Interview: Guy Pearce on the Emotional Filming of The Convert

Interview: Guy Pearce on the Emotional Filming of The Convert

(Photo Credit: Magnet)

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to The Convert star Guy Pearce about the new war drama movie directed by Lee Tamahori. Pearce spoke about the emotional filming experience, what drew him to the project, and more. Magnet Releasing will release the historical epic in theaters and on demand on July 12, 2024.

“Lee Tamahori’s action-filled historical epic stars Guy Pearce as Thomas Munro, a newly arrived preacher in a colonial town in early 19th-century New Zealand who finds himself at the center of a long-standing battle between two Māori tribes,” says the synopsis.

Tyler Treese: Such a pleasure to be speaking with you, especially about a film as interesting as The Convert. You play Thomas Monroe. He’s this lay priest who winds up in New Zealand. He sees the situation where muskets are being sold to the Māori, and this war is happening. His faith is really tested throughout. There’s a lot of interesting wrinkles there. So what did you really connect with about the script that made you want to get involved?

Guy Pearce: Well, firstly, it was Lee contacting me and telling me he had a project and telling me a little bit about it. Lee and I have sort of known each other just on and off over the years, and I’ve always loved him and always wanted to work with him. So I was 80% of the way there, even before he told me what the story was, just because it was him. The opportunities to work together before have never come to fruition because I’ve either been busy or the timing just wasn’t right. So I was really pleased to hear from him and to listen to what this was about.

Not that it was a swan song for Lee by any means, he’s got more work in him, but it felt like it was a story that he’s wanted to tell for a long time. It just felt like it was something very personal to him. So to hear that passion from him was inspiring. Then, of course, I read the script and just kind of went, yeah, wow. It felt like a really emotional character that I could relate to somebody — not relate to because I had the same thing happen, but I just felt like I really was taken by the trauma that this character had experienced in his backstory. That he ends up being sort of thrust to the other side of the world to take on this job that he doesn’t know anything about. He’s just doing his learning on the go, and it was a sort of a calling to do it, and it’s a second chance at life. The vulnerability in that I found really engaging and it just really struck me. It was very moving.

So, yeah, there was just no question. I just really wanted to do it. I think I’ve got a little connection with New Zealand. My father was from New Zealand, and I just have real compassion for Indigenous people and the way in which they’ve been treated, whether it’s Aboriginals in Australia or Indigenous people in America or New Zealand, wherever, with colonization. So I knew that by getting to go and work in New Zealand, this was gonna be the job. That would be the one that would be really moving and special. As I said, my father was from New Zealand, his last remaining sister, who I was gonna get to see when I went to New Zealand, sadly died the day that I got there, and I didn’t get to see her.

The timing of that was just extraordinary and profound and a real shame. But it just then meant that the whole experience was even more emotional than it was gonna be. So, that meant I was thinking about my dad a lot. So, yeah, it was really, really a special experience. Of course, just the story of the film itself was fascinating. I had a lot to learn. Getting to work with those actors, getting to sort of listen to them talk about their pasts and what they’ve had to endure and what they know about their history, and having a blessing from them each morning when we filmed and being taken into their world was just an honor. It just all felt very emotional, the whole experience. So it was really wonderful.

One aspect that really impressed me was the young actress Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne. I had seen her in Hunt for the Wilderpeople and it was so impressive to just see her growth. She has really blossomed into such a talented actress. Can you speak about working with her? So much of the emotion in the film comes through her performance.

Yeah, yeah. She’s a delight. She was so wonderful to be around. Her and I just clicked instantly. We had this funny sort of brother-sister kind of father-daughter [relationship], but she was almost like a, like a, a wiser soul than I, and so she just would look at me and laugh, you know?

I liked the fact that she sort of said to me early on something like, and I can’t [remember], I’ll paraphrase, but she said something like, “Right, so you’ve done a lot of films. So I suppose I’m supposed to learn something from you, am I?” and I went, “Absolutely not. You’re not meant to learn anything from me at all.” I said, “I reckon I might learn more from you.” And she went, “Yeah, I reckon you might.”

There was a confidence and a humor and a cheekiness that I just loved and I love her. I think she’s just so wonderful. And then on screen, she’s beautiful, but she’s wide-eyed and really vulnerable and strong and exciting. She was just great. I loved her working with her every day. We had a great time together. It was funny, it was fun. She made it fun.

There’s this scene early on in this film where you get off the boat, you’re riding this horse in the ocean. How difficult was that to film? Was that hard?

Well, it wasn’t hard to film. It was just hard to sort of work out how we were gonna do it. What’s the best [way] because often, as with filming, you are waiting. Do I wait on the horse back there? Do I not wait on the horse? How far do we go out? So that then the horse has only gotta travel this far before its feet are off the ground and we’re actually swimming, and then we’ll turn. I had a bit of a rehearsal with it, with the horse in a swimming yard. I’ve ridden horses a lot, so I’m very comfortable on horses. So that was good. But what a profound experience holding onto a horse is one thing when they’re solid on the ground, holding onto a horse when they’re swimming and you are hanging onto them, adding to their weight is quite amazing, really amazing.

Horses are extremely strong anyway, but when your legs are sort of down by the side, and their legs are kicking, you feel like you’re at one with them. I’m talking to it as I’m turning, and then I have to sort of climb back on. It was beautiful. I loved it. I just wanted to do it more times. Of course, they said, we’ll only make you do it twice or whatever. I was like, no, I wanna do it. They said, well, we don’t wanna make the horse do it too many times either. I went, no, no, fair enough, fair enough. So it was great. Really amazing.

The end result’s so striking too. It’s such a great image.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we all laughed about saying, well, how does he get the horse back on the boat? How’s he thinking? He’s gonna get the horse back on the boat when he takes it off the boat. But he doesn’t, I guess.

This year is the 30th anniversary of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, where you play a drag queen. We’ve seen that film just so wonderfully embraced by the LGBTQ community since then. What does it mean for you to see that film just really get so much love in the past couple of decades and really hold up?

Well, it means a lot. I mean, and I have to sort of always remind myself that I’m just as much an observer as everyone else, really. Yes, I got to be in it, but it’s not like I created it. Also, when the film came out and the year or two afterward when people were just kind of flipping out over it, and I’ve had so many people say to me, “Because of that movie, I was able to come out to my family.” So just that alone, the amount of times people have said that to me, and I think that the film probably helped.

But it certainly came at a time when people when pride and not feeling as humiliated by being different to everybody else, I think, in that early nineties period. Particularly after the horrific decade of the eighties and AIDS for the gay community. Priscilla coming as the sort of light was beginning to shine a bit more, and people were becoming more accepting. Not to suggest people are completely accepting by any means these days, but it came at a really great time. So to be part of that was so special. I still have so many people kind of grabbing me and almost in tears going, “You have no idea what that film did for me.” So to be part of that, it’s just extraordinary, really. Amazing.

Thanks to Guy Pearce for discussing Magnolia Releasing‘s The Convert.

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