There is no denying that the 2002 neo-noir mystery film Memento was a career-defining role for Guy Pearce, and the actor has delivered another gripping thriller in his new project, The Infernal Machine. In the tense Paramount Pictures movie — written and directed by Andrew Hunt — Pearce plays Bruce Cogburn, a controversial author whose novel, The Infernal Machine, sparked a terrible tragedy. Now a recluse, Bruce begins receiving letters from an obsessed fan as he is attempting to write his second novel. Eventually, Bruce will be forced down a deadly path that brings his dark past into the light.
PopCulture.com had a chance to sit down with Pearce to talk about the new movie, as well as how it could be described as a film "the Memento generation" has been waiting for. "Well, I agree. I really agree. I think that Memento just flipped things on their head in a way," the actor said. "Obviously we're all very aware of the genius of Chris Nolan [Memento writer/director]. He's like no one else. And Memento was just incredible. Everything about it was incredible... But the way in which it sort of transformed filmmaking and film sort of viewing, and it was necessary."
After praising Memento for its highly influential technical achievements, Pearce noted the mind-blowing story structure. "Surely, there'd been films... Sure, there'd been films before that showed flashbacks and it played with time," he said. "But he did it in such an assured, original kind of way that everybody went, 'Right. We can utilize that as well.'" Pearce then offered a comparison for The Infernal Machine, saying, "I think there's something about this that falls into that camp... I mean, I think it breaks new ground."
He continued, "It's hard for me to be really objective yet. Because I think a lot of my understanding of the films that I do really does come from the years of discussions afterwards with people where I go, 'Right. It actually had that effect.' Because I'm so inside it. I can watch it and go, 'Yep, it all works. Fantastic. Wow....' And of course I have a response to the script when I read the scripts and go, 'Wow.'"
Pearce added, "It's hard for me to necessarily be completely objective about it, but I do think that there's something innovative about this film and I think that [Hunt] takes some sort of devices in filmmaking in the past, the thriller, et cetera, and kind of flips them or just adds to them and adds emotional weight to them. So I do think there's something very original about this film and I do... But at the same time, I think there's something, as you say, that connects this film to films like Memento because there were lots of copycat films that didn't quite nail it. Whereas I think this one nails it. It's really brilliant."
Speaking about what it was like to work with Hunt as a director, Pearce said, "He was just a delight. He really was. He was so open and it was funny because when I read the scripts I just was like, 'Wow, this is reading Memento all over again.' It really was... Really was that kind of surprising to me." After being sent the script, Pearce says he "read it and immediately" and was eager to jump on board.
"I really want to do this. And I read it and was really impressed with the script and I was sort of intimidated by [it]," Pearce said. "I thought, 'Wow, this guy Andrew Hunt, I mean, wow, OK get ready. I'm going to be in for a really cerebral, difficult conversation. I better have my thinking cap on and be really...' And he couldn't have been nicer, couldn't have been easier. He was just a regular dude who was just cool and easy and relaxed. And I was like, 'Wow, man...' And he was fantastic. He's become a beautiful friend. I adore him."
Hunt and Pearce took a collaborative approach to The Infernal Machine, with the actor explaining, "The wonderful thing too was he's very honest and in the beginning he said, 'Look man, you've made a lot more films than I have and if there's any way I want this to be our project together and if there's anything that you think isn't right or anything we are shooting that you... Please say. I'm going to listen to everything you have to say.' And he really did."
Pearce went on to note that this is Hunt's first full-length film, saying, "And I was like, 'Well, I will. Sure. But I reckon you've got it in hand.' And I think the thing that if I was helpful in any way to him. He's not a first-time filmmaker, but kind of is a first-time filmmaker. There's a lot of anxiety that they carry when they come in. There's suddenly there's 70 people around them going, 'What do you want us to do?' And I think if anything, I perhaps helped just calm him and say, 'Man, that way you're shooting that, beautiful.' This is going to be great. 'What if I just enter the frame there and I come in on this line?' And he's like, 'Great.' So yeah. We got in sync pretty quickly and easily and he was just a delight."
When asked if being able to collaborate with a director offers a more fulfilling experience of bringing a character to life, Pearce said candidly, "I never really know what it is that I bring per se, other than my own response to the script. And for me, the experience of reading a script and then agreeing to say yes and getting on board and then making the film can vary. Because things like this, for example, I could have started to shoot it the next day. I really could have gone right, 'Well, OK, this is very clear to me. Let's go.'"
He continued, "Other things where I go, 'Great story, I can't... Great character but I can't quite work out how I would... Who would be how I play him.' So I have to then do a whole lot of work. And that work involves lots of conversations with the director or just thinking about through people that I know and who might fit the bill. But I suppose even with something like Infernal Machine, which to me was fully formed, I suppose I do bring something, and that might just be about the energy of a character that Andrew hadn't necessarily pictured, but I've happened to just bring it."
Elaborating on what he feels he brings to set, Pearce said, "I don't really know if Andrew's going to go, 'Great, do that.' It's not because I've said I'm going to bring this kind of energy. I just start... We just start working on it together. And I've had directors sort of say to me, 'Oh, I think the character should be just a bit more calm or I think the character needs to be a bit...' So there's all those discussions anyway. But I think that's something like this. I responded so quickly to it."
Pearce added, "I feel like I didn't bring anything. I feel like it was installed there and I just kind of executed it. Like with Memento, and like with L.A. Confidential (1997) and all those great jobs that I've gotten to do. You sort of go, 'I didn't do anything. I just saw what it was you wanted and I did it.'" The Infernal Machine is now available to rent or buy online from digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video.