Guy Pearce on the Many Roles He Morphs Into This Year: ‘The Seventh Day,’ ‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,’ ‘Mare of Easttown’

Guy Pearce is an actor intrigued by sincerity and the power of belief. First achieving wide recognition in 1997 with “L.A. Confidential,” Pearce has shown off his wide range in everything from brain-twisting thrillers like Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough “Memento” and edgy westerns such as the masterful “The Proposition,” to intimate dramas like HBO’s update of “Mildred Pierce.” The Australian star morphs into many roles this year, including “The Seventh Day,” “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” and “Mare of Easttown.” In “The Seventh Day,” Pearce indulges in a bit of both with B-movie energy. It’s a return for Pearce to a work of pure genre filmmaking. For “The Seventh Day,” Pearce takes on that much coveted role in the horror genre: The exorcist. 

Written and directed by Justin P. Lange, “The Seventh Day” combines all the ingredients you find in a demon-possession opus, but shot with a good deal of atmosphere. The structure is almost reminiscent of cop thrillers in the vein of “Training Day.” Vadhir Derbez plays Father Daniel, a young priest tired of just giving mass on Sundays. He wants to be an exorcist and is paired for a day with Father Peter (Pearce), who has much, even tragic, experience in this particular line of spiritual warfare. Peter is giving Daniel one day to prove that he can handle the job and off they go demon-hunting. After a few scuffles with Satanic forces here and there, they are led to an incarcerated boy named Charlie (Brady Jenness), who has carried out a gruesome crime. Charlie is obviously possessed by dark forces and it’s up to Daniel and Peter to cast them out. Pearce spoke with Entertainment Voice about the making of “The Seventh Day.”

In “The Seventh Day,” you get to play this scruffy, experienced exorcist now showing the rookie the ropes. What attracted you to this story and the character?

There was a sense of reality about it. I’m always drawn to things that feel real. There was a history that this character explains about himself that I could relate to. But it was written in such a way that felt authentic. Then I spoke with Justin and got a sense of him of what he was after. He makes it feel genuine. My character experiences a trauma years before the main story, the way Justin presented that in the script felt horrendous and palpable. It felt like a real trauma that character had been through. So I wasn’t interested in the film as a genre film or horror film per se. I was just interested in what this character was going through and what he was trying to manipulate. And Justin’s great. He’s actually a very lovely, sweet guy, very quiet and bright.

You’re kind of like Denzel Washington in “Training Day.” You’re taking on this more inexperienced priest and giving him one day to prove he can sniff out the forces of darkness. Did you dive deep into the whole culture of exorcisms?

I didn’t dive into it in the research sense outside of what was there. To be clear, I only delve into things on a research level if I have to. If I don’t have to, if I understand the character and their journey, then I don’t want to go too far into the research. That opens up a whole can of worms and it becomes homework, it can even get in the way to be honest. What mattered to me was what Justin wanted. The writer can do all the research, and here it happens to be Justin.  I didn’t go through books or films. I felt I understood it well enough.

As an artist how do you approach these themes of the supernatural and the spiritual? Do you subscribe to a belief in dark powers?

I’m a big believer in reincarnation. I’ve always thought this as a kid, that surely when we die our energy continues on. Our body may die but the energy continues somewhere. So I’ve always had a belief that that’s feasible. What goes hand in hand with that, I think, is that if a life force is able to infiltrate a new being, a new body then is it possible for a negative life force to also inhabit a new being or new body? I don’t know enough about it to make me unbelieve that. I think it’s equally possible for someone to be consumed by negative energy. I’m constantly amazed at how when I go on the newsfeed on my phone, at the amount of murders that occur every day. It’s just constant. I can’t understand it, I can’t fathom it. I have my own child now, so I can’t understand how something takes you to that place. I mean, look, I have a sister with an intellectual disability, I’m very aware of people who have mental illness. My ex-wife is a psychologist who worked a lot with very disturbed young children, so I’m aware there’s a whole world of people out there struggling just to keep their feet on the ground. So I get that a lot of people are unstable on many levels. In saying all of that, I am curious about what it is in this devilish energy that infiltrates us as human beings, that enables us to do these things. Is someone just unstable? Are they just on some revenge path? Whatever it happens to be, why does that negative energy exist? So I can’t unbelieve the idea that devilish forces can infiltrate human beings. I’m also very fascinated in religion and why religion has so much power on so many people. I was brought up an atheist, or a heathen, or nothing, I’m a suburban type who only heard about religion and never went to church. So I’m curious about the power that it has and how it’s kind of instilled in young people and they live with it. I’m fascinated by all of this.

Since “L.A. Confidential” you’ve delivered just this great body of work that encompasses so many genres. An artist tends to change and grow after such a significant ride. How does the Guy Pearce of “L.A. Confidential” compare to the Guy Pearce of today?

I think it’s in my own confidence, to be honest. I used to spend all my time while making films in the ‘90s or the ‘80s really stressed out about making sure I could do what I was supposed to do. No one was allowed to talk to me  and everyone had to leave me alone. I would sit in my corner and spend every minute of every day completely consumed and stressing out about being convincing. Now, I’m aware of how exhausting that is. Some years ago I learned that’s just exhausting. So I started to trust myself. I started to trust the fact that I could have a nice casual chat with somebody on set 20 minutes before shooting a really heavy scene. I could actually do both things. Sure, I don’t want to have a jokey afternoon with somebody before going off to be murdered (laughs). I still need some breathing space. But I can trust how I can click right into something when I have to. In the old days I needed to be consumed 24 hours a day by the role I was playing. If someone called me “Guy” I would get really mad and stress out about it. So that’s changed a lot!

You’re keeping a steady flow of diverse work going. In addition to “The Seventh Day” we’re going to see you soon in Amazon’s big new Jack Ryan movie, “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.” What can we expect from those bigger projects?

You know, on one level they’re all the same. In each case I’m trying to play a character, I’m trying to be authentic and off we go. Whether it’s an HBO show with Kate Winslet or Without Remorse with Michael B. Jordan, I’m trying to find a character that I believe in. The size of the project, whether it’s TV or film, doesn’t matter. As Tom Hardy says, there’s only two types of acting in the world: convincing acting and unconvincing acting. I completely agree. You just take the opportunities you take. With Michael B. Jordan it was cool to play the Minister of Defense (laughs). Stefano Sollima, who made that film has a great take on the story. I’m always looking for good people and directors to work with. I actually did a bunch of jobs at the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2019, because I was planning to direct a film in the middle of 2020, which didn’t happen because of Covid. But all the films that I did end up doing like “Without Remorse,” this film, “Mare of Easttown” and “Jack Irish,” they’re all coming out at the same time. Now I’m promoting them all at the same time and didn’t get to direct my film (laughs). But hopefully I still will someday.