Since becoming a teen heartthrob as Mike Young in Aussie soap opera Neighbours (1986-1989) Guy Pearce has carved out a very diverse career. His performance in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994) provided an engaging dress rehearsal for what was to follow - strong, character-based roles in critically acclaimed movies such as LA Confidential (1997), Memento (2000) and The Count Of Monte Cristo (2002). Of late, he has played an explorer in tiger cub drama Two Brothers (2004) and has now teamed up with John Hillcoat and Nick Cave for gritty Outback Western, The Proposition, in which he plays an outlaw brother forced to kill one brother to save another.
Did the furious heat - and the flies - of the outback help you capture your character?
Yeah, I think all of that helped me a lot. There was a period there, prior to making the film, where I really had no idea who Charlie was. I think I went through that process that actors are supposed to go through when they ask lots of questions and Nick Cave was the recipient of that. In the end, it felt on some level like it didn't really matter who he was, what was important was the situation that he was in and that kind of environment, getting a sense of being there and the period. The harshness of survival in that period was kind of informative as to how Charlie should be portrayed.
The way the financing came together you had to shoot the film in the summer. How difficult did that make it?
I don't think it was as difficult for me as it was for Emily [Watson] or Ray [Winstone]. I know Ray went to Dubai on the way to try and acclimatise and by the time he got to Winton he realised that Dubai was a waste of time. But as I said before, there's something you can't ignore when you're in that kind of extreme temperature.
Did some of the costumes give any cause for concern?
The thing that concerned me initially when I was trying the costume on, which is obviously wool and leather, was that I thought that it was going to make doing things impossible. I worked in extreme heat about four years ago and it really sapped my energy. But because it was dry rather than humid, it meant that I didn't seem to suffer the energy loss that I had in the past.
When you moved to night shoots, were those as cold as the days were hot?
Yeah, about 30 degrees, which felt positively cold compared to 48!
Did you have an emotional response to location as a character in its own right?
Not so much to the town of Winton, but we would travel half an hour out of town each day to the various spots. It was just awe-inspiring. It was so different from anywhere that anybody else knows, particularly those who live in a city. I guess I did have some kind of emotional response from looking at the script, doing research and reading about these people and this environment to just arriving there. We had a really difficult plane ride over so we felt like we'd survived something just by getting there - it all added to it.
What happened on the plane ride?
[Laughs] There was just a lot of people jammed into a very small aircraft that didn't have any toilets. I was sick in a bag and then this hand came over with a bottle with a little bit of water in it and Nick [Cave] said: "Finish this, I need to piss in it." He had drunk lots of cups of tea before getting on the plane. It was odd but it proved to be a bonding experience.
In the past you've spoken about having a lack of confidence. Has that gone away now and what was it like going back to do an Australian film after having so much American success?
I think it generally fades as you get on a bit. You can dip back into feeling insecure about things, but this was a particularly positive experience because it was a great script and a really delightful group of people who weren't out to make anyone else feel bad. I certainly didn't feel any insecurity. It sometimes depends on what you're doing. Sometimes you get the feeling that this is beyond my abilities and have to ask yourself: "What am I doing?" But on some level that pushes you to discover other things about yourself.
The Proposition is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th March 2006.