed or too messy, but there were days where we had to whip through it pretty quickly, but not necessarily out of the ordinary though, and the two directors, Stephen and James, they’re two Irish guys, great senses of humor, so they were up for a laugh, and I think everyone had generally a nice time.

I didn’t know if they wanted to have a high energy set in order to have a high energy film.

No, I think they are aware of what they can create in post-production as far as the rhythm and the energy and the intensity of the world goes. I mean, there were some specific shots we would be doing that clearly you knew were going to be really dynamic, I guess, but generally there was sort of a serene… I mean our First AD [Assistant Director] was a pretty calm guy, so I think it’s often gauged by your First AD.

So from an actor perspective, the budget really doesn’t matter to you. It’s all about the director and the type of set they run.

Yes, absolutely. I mean, the budget, and I understand why people ask this all the time, because from the outside there are those movies that go out on 3,000 screens, and then there are those little platfroms…

It just seems like if you had $300 million to work with, it would be easier to just laze about. Versus an independent movie where you get out there, have five days to shoot something.

No, it’s just completely depends on the people you’re working with, I think. You can be on a little movie with some people, and they can make it seem like it’s a big, big, big, big deal. And I mean sometimes there’s more pressure on big budget movies, because people are afraid of losing their $300 million, so that can be a lot more tense than a little independent film.

What do you think about sending people to a prison in space?

It’s a nerve-wracking idea, isn’t it? I mean, we’re all very aware of the prison system in this country and around the world and at home in Australia. It’s not working.

Guy Pearce and maggie Grace

It’s how Australia was created.

Yeah, that’s right. You’d think we would know how to get it working (laughs). But I think it’s a sad prospect, when we eventually say, “Well, too many prisoners. Not enough prisons. Let’s just start building them and shooting them into orbit.” I mean it seems…

Lots of positives, though, right? I mean, they mention them in the movie. No sexual abuse. No murder.

Yeah, but there’s not a lot of therapeutic rehabilitation either.

That’s true.

I think that’s the main consideration.

What was the shooting schedule on this?

I think it was nearly three months. Yeah, it was basically October, November, December of 2010.

And I mean really, if you cryogenically freeze them for their entire sentence, what do they learn?

Exactly, what do they learn? I dunno. Did they just wake up what seems like a minute after they commited the crime? “Did I get away with that? I’ll have to do it again!” It’s just a sad state of affairs, really.