Australian actor Guy Pearce is known for an eclectic and varied career in which he has rarely played the same kind of role twice. From his days on the iconic Australian series Neighbours (which made him a star there) to his breakout role as a steadfast detective in L.A. Confidential to more recent turns as a monstrous man of the cloth in Brimstone and a mysterious scientist in the Netflix series The Innocents, Pearce has acted his way through a diverse roster of characters over the past 30 years.
Having said that, Pearce does return, sort of, to the world of nanotechnology in Bloodshot. The film stars Vin Diesel as the Valiant Comics superhero who is brought back from the dead and whose powers are fueled by microscopic robots called “nanites” that populate his bloodstream. Pearce plays Dr. Emil Harting, the head of the ultra-high-tech laboratory that has developed the nanites to both heal and reanimate soldiers, turning them into superior fighting and killing machines—but with a heavy price.
The film takes a certain amount of liberties with both Bloodshot’s origin story and the characters themselves: Harting seems to be a composite of at least a couple of scientists who have been involved with Project Rising Spirit (known as RST in the film), the project that turns Ray Garrison into Bloodshot.
Pearce last dabbled with this kind of sci-fi premise in what was also his one previous comics-based movie—Iron Man 3, where he played Aldrich Killian, inventor of the somewhat similar Extremis technology. Den of Geek got on the phone with Pearce to discuss the similarities and differences between the two, his thoughts on the superhero genre in general, and the 20th anniversary of another landmark film on his resume—the time-twisting mystery Memento, which also put a young director named Christopher Nolan on the map.
Den of Geek: I’m not sure how much we can get into it, but what was it about playing this role that caught your eye and got you interested in doing it?
Guy Pearce: I’m always fascinated by characters who clearly exhibit genius and extreme brilliance, because maybe I don’t in my own life (laughs). But particularly, I suppose, in the scientific world, someone who’s able to really — is just tapped into something that nobody else is, is quite fascinating to me. Yeah, that, primarily, and the story obviously is, it is what it is. It’s very interesting. Just the idea that you’ve got somebody who’s leading the way in this cutting edge technology is compelling.
Had you heard of the comics?
I wasn’t really focused on comics as a kid growing up or even in my 20s, so it’s been quite an enlightening experience for me, to look back at those things that people really can obsess over. But I wasn’t really aware of them. I knew of Valiant comics, but I hadn’t really read any of them.
As someone who’s done a Marvel movie as well, what do you think it is about them that has such a hold over people, especially these days, where they translate it into these huge movies now?
Well, it’s a fantasy world, but at the same time, it’s seemingly possible, all this stuff. I think there’s a part of us that thinks it’s a view into the future. Science fiction from back in the early days of stories being told, and I guess the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, particularly the ’50s and ’60s, I think really tapped into the psyche of various cultures.
Coupled with the development of technology, people then teeter on the edge of going, “Well, hang on a second. This feels like fantasy, but it also vaguely feels possible. Perhaps in the near future, this stuff is going to be possible.” As time goes by, and as more characters are developed in these worlds, I think people can attach to them and can relate to them.
I think particularly when there are characters that are just straightforward human beings who have then been sort of melded with or come across whatever technology that actually gives them, perhaps, superpowers, there’s just some fantasy element to that that I think we really enjoy. The idea of believing, wow, what would I do if I could fly, what would I do if I was that strong, what would I do if I could live forever, what could I do if I could have anything I want? It’s so intoxicating for us, I think, as human beings, because we’re so bound generally by the limitations of our existence. To feel like we can go outside of that is really appealing, and of course, going to see a film anyway on some level is a little bit of escapism, I guess. Something like this, Bloodshot, is really great popcorn fun for people.
But as I said, I think there’s always this underlying thing of going, wow, is this possible now, that this world is seeing what’s happening with AI and robotics and technology, et cetera. Yeah. It’s a fascinating world.
Your other comic book movie, Iron Man 3, also dealt with the use of nanotechnology to enhance the human body. Is there a metaphor there?
Well, there probably is. I’m not really sure how to articulate it, but I guess ultimately, it brings me back to what I was saying before about feeling the limitations of us as human beings, and if perhaps we were to have some bionics, we could do more than we can do now. I think on some level, the sad fact is that I think we’re not really good at accepting our own limitation. On one level, that’s what drives technology, that’s what drives evolution, that’s what drives development, et cetera. But at what cost?
I think on some level, all technology really just capitulates in our laziness. We want things to do things for us rather than us having to do them, or rather than us actually having to accept that we can’t do them. It’s just an open field out there, what can be developed.
Dr. Harting is a character who probably started out with good intentions and sort of gets a little too caught up in his own ambition or his own greatness at some point. Would you say that’s a fair comment?
Yeah. I think I don’t know if he even started out with good intentions. I think he probably just started out with this ability to see some differences that could be made. Obviously, as he explained in the film, through a cancer, he lost an arm, so he wasn’t going to be limited by that event. So he created for himself … It’d probably been through a number of incarnations, sort of a robotic arm, and really just began to think, well, what are the limitations of this? There don’t have to be any. I can actually create the perfect human being if I want. That then leads down the path of moral questioning and ethics and doing good for the world and saving people’s lives, et cetera. What does that turn into? I suppose you can align that to the internet, which has great possibilities for people, but it can also highlight and amplify negative uses as well.
You rarely do the same type of role twice. But do you understand the appeal of why actors will sign up to play a character in a franchise like this for five or six movies, even if it’s something that you would not necessarily do yourself?
Yeah, no, I can understand it, I can totally understand it. In the past, I did a lot of long-running television, I did a long-running television series in the ’80s and then I did another one in the ’90s. Then, when I was given the opportunity to work in films, I really didn’t want to find myself doing anything repetitive, because I’d played the same character for four years in one show and then four years in a different show, a different character on a different show. So I was not interested in doing more television and I was not interested in doing anything that was a franchise.
I would view that differently now, because so much time has passed since those TV shows. But you also don’t necessarily get to choose everything you want to do. You can only choose from the things that come your way, and I’d been really lucky that lots of different things have come my way. I’m pretty varied, and I can just really keep going, as far as finding variations in the work that I do.
But I certainly understand, if I found a really cool character and we made a great film and the director wanted to do a sequel or the production company wanted to do a sequel, if I thought the character was well written and had further to go, then sure, I’d be up for it. I do a TV series in Australia. I know it’s not film, but I do a TV series in Australia that I’ve done since 2011, and we go back and do either a TV movie or a six part series every couple of years, called Jack Irish. In fact, I’ll do the final one in a few months’ time. So that’s a similar sort of thing, where you’re going back and playing the same character again. But as long as the character, as long as the story has true development, then great, that’s fine. But I think I was feeling gun shy back in the ’80s and ’90s because I’d done these shows where I sort of did the same thing every week for four years. I was really over myself playing the same role.
It’s going to be 20 years this year that Memento premiered at the Venice Film Festival. A big movie for you, and a big movie for a director who’s gone on to do a couple of things since then.
What do you remember about doing this film and about working with Chris Nolan?
Well, I just obviously picture the actual experience on set, and that’s what first comes to mind, is sitting down with him — we had two weeks’ rehearsal — and going through the script, and really being impressed by his, a bit similar to Dave Wilson on Bloodshot, really being impressed with Chris’ ease in straddling the technical world and the emotional world. Some directors are great at the emotional stuff and really have no clue what they’re doing technically. That’s an extreme example. Others are far more into the movement of the camera and the technical stuff, and they really just leave the actors to do whatever it is they’re doing, and there are many, many variations in between.
Someone like Chris Nolan, who’s clearly a real cinephile, but also just so specific and detailed about the emotional world of the character you’re playing, was really wonderful for me. I also knew what sort of a film Chris was making. As I said similarly with this, with Bloodshot, with Dave Wilson, who’s really profoundly into the visual effects that he’s creating. But no less human, as far as discussing the emotional journey of each character.
It’s wonderful when you have directors who can straddle those worlds, if in fact those worlds, particularly the technical stuff, are really necessary as well. As for Memento, of course, I’m very aware of the effect the film had, and of course what Chris has gone on to do afterwards, and it just makes total sense to me. I feel so blessed and honored to be part of that film. It really was an amazing stroke of luck for me.
I’d love to see you two work together again. I know there was a minute where you might have been in Batman Begins (as Ra’s al Ghul), but have you talked since then about doing something together?
We’ve sort of talked about things intermittently, but it’s just never come to pass. Hopefully one day. I’d love to work with him again, I think it’d be really nice.
Bloodshot is out in theaters Friday, March 13.