Guy Pearce, We Are Pleased To Find You Looking Vaguely Disreputable In 'Jack Irish'

Aug 3, 2013
Originally published on August 3, 2013 11:46 am

With Linda still out at the TCA gathering, TV is much on our minds. And as she noted yesterday, there's a whole big conversation going on about the newer modes of consuming what we still, for lack of a better word, generally call television.

(Actually, we probably don't need a better word, as "television" just means "far-sight" and doesn't have anything to do with broadcast or spectrum or modes of transmission or the technology involved, BUT I DIGRESS.)

One current case in point: Jack Irish, an Australian series based on the novels by Peter Temple, starring Guy Pearce. It's been aired by traditional broadcast in Oz, but here in the U.S. it's being offered digitally by Acorn TV, either as a Netflix-style stream on its website or via Roku and such. (For older-school types who'd still like to binge-watch it, it'll be out on DVD and Blu-ray in October.)

The series gets underway with a flashback in which an aggrieved former client visits Jack — a successful criminal attorney in Melbourne — to vent his unhappiness about the outcome of a case. It's an office confrontation of the sort that many shows would (and do) play for black comedy, but for Jack, it's a brutal life-changer. Once the opening credits have rolled, he's chucked his practice and is earning a living as a debt collector, and not in the nicer neighborhoods.

Pearce joins NPR's Linda Wertheimer on this Saturday's Weekend Edition to talk about the series, the Fitzroy district that gives the series its setting, and what the actor has in common with his character. Among the things we learn:

* Jack may have hit the bottom of the bottle he fell into after that office incident — or he may not have. He's "kind of coming out of that haze, and really trying to get his life back together, but he's obviously still quite wobbly, shall we say. He still drinks, but really knows it's time for him to sort himself out."

* The role of the series' Greek chorus is taken by a trio of veteran character actors with "a combined age of 240," who play a gang of bar regulars Jack likes to call the Fitzroy Youth Club. They hang at the local and watch Australian football, rooting for the Fitzroy team — which, and here's the thing, folded as a pro operation some years ago. So they're watching videotapes. "They still live it as if it exists," Pearce says. Oh, and Jack's dad used to play for the team, so he's their pet.

* Like Jack, Pearce lost his dad, a test pilot, when he was young. He tells Wertheimer that one way he found his way into the character was thinking about how, "throughout your life ... you keep projecting father-figuredom onto various men that come into your life. And sometimes that's a good choice, and sometimes that's a bad choice."

When you listen to the whole conversation, which you should do for The Guy Pearce Accent alone, you'll hear more about which Jack Irish character turns out to be a solid influence, how the hero uses a hands-on hobby to decompress, and what makes the series "quintessentially Australian." Just hit the play button above.

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The Australian actor Guy Pearce has a new series of TV movies coming our way. The series is taken from the "Jack Irish" novels of Peter Temple - darkish thrillers set in a suburb of Melbourne, a fairly skuzzy looking area called Fitzroy.

We remember Guy Pearce, of course, from "Memento," from "The Hurt Locker"; he played the king who abdicated in "The King's Speech." But this time, Guy Pearce plays an Australian - Jack Irish, a lapsed, suburban solicitor who's mostly given up on the law.


GUY PEARCE: (As Jack Irish) Yeah, I appear for the accused, but I don't practice law much anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) What do you do?

PEARCE: (As Jack) Oh, I live off my wits - gamble, drink...

WERTHEIMER: Guy Pearce joins us from the ABC Studios in Melbourne. Welcome to our program, and welcome back to TV in the U.S.

PEARCE: Thank you very much. It's nice to be back.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so, how do you see Jack Irish? He - you don't play him as heartbroken, although I gather that basically, that is what he is.

PEARCE: I think the important thing with Jack - I mean, it's an interesting character to take on and it's - particularly in the world that Jack lives in because he's an ex-lawyer; he used to be a lawyer. We see in sort of a flashback sequence that his wife had been murdered by one of Jack's disgruntled clients. So Jack, obviously, went off on a bit of a drinking rampage, and sort of went to the dark side for a number of years. And by the time we find Jack in the first book, he's kind of coming out of that haze and really trying to get his life back together. But he's, obviously, still quite wobbly, shall we say; still drinks, but really knows it's time for him to sort himself out.

WERTHEIMER: This series is full of little side stories. I mean, there's a central thriller plot that runs through each of the movies. But then there are also like, little plays within plays where you meet some of these really wonderful character actors that you recruited for this project - like the Fitzroy Youth Club, for example. How would you describe them?

PEARCE: (Laughing) Well, the Fitzroy Youth Club, obviously the first thing we notice about those boys is that they're all about 80. In fact, I was talking to the three actors the other day, and they said there's a combined age of 240, I think, between them all.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing)

PEARCE: So we always have a good laugh. The first thing, I guess, for an American audience - that they need to understand is that the Fitzroy Football Club was a longstanding club that had been around for 100 years. This is Australian rules football. And then in 1996, it was bought up by the team that was up in Brisbane, in Queensland. And so Fitzroy doesn't really exist anymore as a football club. But there's longtime supporters, still go to the pub every weekend. They wear the scarves, they wear the hats, they watch old games on videotape; and they still live it as if it still exists. And so this is Jack's local pub.

So he goes in there, and he calls them the Fitzroy Youth Club even though, as I say, they're all about 80. And a connection to the story, also, is that Jack's father used to be a bit of a well-known football player for the Fitzroy Club, back in the day - back, I guess, in the '50s or '60s. So they see Jack as a little offspring of this famous club.


PEARCE: (As Jack) Yes, I need to stick this on, if I can.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Well, they're watching the game.

PEARCE: (As Jack) It's a replay from 1996.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey, it's Fitzroy's last game at the G.

PEARCE: (As Jack) Yeah, we got smashed by 24 goals. It was horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) It was never about that, Jack - as well you know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) If it's three-quarter time, he can put it on now.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) But make it quick, will you?

PEARCE: So there's wonderful - sort of banter that goes on. And quite often, Jack will bring - if there's a client that he has to meet, he'll bring them to this pub to talk business. And, you know, so there's this sort of - funny interjections from these three old guys who are sitting there like the three wise monkeys, you know.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughing) On their barstools.

PEARCE: Yeah, on their barstools, haven't moved for about 47 years, you know. So they're quite funny, those boys.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that the character Jack Irish, everybody knows who his father was, but he didn't really know his father very well because his father died when he was a little boy.

PEARCE: That's right, yeah. And...

WERTHEIMER: And I understand that also happened to you.

PEARCE: Well, it did happen to me. There was (Laughing) - not that I should laugh about that. But I understand that sort of connection of people coming out of the woodwork, saying oh, I knew your dad - you know, we did this, that and the other together; and thinking, wow. So you're always sort of cobbling together pieces of a family member that you don't really know.

WERTHEIMER: Other people's memories.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) And tell me, son, your mother, is she still single?

PEARCE: (As Jack Irish) No - she kicked the bucket, I'm afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. That happens. She was so pretty; so good-looking - your mum, she was. I was with Bill the first day he spotted her, but I guess you've heard that story a million times.

PEARCE: (As Jack) No, no. I haven't, actually.

WERTHEIMER: There are a bunch of father-figure characters in here. The funniest one, or the most curious one, is the cabinet maker.

PEARCE: Yes. So, Charlie Torb(ph) - again, it's something very interesting for me because, as you mentioned before, I also lost my father at a very young age. And I think throughout your life, you realize that you keep projecting father figure-dom onto various men that come into your life. (Laughing) And sometimes that's a good choice, and sometimes that's a bad choice. And I think Jack does a similar thing. You know, he's got these various crooks and cops that he sort of deals with.

But then Charlie Torb, to me, really brings everything down to earth. And I think on some level, it's to do with the physicality of the actual work, the carpentry work. And Charlie, to Jack, is probably the one true - sort of honest mentor, and really ready to say to Jack that he's doing something wrong whereas others are a little more inconsistent. But I do think it feels like that's sort of the womb, for Jack to go into that woodworking room; and Jack can sort of get lost in making a beautiful chair or making a table, or learning whatever it is he is learning from Charlie, at the time. And time can sort of disappear.


PEARCE: (As Jack) Well, Charlie, maybe if you drew me a plan of the table instead of just four random measurements on the torn-off bits of "The Age," I might know what I'm doing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Charlie) With what do I need drawings? I don't do anything I didn't make before.

PEARCE: (As Jack) Yeah, but it's all in your head. And I don't know if what's in your head is the same as what's in my head.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Charlie) I don't want anything in your head near my head, thank you.

WERTHEIMER: It's a beautifully produced series; and there are a lot of wonderful details in it, including the cars, the old American cars. Irish drives a Studebaker.

PEARCE: Yes, I know. I think that's great. I mean - and funnily enough, I - myself - used to drive an old, 1962, S Series Valiant. To get to drive this beautiful, early '60s Studebaker was a real treat. And in fact, the guys who do the vehicles on the show said, now - you know - these are pretty hard to drive. You know, we're going to have to give you some lessons. And I jumped in it and felt like I was back in my old car again. It was a lot of fun.

WERTHEIMER: You said about this series - that apart from, you know, the fun of being able to do it at home - you said that it's quintessentially Australian. What makes it quintessentially Australian?

PEARCE: It's interesting. I - obviously, I work a lot in the States, and I work a bit in the U.K. And there are things that you detect; there are generalizations - but I suppose on some level, are true - about the way in which people - it's almost down to a - sort of a vibrational level. You know, the way in which people operate on a cultural level, social level, the emphasis on the way - certain words, and the way that people speak. I mean, look, there are the obvious things, as we've pointed out before - the football, Aussie rules football. But there's just something about the sarcasm, I guess. Jack's got a fairly wry and ironic and sometimes sarcastic, you know, view of things. And there's just certain personality traits, I guess; that when you put them all together, you go, yeah, that's an Aussie.

WERTHEIMER: Guy Pearce. His new series, "Jack Irish," is streaming now on Acorn TV's website. The DVD will be available in October. Guy Pearce, thank you so much.

PEARCE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.