Because he’s a uniquely astonishing actor, has a reputation amongst journalists as being a really giving interviewee, and has retweeted our interviews with his co-stars and directors several times, Guy Pearce has been on our talent interview wish list for many, many years. It’s taken many attempts, but when it finally came time to chat with Pearce about his role on HBO’s Mare of Easttown (reuniting with his Mildred Pierce co-star Kate Winslet), let’s just say he exceeded our highest expectations. Pearce was charming, candid, down-to-Earth, and the allotted interview time just flew by.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my Zoom video conversation with the brilliant Guy Pearce.
What drew you to this project?
Guy Pearce: Well my first interest was Kate (Winslet). She called me and told me about it and asked me to come on board. Of course then I was very struck by the drama, the rather extreme drama that this seemingly normal human being was in the middle of. The thing that Kate impressed upon me that I responded to, and that Craig (Zobel) and HBO were after, was this idea that this is the opposite of anything superhero-ish. It’s a very normal, down to-Earth human being that hopefully, anyone who watches the show can relate to. She almost feels like she’s out of her depth trying to solve what she’s trying to solve, as well as trying to deal with her own personal saga. In the scripts, Brad Ingelsby, who wrote the scripts, he was very keen on keeping it as grounded as he could and I think Kate was very keen, as well as HBO, to keep it as grounded as everybody could. How fraught with drama can we make this and yet keep it in the world of somebody who is completely normal and almost out of their depth? I mean I love watching crime drama, as lots of people do, and we all position ourselves in either the place of the cop who is trying to uncover what the mystery is, or the criminal perhaps, and think “how can someone do these things?”. So I think we do project ourselves onto characters on screen, and we do that with characters in the Marvel world and with superheroes, but it all feels like fantasy when it’s in that world, and this felt like the opposite. It was just about making it as grounded as possible.
And I mean if Kate would ring me up and say “come and read the phone book with me”, I would go and do it. So I was going to do it anyway. But part of that is also knowing that she’s got great taste and she chooses great work, so I knew it was going to be a great script anyway. And then obviously once I read it and got into it, the aspect that I got to portray was as relevant as any other aspect in the story, even though I’m only there on a minimal sort of level. So yeah, I was really just happy to be part of it. And Craig, our director, is a delightful guy. I had some lovely chats with him before I started as well, so I got a good sense of what was needed and what I could perhaps do with it.
What was it like reuniting with Kate Winslet on this project?
GP: I am so in love with Kate Winslet, I can’t tell you. I adore this woman and have for man, many years. I discovered about twenty-five years ago that we share a birthday, so that just made me fall in love with her even more. And then, as you know, ten or eleven years ago we worked together on Mildred Pierce and it was a dream come true. She’s an absolute delight and I can’t say enough nice things about her, so I won’t ramble on too much about that. [laughs]
Aside from just adoring her and loving her company, to work together again and to actually do something that was a little different, even though there were similar elements in that I’m some sort of outsider who comes into this woman’s life to charm her and remind her that love is actually possible. Obviously the worlds are very different. The world of Mare of Easttown, particularly for the character of Mare, it’s far more rooted in real drama and gravity in that she’s dealing with missing children and murders and a general police story. So there’s a lot more drama involved, and it was a very different setting, I suppose. But for us, as actors, to get back into something that was familiar was lovely. Kate really is an absolute delight. She’s a very open, warm, and engaging human being anyway, and we just have a great laugh together. We actually had to quarantine together in upstate New York before we started filming together. Well I actually went to Pennsylvania in March of last year and I did one day and then we got shut down. So it was all sort of holstered at that time. And then I got back there in late September, early October of 2020 and we got to complete the work that we had begun. And, in fact, the majority of it was done then. Kate, obviously, had done months and months prior to that, so I really just came in as a sort of little shining light in her world, I suppose. So, again, that was sort of similar to Mildred Pierce in that this guy sort of appears in her life that looks at her in a way that perhaps nobody else had ever looked at her before, in both of those stories. But as I say, the world of Mare is quite different to the world of Mildred, but for us, as actors, it was lovely to reconnect and tread the boards again together.
So much of the series is about the relationship between parents and children and grandchildren. Was that something that you talked about while shooting?
GP: Absolutely. Funnily enough, I have my own four and a half year old boy now and Kate, as you know, has two older teenagers and a young boy herself, so when we weren’t looking at the script and we weren’t discussing character and the dynamics and perils of those characters, we were talking about our own personal lives and how we’ve handled being parents. Even though Kate is far younger than I am, she has far more experience than I do when it comes to parenting. So I was learning a lot from her, not just in the kitchen and how to cook, but also how to handle a young boy who suddenly one minute feels like doing this and the next minute feels like doing that. Kate was like “ah, let me tell you, darling. Listen, this is the best way to handle that”, you know? So she’s a wonderfully down-to-Earth and practical lady but full of life and full of humour and full of great humanity, and a great reminder that no matter how difficult life can be, how perilous it can feel, no matter how torturous it can be at times, she’s a great beacon of positivity. And that’s one of the reasons why I love Kate as a human being. She can look at a problem, where most people would despair, and she’ll say “right! how can we make a solution out of this?”, and almost treat every issue that she comes across in the way that she would approach a project with a small child. You’re taken back to your own childhood, in a way, because she has such a lovely creative and inspiring kind of outlook. She’s really innovative and she’s really enjoyable to be around. And all of that ties in to what we were filming.
Funnily enough, Jean Smart, Kate, myself, and Angourie Rice were all living in a house together when we were filming. So there we had the three generations: the grandmother, the mother, and the daughter, all there together in the same house. And there was I, the quiet guy in the corner just trying to listen and take note. It was fascinating to hear Jean’s perspective on life, to see Kate’s wonderful lively approach to things, and, of course, to see Angourie, who is a fellow Melbournian, like myself, with absolute wonder in her eyes, and a great talent herself. So it was a real joy to be around those ladies for this project, even though I was only there for a very short time. But to really sort of connect what we have going on in our personal lives with this story, even though, in most of our personal lives we’re not dealing with police issues. We’re not dealing with murder and missing people et cetera. But I think what’s great about Mare of Easttown is that it tries to get away from the superhero cop – the detective who is able to solve things that nobody else can solve. I think, to speak on Kate’s behalf, it’s probably why she was drawn to it. We’re constantly reminded that this is a real woman with real issues, real family stuff, real ups and downs that she’s trying to deal with, as well as trying to deal with her position and job that she holds in the police force. It’s obviously far more dramatic than it might be in our own personal lives, but we could all relate to who this woman was.
How do you see your character, Richard Ryan, as he relates to Mare?
GP: I think what happens over the course of the seven episodes, it’s a sort of exploration of how the world that any of us inhabit can become our complete worlds and can become bigger than we want them to be and can become all consuming and take over. And that ultimately, for any of us, we need to remind ourselves to step back and look in and get a bit of perspective. I think for Mare, at the point that Richard comes in, he’s that outside perspective. He’s not there to save her, he’s not a saviour. He himself is fragile, he’s fairly messed up and a bit confused himself. He thinks he has an idea of what he wants in life. But there’s something at the heart of it, which is that he sees her and he looks at her and he doesn’t see her in the way that all the other locals do, which is that they need her to be their local detective and to solve everything for them. He looks at her and says “wow, you’re a vulnerable human being and you need to be loved. You need to break away from that and you need to actually have a bit of fun.” So you might say that he’s a saviour, but he certainly doesn’t actively go out of his way to be her saviour. I think he just falls in love with her. He just sort of looks at her and thinks “wow”. Under this very sort of normal woman who has no sense of vanity whatsoever, who is just getting on with her job, getting on with trying to deal with her own personal issues and dealing with everyone else’s issues in the town, this guy from the outside goes “you’re the most beautiful woman in this bar and you’re the most interesting person in this bar, and I want to talk to you.” She kind of goes, “who? me?”. I think it’s a little bit of a wake-up call for her and very quickly we get the sense that he needs to be woken up too. So they’re a good match for each other, I suppose. But that’s it – it’s to remind her that she is worthy of being loved and deserving of being loved. Not to suggest that all the people in the town don’t love her, but they all have their own sort of energy that they’re projecting onto her that she has to manage. She needs someone from the outside to go “I have no idea who you are, but I’m drawn to you”. That’s a new perspective, I think.
How did you go about crafting your portrayal of Richard?
GP: Look, it’s always a funny subject, I find, to talk about how we go about doing what it is we do. To be honest, the best performances that I manage and the best work that I ever do is never when I’ve gone about trying to work on something, it’s just about reading it and really feeling it and being inspired by it, I suppose. Like when you read a really good book and it just stays with you for days and you can’t stop thinking about it. I think when I see a role like Richard and it’s quite clear who he is and why he’s there, particularly when I get the opportunity to work with someone like Kate, where you know that the dynamic is going to be really complex and rich and interesting, there’s no question on how to move forward – you just sort of do it. It just sort of happens. Obviously there are discussions about little details and whether I should say to her in a particular scene “should I offer you a champagne?” or whether she would say “well don’t, because if you do I’m going to reject that, and that’s a moment that’s particularly tense between Richard and Mare. So perhaps it’s better that you don’t offer her a champagne at that point.” And particularly in something like this, where Kate was well established on this show before I came into it. I mean they’d been filming since November of 2019. I didn’t come into it until March of 2020, which was one day until we got shut down. So not only I, as an actor, was a much smaller part of the process, but I, as a character, was an integral part of the process, but I really had to understand what their world was in order to fit in well. I, as an actor, had to understand what was required in order to be able to fit in well and offer what was relevant and what would work. I quite like that, actually. I quite like that there are boundaries. As an actor, you don’t want to be boxed into something, but at the same time, to have boundaries and to understand what needs to be achieved between this position, this move, and this finale. I love that! I go “ok, so if I offer up some compassion and some love here, and then maybe some of my own personal story here that then gets rejected, I then have to fight back to win her over again by the time we get here.” So I suppose it’s just about understanding the world that is established with HBO and Mare of Easttown, and what Kate is doing and what Craig, our director, had all sort of established in order for me to fit in. Unlike another job where I might be carrying the whole thing and it’s quite clear from the outset that I’ve got major decisions to make about what we think might be really interesting, you know? Something like Mare of Easttown, I’ve got to really play ball and give them what they require and give Kate what she requires, you know? And I do love that, and especially with someone like Kate, who I adore. I said “you let me know what you want and I’ll do it”. [laughs]
Mare of Easttown premieres tonight at 10pm ET on Crave and HBO