THE PROPOSITION - An Interview with GUY PEARCE AND DANNY HOUSTON
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|THE PROPOSITION - An Interview with GUY PEARCE AND DANNY HUSTON
By: Brad Balfour
There were literary elements in the framework of this film.
DH: Yes, and there's a sort of…the flies were outrageous. We all ate our fair share of flies. If you even slightly took a breath it wasn't uncommon to swallow a couple of flies while doing that.
So how was the catering?
GP: That was the catering. Enough eating for the day.
DH: There's something noble about… I harp back as a memory I have in Kenya of the pride of lions coming by, and a cloud of flies coming with them (Pearce did the movie "Two Brothers" in Africa]. Obviously they're regal and beautiful creatures that it doesn't faze them as much as it does us, especially if you've got one in your eye, one up your nose, one in your ear. Suddenly you can have a mild freak out, which would look a little odd for someone like Arthur, whose a king of the flies. There's a lot to be said for finding harmony in that atmosphere--the flies, the heat, the grime. It's all the right reasons for shooting a film on location.
GP: We like a bit of grime and dirt.
DH: Also, it's a boy fantasy to be out in the desert in a western with horses and…
GP: To not have to get clean is kind of…
Such as the scene drinking under the tree.
GP: It was actually really rushed. It was the end of the day and there was a lot of pressure to just hurry up and shoot something. It's interesting, a lot of people talk about that scene, I think it's the visual aspect, the fact that the stars are so vivid and clear, and yet again, that comes down to our DP, who really…that's one thing that you really notice when you've got a great DP, we see what's going on out there, and then you look at the finished film and you think, gosh, he's made it look fifty times better or more vivid than it seemed.
The transition from that to the prison cell is really effective. But it was rushed. I'm on my horse and it's a lull point in his journey because he's kind of just taken to the bottle as a lot of people were in that period. Once I got off the horse the horse decided to interact, so there's something spontaneous in it as well. But I do think that any attention that scene has is purely because of Benoit Delhomme–-our DP. He has a way of making everything look just extraordinary.
You could say the same about the music.
It's interesting working with Nick also because we knew he was going to do the music for the film. I get quite anxious on a film wondering how that final piece of the puzzle is actually going to play out because generally you don't even know whose going to compose the score for the film, and you talk to the director about how the score's going to be, and usually it's vague throughout the shoot, and so I find as a musician and someone whose very aware of the effects that music has in a film, I'm always a little bit anxious to find out…because if I know it's that music, I know I need to do this much to make it work.
I know many Nick Cave albums, and knew it wasn't necessarily going to be Nick Cave songs, but I certainly knew the tone of my music while we were shooting the tone of the film, so I felt very comfortable, I wasn't going to be surprised by…
Was there a philosophical subtext?
GP: I'm always interested in many layers of psychological makeup... It's rare for me to go to a film purely to be entertained by something I'll then forget about, I'm always looking to be moved by something. Therefore I'm interested in films that will move and resonate and effect people in a way that is memorable, I suppose.
And to me what I'm interested in in being an actor is many layers of human psychology. Nick, obviously, is very insightful, and has a very clever way of presenting one thing but making you think about other things at the same time. As soon as I read it I went, oh wow, right up my alley.
DH: The biblical nature of the piece, in a way the western genre reveals so beautifully because of its epic nature. That was a lot of fun to explore while reading the script, all of us in a way…this large sky…
GP: It really is overwhelming being out there, when you can see the horizon, and all the way around you. It really is the biggest sky you've ever seen, living in Montana or wherever you are in the States, but so overwhelming, you get out there and you just go wow.
Nick and John didn't want to make the Australian version of an American western, so did you succeed?
GP: I think so. It's interesting because I look back to what everyone calls a western, and I know that John, for many years, even when Nick and John first met each other, John had talked of doing an Australian western, and he might have used the term western in that he wanted to deal with similar issues and set it in a similar landscape, as opposed to what's quintessentially American in an American western, and that was some of the issues, when John talked to Nick about doing the music for the film first, that was prior to Nick deciding to write the script, having some of the issues with some of the other people who'd written versions, was that it felt like an American western filmed in Australia.
The characters were very American rather than Australian. So I didn't really think of it as a western. It's such an American theme, it felt honest for me to see this as an Australian story just in this land.
And what is the American way?
GP: There's more of a defining line between the good and a bad. Not just in American westerns but in American films generally. Whenever I come to American to do publicity, one of the first questions I'm asked all the time, and it relates to the fact that I choose to do the movies that I do, is that people always say, we can't tell whose supposed to be the good guy and who's supposed to be the bad guy. Aren't we more complex than that? And I only ever get asked that question in America. There's a real need in America, I find, to go, you're the bad guy and I'm the good guy and that's the story.
And that's not so with independent films?
GP: Sure, there's a move, but it becomes of bit of a pat question. I don't mean to be either, really. Westerns that were made back in the '50s and '60s and '70s, there was a guy on a black horse and a guy on a white horse. I understand it, it's a way of compartmentalizing. On one hand, we can choose to do something good if we really think about it, but on the other hand, we all can do bad things if we want.
And what was it like working with consummate actors as Ray Winstone (as the Captain) and Emily Watson (as his prim wife)?
GP: We all had three weeks off when Emily and Ray did all their scenes together. We were all there for rehearsals and some of our shooting. We had many nights together, just hanging out together, we had time to just get to know each other.
Were you surprised he was cast?
GP: I was the first person on board, and initially when John was looking for the role of Stanley it was written more as an upper class character rather than a working class character, by the time they got to choosing ray, everyone realized it was more interesting to have this guy who had married up, then there's more of a contrast between Ray's character and the character whose the owner of the town, the mayor of the town. It does make it more interesting because Ray can relate to us more as working class guys just trying to survive.
And there was the underpinning of Irish experience?
GP: None too directly. My name is spelled the Irish way, but my dad's mother is actually from Scotland.
DH: It does [inform the character], all the characters in the piece are misfits, cling to some semblance of what they think is right for them, but they're all in a way lost souls and displaced. They're more Irish outside of Ireland than in Ireland. The Irish, as a people, pine for Ireland, it creates poetry and music, it's a lot of what the people are about. In a way I think it helps with displacement, when they look at the sunset together you maybe get a sense that at some point in their childhood they looked at the sunset. There's a sort of nostalgia, a sort of memory.
GP: There's such a conquering desire in the English, the Irish are more earthy, more willing to accept.
GP: I remember talking to John very early on, I was doing a film in Cambodia, and John came out to meet, this is really early on, I said to him, do you really want to make them Irish, I'm only saying this because I've never done an Irish accent before and I don't really know how I'd go with it, I'm curious to know. And he said, they have to be Irish, he was very specific about wanting to highlight that.
DH: My plan wasn't really to act, I was waiting for these projects I was directing to get greenlit, and it was taking forever. And friends, directors, out of the kindness of their hearts because I was doing nothing, started casting me in small parts. And my idea was to observe them working. As a director, your entire galaxy pivots around your one project, you never get to explore anyone else's work.
So the way we'd observe, and I'd love to watch my father working, was to observe directors that I expected work. I still have that, getting bigger, now I can call myself an actor, I think. I still have a desire to watch people I respect direct, and I'm sometimes known for hanging around on a film set a little longer than most…I'm interested in what equipment they're using, it's not uncommon for me to go up to the projection booth and chat with the projectionist.
Are you working on anything now?
DH: I've always got stuff I'm developing, and at the moment, I find a lull.
Have you cast Guy?
DH: A healthy amount of nepotism is great, to work with people that you've worked with before, to keep that going. [Director] Mike Figgis cast me in "Leaving Las Vegas," I had one line, I was bar man number two, and slowly I did bigger roles for him. I love working with people that I know.
And are there more big budget films for you after "The Time Machine"?
GP: I don't think I could have!
Weren't you supposed to do be the Batman?
GP: That was a rumor.
You really do not like Hollywood films?
GP: I just don't believe a lot of these films, I feel like what's going on behind them is there's too much money at stake--everyone wants to make sure they're protecting their money, and I as an actor don't really believe it. I would do it one to make money and two to expand my name. One, I make enough money on the little films that I make, and two I don't want my name to get any bigger anyway, so there's no point in me doing films I don't really believe in.
DH: It's tricky. I would love to do a big budget film and get paid an enormous amount of money. I just don't know how to do it. I've done a little TV, and I kind of freeze up because I don't know…like you were saying, all characters are flawed, everybody's flawed. And as an actor that's how I approach a character, I find the flaws, and that's how I find the key into the characters I play. If you give me a one dimensional character I don't think I could even say the line. I wouldn't know how to do it, I would have to be directed so specifically, I wouldn't be able to offer you anything, I would be doing the project a disservice.
So what's next?
GP: I'm going to do a film with Catherine Zeta Jones called "Death Defying Acts" directed by Gillian Armstrong. And I just finished "Factory Girl" with Sienna Miller, playing Edie Sedgwick [from the Andy Warhol days].
DH: And I just finished a film about Orson Welles called "Fade to Black." [Who better to play.]
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