With classic, square-jawed good looks, Australian actor Guy Pearce brings to mind the leading men of Hollywood's Golden Age; however, the actor is a thoroughly modern one, using his talents to play characters ranging from flamboyant drag queens to straight-arrow Los Angeles policemen.
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Pearce was born October 5, 1967, in Cambridgeshire, England. His father, who was a member of the Royal Air Force, moved his family to Australia when Pearce was three. Following the elder Pearce's tragic death in a plane crash, Pearce's mother decided to keep her family in Australia when young Pearce was eight, and it was there that he grew up. Interested in acting from a young age, he wrote to various members of the Australian television industry requesting a screen test when he was 17. His efforts proved worthwhile, as he was invited to audition for a new soap called Neighbours. Pearce won a significant part on the show and was part of it from 1986 to 1990. Following his stint on Neighbours, Pearce found other work in television and made his screen debut in the 1992 film Hunting. He acted in a few more small films and in My Forgotten Man, a 1993 TV biopic of Errol Flynn, before coming to the attention of film audiences everywhere in the 1994 sleeper hit The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. As the flamboyant and often infuriating Adam/Felicia, Pearce gave a performance that was both over the top and immensely satisfying. The role gave him the international exposure he had previously lacked and led to his casting in Curtis Hanson's 1997 adaptation of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential. The film was an all-around success and drew raves for Pearce and his co-stars, who included Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) and fellow Australian Russell Crowe.
After the success of L.A. Confidential, Pearce went on to make the independent A Slipping Down Life, which premiered at Sundance in 1999. He followed that with the highly original but fatally unmarketable Ravenous (1999), Antonia Bird's tale of chaos and cannibalism which cast Pearce alongside the likes of David Arquette and Robert Carlyle. Though his role in the following year's military drama Rules of Engagement would offer a commendable performance by the rising star, it was another film that same year that would cement his status as one of the most challenging and unpredictable performers of his generation. Cast as a vengeance seeking, tattoo-covered widower whose inability to form new memories hinders his frantic search for his wife's killer, Pearce's unforgettable performance in the backwards-structured thriller Memento drove what would ultimately become one of the biggest sleepers in box office history. Pearce was now officially hot property on the Hollywood scene, and producers wasted no time in booking him for as many upcoming blockbusters as they could. A memorable performance as the villain in The Count of Monte Cristo found Pearce traveling back in time for his next film, and his subsequent role in The Time Machine would find him blasting so far into the future that mankind had reverted to the days of prehistoric times. A trip to the land down under found Pearce next appearing as a hapless bank robber in the critically panned crime effort The Hard Word, and the popular actor would remain in Australia for the elliptical drama Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002). In 2004, Pearce played a lion hunter in the family-oriented epic Two Brothers.
Yet despite his increasing prominence as an international movie star, Pearce continued to display a flair for unusual, often demanding roles that would send lesser actors running. His performance as an outlaw tasked with killing his own brother in John Hillcoat's The Proposition earned Pearce a well-deserved AFI nomination for Best Lead Actor in 2005 (an honor he would share with his co-star Ray Winstone, though the award ultimately went to Hugo Weaving for Little Fish), and on the heels of an appearance as Andy Warhol in George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl he could be seen as famed magician Harry Houdini in Gillian Armstrong's Death Defying Acts -- a role which found a second AFI award slipping though his fingers. Though Pearce's turn as a military man in 2008's The Hurt Locker found him in fine form, it was Jeremy Renner who stole the show in Katherine Bigelow's multiple Oscar-winner and, curiously enough, the actor's next AFI nomination would come from his appearance in the Adam Sandler fantasy/comedy Bedtime Stories. A brief reunion with Hillcoat in The Road preceded a grim turn as a grieving father in the harrowing 2009 true crime drama In Her Skin, and in 2010 Pearce lost yet another AFI award to a talented co-star when Joel Edgarton took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his memorable performance in Animal Kingdom (which found Pearce cast in the role of an honest cop reaching out to a troubled youth). As if to balance out all of the awards disappointment in recent years, Pearce nabbed an Emmy for his performance opposite Kate Winslett in the made-for-cable drama Mildred Pierce following a brief appearance as KIng Edward VIII in the Oscar-winning historical drama The King's Speech, with additional roles in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Lockout provnig that respected actors can still have a bit of fun on the big screen from time to time.
Meanwhile, after an almost unrecognizable appearance in Ridley Scott's quasi-Alien prequel Prometheus, Pearce prepared to team up with his frequent collaborator Hillcoat once again, this time as a special agent determined to get his piece of the bootlegging pie in Lawless, which also starred Tom Hardy and Shia LeBeouf. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi