The forgotten 'King': A Conversation with Guy Pearce
Throughout the numerous film festivals, Q&A's, industry functions and special awards season events that have become routine for "The King's Speech" team over the past few months, one key member of the cast has been missing, Guy Pearce. Now, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter have obviously deserved their praise as the major players in Tom Hooper's acclaimed drama, but it's Pearce's role as the overly sensitive King Edward VII that is the catalyst for the rise of his brother -- and eventual successor - King George VI (Firth). And to be quite frank, Pearce is so good he'd be getting a lot more awards heat if had been around on the circuit (say, like Mila Kunis for "Black Swan").
Speaking to Pearce last week, it was obvious the reason he's been absent from all the fun was due to his commitments to the new Sci-FI thriller "Lockout" which was shooting in, of all places, Serbia. With that now completed, the star of such films as "Memento," "L.A. Confidential" and "The Hurt Locker" is free to add his support to another potential best picture winner during the final stretch of the season.
King Edward VII, or David to his family and friends, is best known to the American public as the English monarch who abdicated the throne so he could marry the "love of his life," Baltimore divorcee Wallace Simpson (the Church of England would not allow him to wed a previously married woman as King). It's a romantic tale that's been grown in stature over the decades, but primarily just on this side of the pond.
"Americans look at it as a very romantic and heroic story. 'Look what he sacrificed!' But, David didn't want it anyway. So, he didn't give up anything. He was over the thing he never wanted," Pearce says. "I think in a rather crucial time in European history when England and the English people needed a strong leader and they believed David was a strong leader -- he was very good at portraying that -- to hand it over to the sort of weaker more wobbly brother was just uncalled for. I think David's political leanings and his level of irresponsible attention to that aspect of life have sort of been swept under the carpet in the American relaying of the story."
The film does an excellent job of portraying just how emotional David was compared to his brother, father and Mother, Queen Mary. Firth has devilishly quipped publicly, and to this writer personally, that David may not have been as straight and narrow as many believe. Knowing that Pearce had done studious research on the historical figure, I asked him if he thought the rumors that Edward were gay were true.
"Look, I wouldn't be surprised by any of it. Not anything that comes out of Colin Firth's mouth, but that's a whole other story," Pearce jokes. "At some level [David's] a very simple character really. On a personality level he was just not cut out to be king. He just couldn't handle from a very early age, all the trappings and the structure. I think the trappings and the joy of privilege were very much him, but the rules and responsibilities were something he was never going to adhere to. And, I think the relationship both boys had with their parents lead to all sorts of difficulties. I think particularly for David being such a sensitive kid, he really resented the fact that the only relationship he had with his father was through the guise of royalty. There was no real love expressed there and I think David really missed that. I think what David found with women in his life, and obviously he was going to be king and he was a very popular guy and a very good looking guy, charming and dashing, etc., were beyond sort of standard fare. I think he was looking for someone to break the rules with him. I'm not sure about any sort of sexual orientation, but there are certainly things alluded to in various books that the sort of the physical relationship with him and Wallace Simpson was rather sordid and rather extreme from a sexual level. I think he was looking for things outside of the box."
Like Firth, Pearce had a wealth of material to reference as he prepared for his role. In fact, you can hear Hooper discussing just how hard Pearce worked on the character in the video embeded above.
"I came into the scenario a little late. I was quickly delving into a couple of books that Tom suggested and was given access to a variety of bits of footage from various ceremonies or some personal footage of the boys together in more casual situations," Pearce recalls. " Obviously, a lot of things like him becoming the Price of Wales ceremony and as a royal they are constantly going around appearing at this that or the other. [There were also] a lot of audio recordings of him from the mid-30's. I've said this before, it's not a film about him. He really is a catalyst for what occurs with Bertie. But it was important for me to find out as much as I could what was driving David. What was driving him away from the throne."
No conversation with Pearce about awards season would be complete without mentioning his indie hit thriller "Animal Kingdom." One of Sony Classics' biggest hits of 2010, the mini-major landed the very deserving Jacki Weaver a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress. Few in the industry knew who Weaver was before "Kingdom," but Pearce says like many Aussie's he grew up watching her in Australian TV shows and movies.
"I feel like I've known her all my life from watching her on television when I was a kid," Pearce says of Weaver. "She's always been a wonderful actress so you think, 'Oh, great! Finally!' So, even if she doesn't win the award just the kudos she'll get are fantastic. I think the film is just fantastic and I have a real personal connection with Australian films and with films I get to make in Australia. Any time that you get to make that get recognized on an International level is always very exciting."
Pearce will be seen later this year in the HBO mini-series "Mildred Pearce." He'll also be participating in a live Q&A on the web with co-stars Firth, Carter and Hooper at approximately 9:45 PM PST tonight, Thursday, Jan. 13. You'll be able to access it on the King's Speech facebook page here.