Guy Pearce on Why He Feels Supporting Roles are More Difficult than Lead Roles


English-Australian actor Guy Pearce will likely always be most remembered for his starring role in Christopher Nolan‘s breakthrough film Memento, but Pearce has appeared in a variety of roles — both big and small — in a number of acclaimed films. 

He spoke to Movieline about choosing projects, and how he actually finds it more difficult to act in a smaller role than a lead role.

Pearce admits that when he chooses projects he’s baffled by which ones will eventually turn out successful and which will not.  He explains, “Even if I am conscious at all you still don’t necessarily know if it’s going to work out that way — you still don’t know if a film is made well or not seen, or seen or not made well. You kind of go, well, I have no say over that anyway. So to me I have to just respond to what my internal interests are, I suppose. Like, I wouldn’t have chosen Memento to gain a whole lot of attention and yet Memento has probably gotten me more attention than any other film I’ve ever done. So you never really know what the outcome’s going to be. So I tend not to think about it too much, to be honest. I’ve had discussions; my agent has said, ‘Well, you might want to do this, this is something that might be kind of big, it’s going to be seen by a lot of people,’ and I kind of don’t really hear it, necessarily. I need to understand the character and understand the director. So I’m aware of that stuff but I just don’t know what to do with it.”

Though Pearce has recently appeared in many smaller roles — including in The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker, which both won Best Picture at the Oscars — he actually feels that supporting roles and cameos are more difficult than leads.  He says,”It is more challenging! You know what it’s like – you move into a new house and it takes you a while to kind of settle in,” and adds, “I think anything less than four weeks on a movie, it’s hard to really feel connected, particularly if other people have been filming for a month before you get there. You pop in for two weeks and then you go and you go, ‘Ah, sorry to intrude…'”

He goes into more detail by elaborating on the creative process for an “intruding” actor, pointing out, “I had a couple of years there where I just did cameos and supporting roles, and at the end of the year I went, well, I don’t really feel like I did anything this year. You sort of feel like you maybe did a commercial or did an appearance on a talk show, you just did these little one-off quick things that haven’t really absorbed. So it’s fantastic – it’s fantastic – when you get in the trenches with people for three or four months, personally. It’s hard work as well, but then it’s a memorable experience. And that says a lot, I think , about my need to bond with people and my nostalgia. And it also takes me a while to formulate a character, and most of the time you don’t get rehearsals on film so you need a couple of weeks to really get up and running and really feel like you know who this character is. And if you only have two weeks on a movie, you’re sitting on the plane home to Australia going, ‘Still not quite sure that I got King Edward…'”

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