How fatherhood helped Guy Pearce bury his demons

If Guy Pearce could give up acting to make music full time he would, but he's got bills to pay. As one of Australia's biggest screen stars, he calls Melbourne home, keeps an apartment in Los Angeles and describes Amsterdam – where he lives with his partner, Game of Thrones star Carice van Houten, and their 20-month-old son Monte – as his new spiritual centre. He's about as anti-Hollywood as it gets – there's no inflated ego or chip on the shoulder. And if his second studio album The Nomad is anything to go by, he's a bloke in touch with his emotions.

Endings and  beginnings

In 2016, two major life events shook his foundations to the core. Pearce split from his psychologist wife of 18 years Kate Mestitz [they met at age 12 as students at Geelong College] and he welcomed the arrival of his first child in a new relationship with Van Houten. Amid the drama, childhood memories of losing his father in a plane crash began to surface. 

Pearce, who aligns with Buddhism, sought help from a therapist to manage his long-buried feelings about the loss and becoming a father himself. "It's been one hell of a ride," he reflects. "I remember the turning point well. I had just finished filming a TV series in Canada, flew back to Australia to do one scene in Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant in July and then to LA to record The Nomad. A couple of weeks after that I'm in Amsterdam and welcoming my new baby in August," he recalls.

Pearce says his therapist told him that nothing would teach him about his own father as much as the little boy he was about to raise. "She was absolutely right," he says. "When I look at him in my arms, I don't sit there trying to work out who my Dad is anymore, I just feel what my Dad must have felt when he had me. I get to experience what he experienced. I look at it from a different point of view rather than trying to talk to relatives to figure it out. I am happy with that and it's much more profound."

An unconventional career

After a stint in television, it was his iconic role in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that put him on the international radar. Pearce went from boy next door to drag queen, then played a hero, a villain, and a musician in the space of a decade. LA Confidential was his Hollywood debut in 1997, then Memento in 2000 and Nick Cave's adaptation of The Proposition in 2005.

I'm sure I have pissed people off along the way, made enemies and f---ed up. I have let people down and am as human as anyone else.

"I feel I have spent my whole career constantly battling to not be swayed," Pearce says. "It's easy to be influenced by other people's projections and it's one of the things I am amazed by in life. People are constantly trying to project their shit onto you whether that's in a work sense or in a conversation … I'm constantly thinking, why do people feel the need to grab hold of you and suck the oxygen out of the room? I get agitated by that attitude."

Since then he's appeared in blockbusters such as Iron Man 3 and Oscar winners such as The King's Speech, but it's clear that Pearce only does what feels right. In February, he was back in Melbourne filming the second series of crime drama Jack Irish for the ABC based on the detective novels by Peter Temple. 

"Playing an Australian character means I don't have to work that hard to find subtleties and nuances because it's in our blood … If I'm playing an American or Dutch character – as I'm about to start doing - everything I do has to be researched, constructed and put together and I have to present it all like I haven't done that work. So yeah there's a lazy, patriotic and nostalgic part of me that loves working at home."

Solace in the music

Just like the characters Pearce plays on screen, there's a restrained elegance to The Nomad.

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Recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer [and Madonna's brother-in-law] Joe Henry, it's a departure from his 2014 debut Broken Bones, which was partly recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhouse Studio in New Zealand.

"The Nomad is much more personal and painful than anything I've written," he says. "I didn't want the album to be depressing, but there was some serious stuff I needed to clear out. Kate and I had been together for a long time and as sad as it was, I realised it was time to move on. I didn't write this in a pit of depression, there was light at the end of the tunnel."

Does he have any career regrets? "I look back now and think I did some films for a good career move or the money and others because it might have been good for my image," he says. "There comes a point you realise you're not here for the right reasons. It's okay to be the one who speaks up and says I don't want this. I'm sure I have pissed people off along the way, made enemies and f---ed up. I have let people down and am as human as anyone else. I have done things in my life and career I thought were right and pulled out and people get pissed off but I always apologised and explained why."

A place to call home

His close relationship with his mother, who now lives in a Point Lonsdale nursing home with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, is one of the reasons he never wanted to fully commit to a life in the US. His sister Tracy has an intellectual disability and also in special care in Geelong.

"I always felt a need to be close to my mother and sister and I still do. While I can't care for them full time I like to know I can see them more frequently when I'm in Australia," he admits. "I've come back home Christmas the past two years and Carice and I took Monte to visit Mum. Seeing her lose her faculties while my son is gaining his is quite emotional – the cycle of life unfolding before my eyes."

Since becoming a father he's thought a lot more about the absence of his own. "I think I understand more about that loss as I get older," he says. "I was too young to understand what it meant. Whatever Mum wanted me to do as far as bucking up and carrying on, I did it."

For now, he's happy to play the family man with a suitcase in hand. "LA has taken a bit of a back seat and I'm okay with that," he says. "I only go there if I need to look for work or follow up on meetings … I'd much rather be in Melbourne and now Amsterdam is more likely where you'll find me."

Guy Pearce performs on July 8 at The Playhouse Theatre, Melbourne. The Nomad is available online and in music stores from July 6. Visit guypearce.net