LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Australian actor Guy Pearce first grabbed the spotlight playing a demanding drag queen in the cult classic "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."
The versatile actor quickly parlayed that starring turn into an international career with such hits as "L.A. Confidential," "The Time Machine" and "Memento."
In his new film "Traitor," a spy thriller which opened in the United States on Wednesday, Pearce portrays an FBI agent hot on the trail of a mysterious terrorist (Don Cheadle).
Pearce, whose credits include "The Proposition" and "Two Brothers," spoke to Reuters about the film and his struggle to find balance between work and life:
Q: Is it true comedian Steve Martin came up with the original idea for "Traitor?"
A: "Yes, but I wasn't that surprised. We all know that comedians have a dark side and are a bit screwed up (laughs). He's obviously a very clever man and he's written a lot."
Q: "Traitor" tackles some very controversial issues, including terrorism and religion.
A: "And I think there's a lot at the heart of it. In this age of fear and the war going on, we can get a bit flippant about the number of deaths. Everything becomes technical, and you can forget that there are people at the heart of it -- people who are conflicted and struggling with their beliefs. The idea of communication going wrong is at the center of so many problems in the world generally. And in this film you have my character with the FBI, and then the CIA have another agenda. And they're not communicating.
In the middle is Don's character with this very emotional dilemma. As a Muslim, he's bound by his religious beliefs, but also what the country expects of him. And religion and government are such big, structured entities, that the personal stuff can get lost. What's great about this film is that it gets very personal."
Q: This was the first film directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (screenwriter of "The Day After Tomorrow"). Did that make you nervous?
A: "No, because he's the most confident guy I've ever met -- and not in that bravado sense. He's exceptionally intelligent and has a very adept sense of capturing on film what he wanted to get, so it felt like dealing with an old pro."
Q: Acting is quite childlike in a way, so what are you like when you're not working?
A: "(Laughs) Yeah, it is childlike -- dressing up and pretending to be other people! I'm not super-mature. I'm certainly a lot more even than I used to be. When I did "Two Brothers" it was right in the middle of me wanting to take a year off. I had -- not a breakdown -- but a sort of overload of work and so on, and I decided to take some time out.
The time out allowed me to grow up a bit and reassess my life. I was sick of the industry and thinking, maybe I want to get out. But I gradually realized I didn't want to get out permanently, I just wanted to be a bit more mature and have more control over my career choices."
Q: Is it true you were very insecure as a kid and that's why you got into bodybuilding?
A: "I was very insecure, and I didn't realize at the time that's why I got into it. Basically my mum was going to the gym and I started going too. When I look back, I was a very skinny kid and it allowed me to have a bit more substance. And I was fascinated with the whole notion of changing yourself and sculpting your body, which is like the external version of acting in a way."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte