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June 2004
Two Brothers : An Interview with Guy Pearce

By Todd Gilchrist

Two Brothers : An Interview with Guy Pearce

Guy Pearce is still best known for his riveting turn as Ed Exley in the 1997 film "L.A. Confidential", but he's been working in and around Hollywood for many years. After receiving nods as one of the members of "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"' traveling band of cross-dressing performers, he quickly ascended into the public eye with "Confidential" before taking leading-man status in such films as "Ravenous", and most impressively, as the amnesiac protagonist of Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking "Memento". Now, the Aussie actor finds himself in decidedly kid-friendlier waters with the upcoming Jean-Jacques Annaud film "Two Brothers", which follows a pair of separated tiger cubs after they are captured in the wild. Pearce recently spoke to blackfilm.com about his involvement in the film, and about conquering the fierce creatures he competes with on screen.

Jean-Jacques said you had a greater sensitivity to the animals than the other cast members.

GP: Well, probably because I'd been there so much longer than the other actors. I think I worked with the tigers for about six weeks before any other actors turned up, which was kind of nice, really. But I don't know; I've always been an animal lover. I've always had a real... I can't look at the world from that point of view that human beings are superior in every kind of way. I just naturally can't, so I just feel very empathetic towards animals, I guess, and so much of the time they're kind of confused and lost and trying to survive and just trying to find love, and all of the things that we all are as well. I've always had cats. Cats particularly have been a big part of my life, so I think my appreciation and whatever understanding of the feline sensibility, perhaps is something I've picked up on.

Annaud also said there was a scene, where the tiger recognizes you at the end of the film; that you wanted to do yourself instead of using the trainer or stunt double.

GP: Well, it wasn't specifically that I wanted to do that one [scene]. I just kept saying to them all the way along, 'Surely, I can be out there doing that. Surely that's safe, isn't it?' Of course, I had more respect for the fact that it wasn't going to be safe, but what I said to them early on was 'look, if you're keeping things safe just for my sake, because you think I want it to be that way, then I don't feel scared, so I'm happy to do whatever you want me to do.' I think Thierry, after having spent months and months with the various babies, I think he realized that I did have a real appreciation for them. After a scene would finsih, for example, a lot of people might think, 'I'm done, take the tiger away,' where I was fighting Monique [animal trainer], saying 'no no, let me hang on to it.' There were many scenes that I couldn't do, but we got to a point in the film where I'm watching young Freddie with his tiger, and I've got the gun trained on the tiger, and the other tiger kind of appears over my left shoulder. That's the shot. Because he was a distance away, and he was pretty docile that day, and most of them were most days, really. And they had a cage right behind me, so if it at all seemed dangerous, Thierry was going to throw me back into the cage, so it was pretty safe.

Has this film made you more aware of environmental or animal rights issues?

GP: I'm becoming more aware of things like that, yeah, and I am feeling more passionate the more I've learned. I think that's ultimately the thing with any of us, really, is that once you're educated to something you can't help but then feel like you've got to make some decision as to whether you're going to be involved or not involved. My passion for animals just comes from having been brought up with so many animals and having them around me, so it's very- I don't know how to articulate it. But with the more ecological aspects of the story or aspects of the world that we have got to be more conscious of, that's slowly getting better and better for me.

How did it help you understand those things better?

GP: I think the film helped me in sort of solidifying a lot of that stuff for me. I mean, my desire to do the film was because I've already started to not necessarily change my ways, because I don't hunt animals or do anything like that, but I think there's lots of things, just down to how we throw our garbage out, or recycling, and how we get our water, all that kind of stuff. I gradually feel like I'm becoming more aware of what we really could do to help in all sorts of ways.

Did you ever think about keeping a tiger for a pet afterward?

GP: Well, I thought about it, and that's the interesting thing. Whoever it is that's created all of us made them be so adorable to us, made them be just so engaging, and the desire to own that, to possess that is really strong. And this is what was interesting about the film was really seeing the cats grow up, and obviously we had cats of different ages, so you could really get a sense that that little thing that was very cute and cuddly in your arms was going to turn into that seven foot thing over there that essentially could knock you down if it wanted to. I mean, I was thinking about all of those times when someone gives someone a pet for a gift, like a puppy or whatever, and there's something so exciting about that present moment, about that moment of receiving that animal, seeing that animal, but then there's a whole host of other responsibilities that come with that. It's just interesting how those responsibilities can get blocked out by an exciting moment, so I was really aware of that with the cats. I could see why people want them. I can see why they think they want to try and tame the beast, but I think there's probably a more valuable step that we can take as people where we resist certain things like that.

The animals are separated and get lost. Has there been a time in your own life when you felt that way?

GP: [sarcastic] No, personally, I've never ever felt lost or confused. I'm always right on track, and have a lot of direction in my life.

How does it feel to get upstaged by these tigers?

GP: "Happy, you know? To not quite be in the spotlight- - I never thought about being upstaged because I wasn't trying to get to the front of the stage myself. I'm never usually trying to get to the front of the stage. I suppose that's one of the things that was appealing about the film, that because of the style of it, which places us as people on some level in the background. On another level, we're very present. I mean, the actions that we're taking, the things that we're doing are very effective, have a great effect on the lives of these young tigers. So I saw that as a really positive way to tell a story, really seeing it from their point of view. Also for me, I've been trying to take a year off, and I managed to take six months off and a whole series of things happened that kind of led me to this movie. And I thought as well as being drawn to the film, I thought I probably could take it on because I'm not the front guy, I'm not carrying the whole thing, so I was really happy to, for a number of reasons, let them take the spotlight off of me.

You've said in the past you feel uncomfortable in front of the media. Is that still true?

GP: I don't know. I just would need to learn to not feel anxious like right now, and that's what I'm learning, I suppose, that if there's any way for us to see ourselves as being in some kind of hierarchical position, that we have the ability as human beings to, I think, to develop the way we think, develop the way we feel. We have the ability to reflect and change, and that's what I'm working on. That's how I can make it better for myself. I mean, I've done it with L.A. I used to really struggle with L.A., but now I love it, because I decided that I had to love it, as well as over time, meeting really great people here, and really sort of solidifying some sort of base here even if I don't live here. But now, I love it, and it's a real interesting thing for me to think back to how much I didn't love it.

How aware were you that Two Brothers would be aimed at a family market? Did that affect your performance?

GP: Well, I never really know that when I make a film, unless it's blatantly obvious that it's a kid's film, or blatantly obvious that it's a romantic comedy, I imagine what the film might look like from an audience point of view, but I don't necessarily imagine who the audience are. I saw the film yesterday and I hadn't seen it, and it has a far more family-oriented feel, a very obvious family-oriented spirit than what I detected when we were making the film. Even when I was talking to Jean-Jacques, he talked about reaching out to a really broad audience and treating the film with a sort of fable-like quality, but I don't know; when I was in the moment doing it, I don't sort of imagine who will be watching anyway. I'm just kind of there doing it, and then you're usually surprised like a year later when you see all of the marketing, and you see of the stuff and you go, 'oh, so now I can see how this film is aimed at somebody.'

How arduous was the shooting schedule in terms of the work environment and staying in contact with your family?

GP: I was pretty much on my own most of the time. Kate, my wife, came to visit with her sister, just briefly to Cambodia but most of the time I was there by myself. But it was a lot easier for me than it was for the rest of the crew, because I would work for a week and then have two weeks off, and then work for a week and have two weeks off, so I was going back and forth to Melbourne. And I think because of the place that I was in in my own head, I couldn't just suddenly cut off from home again and go and be away for months on end, so the schedule of this film also was enticing. But obviously, we were in Cambodia for five months, and aside from the fact that I was working with 250 French people - which was an interesting thing to sort of try to fit into anyway, we were working with tigers - - I was also in this incredible country that had such a history, and the people were some of the most engaging and enthusiastic people I'd ever come across in my life. So trying to put that together with the history that they've had was just a really mind-altering kind of time. I mean, everyone we spoke to there said, 'oh yes, my father was killed by Pol Pot.' 'My uncle was killed by Pol Pot.' 'My cousin was killed by Pol Pot.' After five months of that, it's harrowing trying to fathom it, let alone experiencing it. Then we trekked up into the- - we were in Siem Reap, which is the sort of tourist spot where you go and then you go up to the temples, so it was very interesting but everything was quite accessible and relatively easy. But then we went up to northeastern Cambodia and camped up there for like a month. That was really freeing to me, it was fantastic to kind of get out of the city and be in what felt like would have sort of be a closer version of what we were filming, what we were filming was supposed to appear like. It was interesting for me because I didn't work too many days up there, but I decided to stay out there and I actually wrote a stack of music, so I kind of had that going on as well at the same time. But it was very hot and it was really difficult for the crew, because we would do night shoots, and then we were all staying in these sort of white tents, and then trying to sleep during the day in 40 degree heat in a white tent. And the crew as I say ,they were there all of the time, whereas I got to get back and forth. It was far easier for me.

Were there ever any close calls with the tigers, or was there any time you felt you were in danger?

GP: No, I wasn't. The only time I really felt something strange was early on. I'll preface this by telling you what happened on the day I arrived to Cambodia. I got there, and they took me from the airport, dropped the stuff off at the hotel and took me out to the set. Jean-Jacques said, 'Oh, we're rehearsing with the tigers, come and watch. Stand in this cage with us.' So there I was with five other people standing in a cage, and Thierrey had a tiger on a long rope, and he was walking it up this path, walking it up and down this path, back and forth. The point is, the rope gets longer and longer, and then eventually he takes off the rope and he gets him to do it without the rope. And before he got to the 'taking the rope off' stage, apparently the tiger decided he was a bit bored with what he was doing and he decided to jump about like a cat might, and play with the rope and pull on the rope and do all this stuff. And Thierrey was saying, 'come on, come on,' trying to hold the rope and the tiger was jumping, because the rope would then go taut, and the tiger would go so high. You know how high a cat can jump. Well, a tiger can jump relatively the same height. And then it leapt on the front of our cage. And the cages that they put us in were obviously very safe, but they were very light and sort of flimsy. They had to be light so they can fold them up and move them to the next spot. So the tiger leaps on to the side of the cage, just in kind of a playful way but his whole body is stretched up in front of the cage, and he's just going 'rrarrrr,' on the wire. And I'm going, 'wow, man. This is going to be one of the most exciting jobs I've ever worked on.' And the photographer just leapt to the back of the cage, but I didn't feel scared at all, because I could see they were playing. Then, a couple of months later, I went to the enclosure where they had the most amazing enclosure. We all laughed at how well they were treated compared to how well we were treated; we were treated fine, but they were treated brilliantly. I went to this enclosure when I had an afternoon free so I stepped into the enclosure where all of the tigers were in different cages all sort of dollied around. I was watching them and some were playing or rubbing up against the cage, staying away from the adults. But there was one adult that was pacing, and so I went to have a look at it. And I sat there looking at it and it was pacing, and it sort of stopped to look at me, and then it roared at me, and it kind of did a real [hiss] at me at the same time, and I was six feet away from it and I just kind of went into the ground. I just completely went, 'Okay. I have this real feeling that if I was out in the wild and if one of them decided to do something to you there's nothing you could do about it.' And just to feel that strength and that energy would be critical, and I learned more from that moment than the nine months I spent with them, I think.

Movies that changed your life?

GP: I'm sure there are. I'm always really bad at trying to remember stuff like this. I mean, I think my favorite film of all time is The Elephant Man. My sister is intellectually disabled, or whatever the politically correct term is these days. Socially disenfranchised or something. That was a good one, I thought. That was an interesting one. So obviously- - and my mom started an organization for handicapped people in Julong where I grew up 30 years ago or something. So I've always been heavily involved in handicapped people and camps and socials and this, that and the other. And there was something about The Elephant Man that to me, I mean, I find it even impossible to describe but it was so touching and it was so real to me and I mean, I might assume that if that film might have resonated with other people as it might have for me, even though they might not have had a sister like mine for example. But I don't know. There's just something about the way we treat each other and the way we view each other I think in that film that is always reminding me of how we view each other and how we should or could relate to each other. It just solidifies. I mean, we had a lot of struggle with my sister when she was young, because people would pick on her and tease her. I had to deal with a lot of that when I was younger. And there was something about The Elephant Man that just solidified a lot of that stuff.

Are you prepared for this film to be released as a family film, exposing you to a new audience?

GP: Well, in the fabled nature of the film, I think I'm sort of trying to work this out, what's a kid's film, what's a family film, and if there is a difference. It's not really my area of expertise. I'm sort of trying to figure it out as we do all of this stuff. But I guess what's interesting about the story is that kids can be interested in it, but that can still resonates with an adult audience. And I don't know whether that's sort of the fable quality of the film. I don't know- I find it a really hard one to kind of put my finger on it. I think what's interesting about this film is in some ways it feels a bit doco-like. The footage of the tigers feels like stuff you would watch in a documentary at times, just the sort of minutes and minutes and minutes of tiger behavior, and that psychologically has a particular effect on us, as opposed to how a film, a piece of entertainment might affect us. You know, we kind of get ourselves into a certain safety zone or a different kind of zone if we're watching a documentary, where this film combines a few elements, I think, which only means then a broader audience, and whether that's a family audience, but a broader audience can then relate to it.

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