Guy Pearce was in a trendy West Hollywood hotel for a fleeting visit to promote his little-known indie film A Slipping Down Life. The film was actually made some five years ago, but has taken this long to get a release (it receives a limited release in the US on 14 May).
Not one to mince words, Pearce, at the end of a day doing interviews for the film, admitted that "the bloody producer took it off the director at Sundance in '99," where she was busy promoting both that film and Ravenous.
Clearly embittered by the experience, Pearce recalls "I think the producer saw dollar signs in her eyes. Happy Texas sold for 12 million dollars and she went 'right well we're not interested in these companies that will only buy my movie for a small amount... I want to sell it for 12 million. I don't know the process exactly but for some reason she felt inspired to go and do a whole lot of cuts and changes to the movie based on what some distributor wanted. Basically we said 'go and get f**ked' we are not going to support that."
"Then there was a stalemate because none of the distributors obviously were interested in a film that the director and the actors were not going to support and then eventually through the bank we got the original version of the film back," says Pearce.
He adds that he and the film's director as well as co-star Lili Taylor "spent the last 2 years getting word out that the film is fine, that it is back on it's feet and it's open for discussion."
A Slipping Down Life, based on the novel by Anne Tyler, tells of Evie Decker [Taylor] a shy young woman, who falls in love with pop star Drumstrings Casey [Pearce] after hearing his voice on the radio. Summoning the courage to pursue the singer, Evie starts to break out of her shell becoming his muse in the process.
Despite waiting five years for the film to see the light of day, the Australian actor is not as disillusioned by the film industry as one might think, or at least "no more than the general day-to-day hoo-ha that you come across in LA, you know what I mean? This was just about one person doing one crazy thing."
A producer who is well and truly out of the picture. "I can't really philosophize about what was going on for her, but I got the impression that she fancied herself as a director and so this kind of excuse of Happy Texas selling for this amount allowed her to go 'Well, I know better with this movie... I know how it should look. I know who to please... I know der der der'.
So she hired a new editor, and worked away on it and sent it out to all us with a big happy proud smile on her face saying 'Well here it is, here's the new version and we all went Eee' and said 'well you f**ked yourself, you silly cow'. I was so f**king angry, that I wrote her the nastiest letter."
As for the film, it is clearly a film he loves, and a character he identified with. "I related to the inability for him to be able to express himself in any other way than through music," Guy confesses, for when he's not acting, music remains his other passion. In the film, Pearce sings compositions by Ron Sexmith, Robyn Hitchcock, Vic Chesnutt and Joe Henry.
"I feel like there is a lot that I can only express through music and that I can't express in any other way," adds Pearce.
"I can express a certain aspect of my personality or a desire to get a sense of the world through my acting that I then find difficult even now to even sit and articulate. There is something that is very real about getting up there and actually being somebody else and finding the truth of another character, I suppose, feels far more satisfying to me than intellectualising stuff. I find even when we make a film, if we're fortunate enough to have rehearsals I actually just want to get on my feet and rehearse. I can't sit around a table for days and days and days to talk about it. It gets to a point where it just becomes like noisy homework," explains Guy.
Pearce could have succumbed to mainstream Hollywood following LA Confidential, but chose the smaller, challenging world of independent cinema. "It wasn't a sort of a contrived plan as such it was, as I was just doing what I was interested in doing. I didn't feel like I was avoiding anything, but I just didn't want to do films
that I didn't really believe in or like. A lot of people kept saying to me, "Why do you keep doing these weird, obscure, independent movies?' and I'm like 'well, I'd rather do a weird, obscure, independent movie rather a big dumb, stupid, studio movie that I'm going to feel embarrassed about for the rest of my life.' So I've just kind of done what I've felt I wanted to do really."
And then he agreed to star in The Time Machine. "When you look at it you go 'ok, well this is a DreamWorks movie, and Spielberg is going to be at the helm' in a way. I loved the original film and hadn't really considered the idea of doing things for kids before. Also I remember the effect that the original Time Machine had on me when I was a kid and kind of went 'oh wow... this could actually be really interesting in this day and age, with visual effects and what they could do'. But too many cooks, you know?"
Adds Guy: "Time Machine in a way was an experiment and sort of a weird risk to take. I was aware that it was going to be a huge movie and I was aware if it was huge, that might completely change my life. I wanted the film to be good, wanted people to like the film but I didn't necessarily want it to catapult me into a sort of stratosphere of super stardom or anything and so I was really nervous about it. There is a part of me that is sort of pleased that it failed in a way. You know every time you muck up you kind of go 'ok, I just learned a bit more about myself, I learned a bit more about how discerning I can be and to listen to your heart and this, that and the other'. So the nice thing is if anyone tries to force me into doing a big stupid movie I've got the Time Machine experience to back up my argument about not doing it," Pearce says, laughing.
Now given that experience, one would have thought that he would be more than reluctant to take on, say, Batman. Another of those internet rumours it
appears. "Well it never even came about. I never spoke to Chris about it, there was never any thought about it. I heard about it through the Internet and went 'Oh that could be sort of interesting'. If I was ever to do a Batman it would be with Chris Nolan, But it was funny, as I almost felt like I was experiencing a bit of that without even having to go to work. It was kind of a nice rumour I guess."
Instead, Pearce will instead turn up in Jean-Jacque Annaud's Two Brothers, a French film he shot, which he says has been re-cut for the US market.
"Now I see the trailer it's now like a kid's movie," Pearce says smiling. "I haven't seen the American version so I don't know how they're going to present it. They've made some changes from the French version to make it really PG and they're really aiming I guess at kids or family, so I'm curious the see the American version of the film."
Two Brothers tells of two tigers, separated as cubs and taken into captivity only to be reunited years later as enemies by an explorer (Pearce) who inadvertently forces them to fight each other. Pearce describes French director Annaud as "an odd soul. There wasn't a huge amount of rehearsal necessarily but there was a lot of discussion in the beginning about the tone he was after and once we kind of figured that out then you just kind of went off and did your thing. I think he felt that once you knew what you were doing you just kind of did it and I didn't feel like I needed to hassle him too much about anymore detail."
Pearce, who continues to call Australia home, also hopes to begin a new film in his homeland soon.
"I'm going to do The Proposition hopefully that Nick Cave has written. John Hillcoat is going to direct it, who did Ghosts of the Civil Dead." Pearce says Liam Neeson may co-star. Clearly, Pearce is happy just to act, and not to play movie star, even when doing interviews in the heart of Tinsel Town.