Guy Pearce has run the gauntlet of Hollywood roles. He’s been a leading man for Christopher Nolan in Memento, appeared as the conniving Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3, and has an IMDB page filled with a murderer’s row of charmers, recluses, kings, and kingmakers.
For Zone 414, the sci-fi thriller now available on digital download, Pearce steps into more familiar, grounded shoes: that of David, an ex-cop who has to head into the bowels of the eponymous Zone to rescue the daughter of an eccentric inventor, played by Travis Fimmel (Vikings).
Blade Runner and Cyberpunk fans will feel right at home in the neon-hued, android-filled streets. With the human-esque robot Matilda (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as his guide, Zone 414 aims to stand alongside its sci-fi forebears with a searingly modern message about lost connection and the perils of technology.
GamesRadar+ recently sat down with Pearce to discuss not only the major themes and his thoughts surrounding Zone 414, but also to dive further into his career, including why the L.A. Confidential sequel never got off the ground and his Mare of Easttown future. The below Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
GR: What attracted you to the project and, more specifically, the world of Zone 414?
Pearce: A couple of things: This whole notion that technology is advancing and advancing at such a rate that we could possibly get to a point where we could have a relationship with non-humans.
The idea that this technology could get to that point is just fascinating anyway. But the thing I’m drawn to is human behavior, human psychology, the emotional stories within the people that are in the story.
Matilda [Anna Ingrid Lutz]’s character [Jane] is supposedly an unfeeling android starting to feel and my character, David, is doing his best not to feel. It’s sort of a coming together of those two perspectives. I just thought it was beautifully written. I felt that it had quite big themes in relation to identity and human nature, but it also had a lovely intimacy to it as well.
I’m always much more interested in films that take the small things and make them feel big rather than making everything a spectacle. There comes a point where I’m just watching a fireworks show when I’m watching something that’s too big for the sake of it. So, there was something lovely, intimate, and delicate about this. I thought Brian [Edward Hill]’s script handled that really well.
I think because of the themes, because of the genre, because of the setting – it’s going to be a film that’s compared to classics like Blade Runner, The Matrix, and other entries in that sci-fi canon. Did you feel that presence on-set and even the pressure to do something different with Zone 414?
It’s funny because I never really grew up watching sci-fi films. The ones that stayed with me – like Blade Runner – we were aware of. But I think when you start working on something you feel its originality more and more. I tend to forget about other films, maybe to my detriment.
You’ve got to be aware of those that have come before you. I know that people reference Blade Runner a bit when they talk about this film – I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t want it to be a concern. It’s a fine line where people can reference classics and it’s great to be part, as you say, of that canon. But at the same time, you don’t want to be jumping on the back of whatever to give yourself a fair go.
I haven’t seen Blade Runner in a long time so I don’t know really remember it well enough to know… if we’re treading on toes.
It’s more a case of you’re on the shoulders of those films, you’re building on top of them
I think that’s right. If whatever it is you’re making still has a sense of originality, still has a sense of something unique about it, then great. Where films fall down is where they don’t stand on their own two feet enough. So, they do just look like they’ve been pilfered and you’ve borrowed too much.
When you’re an actor in a film, it’s the filmmaker who is making the film. You as an actor are just part of it. On some level, I tend to leave some of the responsibility of that to the filmmaker.
I’ll certainly say no to films if they are derivative or not very original. But if I’m on board, I guess I feel it has its own sense of originality.
So, I didn’t really feel any sense of responsibility – I just felt a sense of responsibility to the film.
The best sci-fi often reflects the world around us – what do you think Zone 414 has to say?
Getting back to technology: the technology versus humanity question. The fact that you can look at a group of people standing on the bus together who aren’t connecting at all with each other, heads down into their phone. There’s something innately sad about that, unfortunate about that. Is this inevitability? That we as sort of fleshy, independent [and] creative creatures would actually rather rely on something more concrete like technology.
In a way, it looks at that. The fight that Matilda’s character has in the film which is to go ‘I’m feeling things, I want to feel them but I also don’t want to feel them’. I would love to think us as a human race could actually learn to be at peace with our own internal journeys rather than looking to be distracted from them.
This film just raises some of that stuff – I don’t know if it answers any of it!
Reports recently emerged that there was due to be an L.A. Confidential sequel in the works with yourself, Russell Crowe, and Chadwick Boseman. Did you know anything about that project and how it followed on from the original?
We started having discussions with [L.A. Confidential director and co-writer] Curtis Hanson and with James Ellroy some years ago now about whether we could do some sort of follow-up.
In the trilogy of books, that story is followed up. There was talk about whether we’d create something new, basically ten years on. 1963. It never went anywhere. It was just proving to be too expensive or too difficult.
I’m not sure what the Chadwick Boseman connection was. His name was never brought up to me at the time. But there were some rumblings in the camp which went away.
It’s unfortunate. I was excited at the prospect that we could revisit these characters one day.
Kate Winslet said there is very, very early conversations about a second season of Mare of Easttown. Do you think your character even fits in that second season?
I only think that he could in that he was such a sort of separate entity in relation to the first season. You’d want to be careful, though. There was something wonderful about [Richard] being a real distraction from [Mare’s] life. Does that work again?
It’s true-to-life in a way where people can come in and out of your life and they don’t always reappear.
It’s hard to say until I see something written, to be honest. I don’t want to say it’s better left alone because some scripts may turn up and I might go ‘These are fantastic!’
Off the top of my head, there’s something great about how he just comes into her life and then leaves. It really enables her to remember that she can love and she’s allowed to have her own personal life separate from the workload she’s buried under. I felt like that was what Richard’s purpose was.
Of course, I would never say no if Kate Winslet rang me up and said come and do this with me. I can’t imagine what that is at the moment. It’s either that again, or some sort of domestic bliss. Who knows? I know the show was very popular and so that often calls for revisiting it in a second series. Whether Richard needs to be, I’m not really sure. I’d certainly like to be, though. It was fun!
What’s next for you?
I’ve just done a couple of films. I just did a film called Memory with Liam Neeson out in Bulgaria. It was set in the Texas/Mexico border. It’s a remake of a Belgium film called The Memory of a Killer.
I’ve just done that and, even more recently, I’ve just done a movie called The Infernal Machine, written and directed by Andrew Hunt. It’s a fantastic story about a recluse writer. Funnily enough, when Andrew saw Mare of Easttown he went ‘Oh no, you’re playing a guy who wrote one book 25 years ago.’
It’s a very, very different story [and] a very, very different character. A very intense, almost Memento-style implosion of someone’s internal life. That was fantastic. We only finished that about a month ago.
Zone 414 is now available on digital download. For more from the genre, check out the best sci-fi movies ever made.