Guy Pearce was at the Sydney Film Festival over the weekend for the Australian premiere of the new David Michod film, The Rover. I was fortunate enough to get ten minutes with Guy to speak a little about it…
Matt: I was reading that David Michod had you in mind for this role as far back as when he was writing a first draft of the screenplay. We know you guys worked together on the brilliant Animal Kingdom. When was it that he first approached you about the role?
Guy: I can’t remember exactly when it was but it was some months before we made the movie. He called and told me he had something for me to look at. I believe he’d been working on it for some time before he did approach me. I was pretty excited because I believe David is an interesting filmmaker and I got on well with him when we made Animal Kingdom.
When I read the script, I had some reservations. I had a tricky time understanding who this character was. By the time we find him in the film, he’s fairly devoid of who he used to be. David and I had to have a number of discussions just to make sure we were on the same page.
Matt: I saw that David had described the role as someone who is embittered, jaded and full of resentment. What sort of preparation do you put yourself into this character before shooting begins?
Guy: It’s really about the discussions we have. Once you have a clear picture in your mind of who he is, or who he was at least, then it’s really just a matter of enacting it. It was an interesting character to play because he is so devoid of humanity and a moral/ethical standing in the world.
Matt: The theme of the film is quite grim. We’re looking at this futuristic world where capitalism has collapsed and there are some who believe, including friends of mine, that this is path we’re actually heading down today. Did the backstory play a part when you agreed to sign onto the film? Is it something you believe the world needs to think about?
Guy: Oh, I’m very interested in the backstory. It’s hard not to feel concerned about the direction that the world is heading in. At the start of the film is 10 years after the collapse and we get a sense of a lawless, military run kind of state. We know for a fact that there are parts of the world that operate like that as we speak – where corruption and greed and overpopulation and societal breakdown has meant that we’ve reverted back to a less civilised world. It’s hard to imagine that isn’t going to dominate more parts of the world if we keep operating the way that we currently are.
Matt: The film was shot in the Flinders Ranges in a remote part of South Australia. I’m guessing that threw up its fair share of challenges?
Guy: Yeah, the heat is the obvious factor but at the same time it’s kind of inspiring as well. With that landscape, you’re given a view of the real life of the movie every day. David didn’t want the film to look beautiful. He wanted it to look barren and bleak… but there is a beauty there that’s undeniable.
In a way, that matched the relationships in the film where everyone is either desperate or at death’s door and yet underneath, there’s this need for people to love and to still be human and to still connect.
Matt: I was reading that you spent 3 weeks in the town of Marree – which has a population of just 90 people. What was the level of interest from locals in the project? Did they get involved with the film?
Guy: Some were involved, yeah. You end up getting to know people too. Every town we went to people were generous and appreciative of you being there. We’d bring a bit of business and as long as we weren’t destroying things, people were generally happy for us to be there. Marree is a fascinating part of the world because it’s at the end of the road where the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Track start.
Matt: Where do you stay? Do you have some makeshift caravans that you could drive from town to town?
Guy: Phil and Maz own the big pub in Marree and they had half of us staying there. They also had some “dongers” out the back where the other half were. There was another accommodation place that had tin sheds.
Matt: Do you get a mobile phone reception out there?
Guy: Nope. If you wanted to make a phone call, you had to go to Phil and ask him to use the land line. We had the internet though as there was a dish on the top of his pub. In a way, it was nice to lose phone reception up there as it helped make us feel like we were an isolated little group.
Matt: Let’s talk about your co-star in the film, Robert Pattinson. He’ll forever be known for the Twilight franchise and he has a small army of adoring female fans. But this is a very different role from him which is great to see. What was he like to work with?
Guy: I’ll correct you on one thing – I think it’s a “large” army of female fans. I don’t know if there’s anything small about it. (laughs) Robert is great. He’s fantastic in the film, he genuinely wants to do good work, and I think he delivers in everything he does.
I think he really enjoyed his time out there because he was away from paparazzi. He was walking down the main street of town and he was saying “I can’t do this anywhere, this is great.” We had a lot of fun together.
Matt: The film had its world premiere in Cannes last month and now here it is getting its first wide release here in Australia. What responses have you been getting to the film so far?
Guy: Generally it’s been good. It’s interesting that in Cannes, everyone was totally silent throughout the movie. You could hear a pin drop. When we were here in Sydney, there were lots of laughs through the movie which we thought was unusual considering the nature of the film and how heavy it is. I assumed some of that was “uncomfortable laughter” at the prospect of what might happen next.
I think people are finding the film evocative and powerful. Some people have talked about not having enough storyline in there but I think it’s more about a very lean storyline where the subtlety in the difference between the characters is evident. It’s not a dense, multi-layered film character wise like David’s other film, Animal Kingdom.
Matt: You’ve worked under a lot of high profile directors – Kathryn Bigelow, Todd Haynes, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan, Curtis Hanson. You’ve worked with John Hillcoat a few times. Do you have any dreams to follow in the footsteps of what Russell Crowe is doing and directing your first feature?
Guy: I think about it but I don’t know if I think about it on a level that would see me doing something about it. I’d love to do it but until I have a story that I want to tell, I won’t do it.
Matt: And can you tell us about what you’ve been working on and what we’re going to see you in next?
Guy: I’ve been working on making a record! After shooting The Rover last March and the new Jack Irish movie last June, I took some time off, spent it at home, and concentrated on music for a while. I don’t have any other films to come out so it’s time for me to go to America to find a job.