Guy Pearce interview for Lawless

Based on the book

On screen, Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce go head to head as two men prepared to use extreme violence as a turf war erupts in a Virginia backwoods. Lawless is the story of a tight knit family who use extreme violence to protect their business.

Q: Did you do much research to help inform your character in ‘Lawless’?

GP: I didn’t. I just relied on the script. The personality (of the character) becomes evident in the script. The way a character crystallises I find very difficult to explain but it comes about through what’s there on the page and some version of what is there in my head and what is then created. It just sort of arrives. And depending how well realised the character is in the script you have more or less work to do in certain films. And obviously a Nick Cave script is highly insightful and it might just be one or two little moments that actually make you go, ‘ah, now I can see it..’ It might be how he puts his coffee cup down after a particular moment that actually tells me something and it’s something I can lock into.

Q: Had you read the book?

GP: No, I hadn’t because it’s different, apparently, so I wanted to stay away from the book.

Q: We have to ask you about the look of your character, Guy, and that distinctive hair parting. Where did that come from?

GP: Well, there were some reference photographs that John (Hillcoat) had supplied of various people from that period. It was something we saw from one of the photographs and it was just a great image.

There are fascinating people in the world and John has a great eye for every aspect of the image, whether that’s to do with the hair of one of the leading characters or the look of the extras. There’s a whole world that he wants to create.

Q: Guy, you do a remarkably good villain…

GP: (laughs) Thank you, I’m a horribly nasty person.

Q: Is it hard to portray violence on film or is it all down to technique?

GP: It’s emotional, definitely. Any aspect of a character that you are delving into – whether it’s violence or a love scene or a speech or a physical presentation of something – it’s all about finding the heart of it. And it’s the same with violence.

Q: Do you find yourself thinking about personal experiences to help fuel your performances?

GP: Sometimes. But I don’t feel like I need to, to be honest. I feel like my imagination is enough and I always come back to the script and reading the script takes me to a place and it takes me to an emotional place and then it’s done. So I don’t think, ‘oh I’ll transfer my mother to this story and that will make me feel sadder..’ Well, not necessarily. You know sometimes you can watch a toilet roll commercial and it will make you cry and it’s not the toilet roll that’s making you cry it’s some subconscious connection with something that’s happening and I don’t even think about that but I’m still crying. So if I’m reading a toilet roll commercial that I’ve been asked to do and I cry I think, ‘yes, I’ll do that toilet roll commercial..’ but I don’t have to consciously connect it to my own life.

Q: So is that the way you judge a script? You see if you have a visceral reaction to it?

GP: Well, with this script I’m a friend of John’s so I obviously talked to him about the script before I had even read it. And I’d do anything for John. There are certain people who can say, ‘would you come and play this role?’ And they don’t even have to tell me what it is I’m there.

Q: Which other directors would you do that for?

GP: Well, I’m sure if Scorsese called I’d have the same reaction but he obviously lost my number (laughs).

Q: Has your working relationship with John changed over the years?

GP: I don’t think it has changed (over the years). From the moment we met and first talked we were both open doors to each other and went, ‘OK, great. I’ll happily do stuff for you for a long time..’ And as long as he keeps asking me to do stuff I will. Trust obviously develops and I learn more about his family and everybody but I think there is an innate respect there. Like there is with Tom and the other actors. So it’s rare, when these special people come into your life but you know straight away.

It’s all about trust. There are other people that come in and you go, ‘yeah, I kind of like you and I liked doing that movie with you but I don’t sort of trust you..’ Whereas with John it’s just there.

Q: Do you need breaks between films?

GP: I’ve learnt that I do. I don’t do long runs on films anymore. I kind of jump in and do three weeks and then three weeks on something else. I’m not on a movie for three or four months so I don’t need a month to recover from that.

Q: Did you know that you wanted to be an actor from a young age?

GP: Well, I knew that I enjoyed acting and I got a lot out of it when I was very young. But I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life because I didn’t have that kind of foresight. I was just a little opportunist.

Q: And when did that change? When did you know that your career was on the way?

GP: I had a little bit of a meltdown when I was about 30 just from doing too much work and not having breaks in between (films) and all sorts of other things. I took a year off and had a big think about it and during that time I realised that yes, this is what I want to do. I’d been doing it since I was really young, 7 or 8, and I was still working and making decisions based on that decision as an eight year old, so I needed to step back from that and actually, as an adult, go, ‘OK, I do have some skills, there is some validity in this, I can see the honour in this, I can see how it helps people.’ And I could see all sorts of things that I hadn’t been able to see before. So then I was actually able to be far calmer about it as well but not lose the childlike perspective and not lose the sense of fun and not lose any of that stuff but just see it for what it is.

LAWLESS is now showing in Irish cinemas