In The Mix

A Many-Sided Man

Guy Pearce savors his latest roles, on screen and off.

Barak Zimmerman and John Griffiths
  • Jules Tahan

All actors are shape-shifters, but Guy Pearce really puts his back into it.

Sometimes called "Australia's most versatile actor," he's played a teacher, a drag performer, a soldier, Harry Houdini, detectives and more. So it's a little ironic that in Netflix's supernatural thriller The Innocents, he stays the same while the woman he loves keeps transforming.

Only women do the shifting, Pearce explains. "It's a genetic malfunction that traces back to Nordic mythology. I play a doctor, and all of my medical training focuses on helping her to get to the bottom of this."

His character, Halvorson, "doesn't quite fit into the British medical system," Pearce adds. "He wants to carve his own path. He comes across this woman and he's completely fascinated. So he starts to look for other people who have this condition and brings them to this isolated part of Norway, where he doesn't have to be hounded by the authorities."

As for what he does with them … well, you'll just have to watch and see.

At the same time, Pearce has been starring in an Australian series, Jack Irish. He plays a former criminal attorney now working as a part-time debt collector — another professional carving his own path.

A hit when it debuted as a telefilm in 2012, the show — based on novels by the late Peter Temple — spawned two more films and then took a break till 2016, when it became a limited series. All three movies and both seasons are available on the streaming service Acorn TV. Jack Irish has been something of a homecoming for Pearce, who was born in the U.K. but grew up in Australia.

He had his first taste of fame as a teenager there on the soap opera Neighbours. In 1989, he left the show to make movies, eventually costarring (and scene-stealing) in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He reached a bigger American audience in the 1997 film noir L.A. Confidential and again in 2000's Memento.

Since then, Pearce has brought his edgy presence to studio movies (The Hurt Locker, Iron Man 3) and indie films like Factory Girl, where he played Andy Warhol.

He won an Emmy in 2011 for his turn in HBO's remake of Mildred Pierce and played a gay activist in ABC's historical miniseries When We Rise, but has stayed busy with movies in the U.S. and Down Under throughout.

But all those roles pale in comparison to the new one in his private life.

"I believed for many years that I didn't want to be a father," he says, "My ex-wife and I were never going to have kids — and that was totally fine." But today he's a dad to Monte, the toddler son he shares with Dutch actress-singer Carice van Houten (Melisandre on Game of Thrones).

"I didn't want to take on any more responsibility," Pearce says. "But with my little boy, I'm all there, blood and bone."

Art imitates life in the most recent season of Jack Irish. "The writers know me really well," Pearce says. "So in the first episode, we see Marta [Dusseldorp, who plays a romantic interest] say, 'Come on with it! Now's the time, the clock is ticking, we're going to have a child!' and Jack says, 'Oh, God, we're too old to have a kid!'

"That got a good laugh from the crew," he says. "It's like, Okay guys, clearly that joke was for my benefit."

And just like that, he's shape-shifted again.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019