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MAY 2006

By: Brad Balfour

With two of the more individualistic actors around, Guy Pearce and Danny Huston, a film like "The Proposition" could help but be intriguing if not a revelatory exploration into two very flawed men.
Both actors have had careers full of films that have surprised or challenged assumptions such as this one. And of working with such individualistic directors such as Aussies John Hillcoat and writers as
Nick Cave.

Set in Australia's Outback of the 1880s, the brothers Burns are highly sought after criminals who have their way around the territory, After the rape and murder of a settler family by older brother Arthur (Huston), brother Charlie (Pearce) and younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are caught in a shoot out. Offered a proposition by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), Charlie and sibling can go free if Charlie
finds and kills his older outlaw brother. Otherwise Capt. Stanley who is intent on bringing to them justice, will hang Mikey on Christmas Day, if Charlie fails to comply. The very good looking Pearce has turned away from the opportunity of high profile action films for likes of this very dark grim story. And Huston, who started out wanting to be a director, has developed an acting career doing just the kind of complex characters as Arthur, both find themselves making intriguing conversation about the film as well--note the dialogue here.

Since your character Charlie Burns says very little how did you
find the inspiration for him?

Guy Pearce: I look at the subtext. It's a hard thing to answer because you're just inspired by the script. It all makes sense when you look at the script and your imagination's fueled.

For example does it say "look angry now"?

GP: It's like reading a book. You're reading the book and you're inspired as to how the characters are behaving. It's two years ago now that we made this movie, so I can't remember specifically where the commas and the false stops were. But it's very descriptive, and you bring to it your own version of what's written. Something like this, there's no question about what you're doing really, because it's so beautifully written. It's articulate, eloquent, and very evocative.

Did you improvise?

GP: No. If you've got a good writer you don't need to improvise.

So what made you want to do this project?

GP: Not a specific line or moment. The entire thing was definitely at a particular level that far surpassed everything else. It just has such integrity to it--most scripts fall victim to horrible formuli, predictable--and this was really unpredictable and unconventional, so it was sort of the whole thing, for me, that was really inspiring.

DH: As far as the reading of my character, what I really enjoyed was that he comes in so late.

GP: Danny likes to come in late.

Fashionably late?

DH: Fashionably late. But in a way, this curse, there are a few great characters in film that have this late entrance, and how to try to work that. I had some good conversations with Nick Cave [the legendary musician and writer of this script] in regards to him being tender and whimpering and afraid of his brother dying, and not the sort of dog man that we expect, and hopefully growing to like him slightly, and then having him starting to behave in a psychotic manner. It's such great meaty stuff to draw from for an actor. Really exciting, and your performance is really minimal, the opposite of Arthur.

GP: It's really sort of reactive. I'm in this awful situation, that you can't really understand or fathom. How can you really comprehend something like that unless you're in that situation. And on some level I didn't really even understand the character until… I remember just before we started shooting, or leading up to shooting, thinking, I don't really know who this guy is, but it doesn't really matter on some level. I mean it matters, obviously I need to be convincing in what I do, but it's much more about him being a mirror for an audience, them being able to ask themselves the question of how they would deal with this particular proposition, so I had to really remind myself of how I responded to the script initially, which was about the whole entire thing rather than this specific character.

And did you two develop back stories for these characters?

GP: We kind of did a bit, there were a few obvious things like are we convicts that were sent out from Ireland, or was it our parents? Are we born here or not? What happened to our parents? We vaguely got into some of that stuff so that we went, OK, it could have been something like this or something like that.

DH: And also there's the accent.

GP: On some level Nick was very clear in saying, I don't know where they came from, they're just Irish.

DH: Nick is just brilliant that way.

GP: He is. He's very honest.

DH: In a way I know it's generalizing, but it's this great Australian quality. As an actor you get a bit overly involved as far as history, you get overly concerned, and Nick would just be like…just…

GP: The funny thing is, you look for that stuff, you go into all that to try and believe what you're doing, whereas you ask Nick that
question and have Nick say, just get on with it, you just kind of do go, it's not going to matter to an audience where he came from in Ireland. They just need to believe that we're Irish.

DH: And that we're brothers.

How did you two work this out, did you sit down with each other?

GP: Nick was there during rehearsals. We'd be doing stuff and Nick would go, no that's not right, that's not what I'm aiming at here. We'd be trying this or trying that or trying stuff out, it was pretty clear straight away. I felt like I knew what I wanted to do with it, but I always fall into that trap of going maybe we should try it this way and really spoil things, which can be really very beneficial. But sometimes you can take it too far, and kind of waste time.

And for you Danny?

DH: We stayed at the place called the Boulder Motor Inn, and we went over a couple of scenes a few times and rehearsed without anybody there. Guy and I, we went over the dialogue. We went over the dialogue also for the accent, we do these counting exercises, is it too Irish, just trying to make it somewhat invisible so it wouldn't be too big a deal. But the first scene where we're together where we're watching the sunset was actually kind of technical.

GP: Take Scene 64.

DH: Scene 64. It was always looming, because the wide shots were done at one time, and you can only spend so much time at the sunset.

GP: You've got five minutes.

DH: So we really have to lock into our movements so we can repeat them day after day. And when we went to do coverage, the studio kind of set in the way that we…

GP: We filmed it in the town hall, and the DP created this beautiful [environment], so we were able to almost have a studio environment.

DH: And it was really weird, because there were no flies, and it wasn't incredibly hot. The coverage of that was the last filming that we did.

The film was brilliant in its sense of real dirtiness.

GP: John really pushed for the reality of the situation, and none of us particularly thought it should be any different from that.

And what did you read as background material for that period?

GP: John gave us piles and piles of research material, which consisted of all sorts of things from police reports of various kinds that had occurred, or letters of various kinds going back and forth between people. Diary entries of people who had been attacked by aboriginals and fought back and killed them or whatever. It was a slew of stuff. We all got charged for excess luggage when we got up there because you could have ten kilos of luggage and we all had twenty kilos of research, so there was a lot of stuff for us to read, we were really swapping stuff around, and it just allowed for us to immerse ourselves in period.

DH: We shot in sacred spots.

GP: So there were lots of aboriginal people up there.

It almost felt like the audience could smell you.

GP: It's funny because you also need a good DP to make all that stuff work as well. I've done plenty of films before where I've dirtied myself up, and you just look like some idiot whose covered in dirt.Because the film's not…all the elements don't come together so well. Whereas we had a brilliant DP on this film, and John has great specific eyes, so he really knows where to put the camera, where to have it be hand held or static or whatever, so that's stuff to really register.

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