Guy Pearce interview: Lockout, playing an action hero and more

Interview Ryan Lambie 13 Apr 2012 - 12:19

Ahead of the release of Lockout, we spoke to Guy Pearce about his action hero performance and the making of the film…

Under the wing of executive producer Luc Besson, directors James Mather and Stephen St Leger have come out with the fabulous debut, Lockout, a sci-fi action movie that more than makes up for its familiar story ideas with its pace and humour. At the heart of the film’s success sits Guy Pearce’s sterling performance as the bitter, wise-cracking hero, Snow.

Although better known for his heftier dramatic performances in movies such as The Proposition, Memento or LA Confidential, Pearce makes for an unexpectedly brilliant action movie protagonist, and Snow may be among the best sci-fi action heroes to grace the screen since Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken.

With Lockout released in UK cinemas this Friday, we caught up with Mr Pearce to talk about his role in the film, its production, and a little of what he’s up to next…

First of all, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Lockout.

Well, that’s great. Because it’s hard for me to tell with a film like this, because I don’t normally do genre-oriented movies, you know? When a film is really, primarily there as a piece of entertainment, I never really know how to judge that sort of thing. I think, if I’m doing a straight drama, I can just tell whether it’s working or whether it’s not, or how effective it is. But it’s hard to tell with a film like this.

That was going to be one my first questions – it must be difficult to figure out how a film like this will go just from the script…

Absolutely. Well, ultimately I responded to the script in a visceral sort of way, an emotional way. I was amused by it, I found it quite funny. I thought the scenario, of it being a prison in outer space, that got me thinking. I was like, “I suppose, potentially, that’s not that far off, really.”

So I thought, within a film of that style, that kind of character, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and has clearly got himself to a point where he’s tired of being a hero and so on, I just thought it was a nice take. I know it’s not that original, because we’ve got certain films that our directors wanted to page homage to, I guess – those Die Hard-type films.

Where you’ve got a character who shows his vulnerability, whether it’s through being a smart-ass or whatever else it happens to be. So I’m very aware that the film contained things that had been done before, but it’s a great style. I really like that style – and I think it takes something to be able to pull it off well, you know? I didn’t want to play a character who was a smart-ass just for the sake of it. I think eventually the audience kind of goes, “Get over yourself”, or “Come on, give us something a bit more honest”.

So it was important for me to find all the dimensions of the character. And that was a case of going back and looking at the history of him as a special operations guy – one of those tough guys who does all those crazy things that you or I don’t even know of. That macho existence of dealing with guns, breaking into buildings and doing whatever they do.

And experiencing things where it’s important to repress their emotions, I suppose. And so, in a way, once I’d latched onto that idea, I felt like, okay, maybe he’s using humour to mask that kind of stuff. And obviously, we see him lose his friend at the beginning of the movie, so the ability to be able to show a little bit of humanity in this guy, and not have him just be a smart aleck was important.

Did the directors talk to you very much about the films they were referencing?

Only enough to say, “That’s what we’re going for”. I didn’t want to really delve into that too much. I certainly didn’t want to see too many.

So you could make the character your own.

Yeah, yeah. You always want to try to be original. And even if you know you’re not being completely original, you bring something new to it just by the sheer fact that it’s you that’s doing it. So it’s tempting, but if those kinds of things are too present, you either spend your time trying to avoid what they’ve done, which I think can throw you off kilter a little bit, or you end up inadvertently copying things, which, obviously again, isn’t what you want. So it was best for me to keep that stuff at a distance.

Steven just kept saying to me, “I want it to be funny. I want him to be a funny guy. He can be appropriate, and politically incorrect, and he can be an asshole, but he’s just funny. He gets away with it!”

So I just liked the idea of that, I think. And maybe 10 years ago I wouldn’t have liked the idea of that. It wouldn’t have been something I could have handled. I did some pretty intensely dramatic work – though it’s not that I’m not still interested in doing that, but to take something like this on, I just felt like I was more ready to do it more recently than back then.

Because I have been offered action-oriented films before, but funnily enough, most of them take themselves too seriously, I think.

Are there any that you regret turning down, in hindsight?

No, no. Because even if something’s turned out to be great, I still… because the reason you turn something down is often because you feel you can’t really do it well. Even though I look at something that’s done well I’ll go, “I still couldn’t have done that. He was still the right guy for it.” But most of the things I was being offered weren’t great – it’s not like any of them became classics or anything like that.

What I really responded to as well as the humour was the pace of the film. It’s so brisk and doesn’t waste the audience’s time. It’s refreshing to see a film with a bit of urgency about it. Where did that come from? Was it the script, as a result of the budget, or just good direction?

Yeah. I’m not really sure. At a decent guess I’d say I’m not sure what skills our two directors have as far as knowing how a commercially oriented film should work. I mean, they make a lot of commercials, but that’s not to say that they would necessarily know that a 90-minute movie’s going to work better than a two-hour movie.

I think basically it came from the discussions between Luc Besson and the directors, to keep it brisk and keep it exciting, because quite often you’ll watch a film and you’ll go, “Yeah, this probably should have been a short film.” Filling out that middle act that kind of sinks – ho hum, you know? But I think it works quite well in the way you’re suggesting.

Because you certainly don’t feel you’re lost in the middle somewhere. And I think it’s Joe Gilgun [he plays the villain, Rydell] as well, with his story with his brother, played by Vincent Regan. It just adds another element that you’re wondering as an audience member as well. So it’s not just me and Maggie [Grace] trying to get the hell out of there.

And also, there’s the little thing going on between Peter Stormare and Lennie [James’] character. There’s a number of little dramas going on along the way, so I think that helps make it feel like it’s not wasting any space or time.

It’s a big-looking movie, too, for its budget. $30 million buys you a good drama, but not often a good-looking sci-fi movie.

Yeah, that’s right.

Did that make for a more brisk, tricky shoot?

No more nor less than usual. Every film feels as though you’re under pressure all the time, and you’re watching the clock. So it didn’t feel especially pressured. And since Stephen [St Leger] has such a lovely quality in his directing, I think that makes the experience enjoyable as well. I mean, there are two directors, but James [Mather] is the cinematographer. He’s pretty busy with that, but they’re great together – they’ve got a great shorthand. And it was great being in Serbia.

You’ve also made The Wettest County, which I believe is now called Lawless. Which is another film you’ve made with John Hillcoat. I take it that was a very different pace from Lockout.

He’s a pretty creepy, strange character I play in that film. Very, very different. I play a cop who’s been brought down from Chicago to really try and sort out these three brothers who are illegally producing moonshine in the Prohibition era. And he has a very particular agenda of his own, this character, so things go really wrong. It’s a really interesting character to play, and again, it’s fantastic to work with John Hillcoat again.

Guy Pearce, thank you very much.

Lockout comes out in UK cinemas this Friday. You can read our review here.

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