WHEN I saw Toni Collette singing with her band [The Finish] here in Sydney [for her album Beautiful Awkward Pictures] she was dynamic and amazing. I was struck that here was one of the world's greatest actors and I wasn't sure whether she was a great singer . . . or was giving a great performance of a great singer, not that it really matters. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I don't know. Ultimately, whether you're a singer or whether you can act like you're a singer, the reality is you still gotta be able to sing. And Toni, as we know, has a beautiful voice so I'd say she's great singer, to be honest.
Are you aware when you're singing that you could lapse into acting mode . . . and is that a stupid question?
It's not a stupid question. And I think if you ask any singer about their performance there's a certain amount of acting that goes along with it. It's really a deep and complex question because it sorta brings up what acting actually is and whether that's tapping into the deep emotions of the song and whether that's connected to you personally or whether you're tapping into other people in order to project the song.
It's still presentation, it's still performance.
And it's still acting on some level.
It's kind of a murky area. And just because you're known as an actor who then goes and sings or whether you're a singer who acts while singing songs, I do think it all kind of merges on some level.
Too right. But it's a very complex riddle to try to pull apart. I mean it does make life hard when performers won't stay in their bloody box.
That's right and I think we like people to stay in their boxes don't we [smiles].
What resistance have you had to branching out as a singer?
Well, look, a lot, to be honest. And much of it is my own resistance. Many years ago, having done Neighbours and been on TV shows and, you know, seen other actors release music, well, any time I mentioned it there was quite a big cringe factor – I was very aware of that.
Here's the video for Guy’s second single off the album, Taste, shot in Tokyo where he's filming Equals with Jacki Weaver . . .
I felt very aware of just being in the public eye anyway and feeling like I was inflicting myself upon people in their lounge rooms through their television sets.
To take that any further I just thought no-no-no, I've got this opportunity, I don't wanna bite off more than I can chew and I don't wanna annoy people. I didn't have a lot of confidence.
I love singing. I've always loved making music. I've always loved writing songs and I love listening to other people's music. I just think I never really had the confidence to get past that. So for 25 years or something, I mean even now doing the press for this record, you know, people still laugh and often they ask "Oh, you’re gonna do a duet with Jason?" and they come up with all sorts of funny stuff.
'Oh, you’re gonna do a duet with Jason?' and they come up with all sorts of funny stuff. And I get it. It's fine. It's funny.
The thing is, now I understand it a lot more, now I understand why people say that sort of stuff and I get it. It's fine. It's funny. I kinda laugh at it as well but the reality is, deep down – and I understand this better having had conversations with Michael Barker, a wonderful musician and drummer who plays on the record – he made me realise the value of getting this stuff out and finishing it off and being able to move on.
On a personal level, it's not to have his record, it's not to make a ton of money from it, it's just to complete things. I've got to an age where I'm kind of able to go "Yeah, he's right". I feel more confident about being able to bypass the criticism. If there is any. And I'm sure there will be [laughs].
The title Broken Bones – whose bones are broken? It sounds pretty traumatic.
It does sound traumatic. All of the songs, on some level, delve into the overwhelming nature of emotions and how we can be swayed by them and how on one level we think we can control them and on another level they can control us.
One of the songs on the record is called Broken Bones and I guess it just taps into the idea that when you feel emotionally kind of destroyed or overwhelmed it can be as powerful, if not more powerful, than being physically overwhelmed and physically broken. It's really a reference to the emotional state of things.
Are there things you can express in music that you can't express as an actor?
Once upon a time I would've been able to answer that more clearly because on some level music is far more personal. But having played the number of characters I've played over the years I find I've been able to delve into all sort of corners of the emotional world and express a variety of personalities and experiences and ideas and psychology and in a way making music is the same thing. I'm probably just more in control of it now.
When you're on a film you're adhering to a story written by somebody else and that's great, it's incredibly satisfying and it's a wonderful challenge. It's really satisfying to delve into other worlds.
All the songs delve into emotions and how we think we control them and on another level they control us.
Music is something that comes to me and I don't really know where it comes from. I s'pose it's the same for a lot of writers. An idea might come your way and you feel like you just grabbed it out of the air and you think wow, is that me? Is that connected to me or is to somebody else I know?
It's an intangible, obscure venture on some level. I mean, the actual act of singing I've often said is like crying in tune because you know it really does enable you to express, I mean, just being able to make noise on a psychological level is really satisfying for all of us, whether we're having a scream, a yell, singing, shouting, whatever. It does something to us.
We vibrate on a particular level when we do those things and I find singing for me is really incredibly satisfying and quite therapeutic.
So by harnessing ideas and stories and things I think about and things I observe in other people and expressing that through writing and singing is all-encompassing. It's different to playing a character but at the same time it's still a form of expression and you're getting something out that you've tapped into.
Watch the video for the first single, Storm . . .
You've made some great films here in Australia – Priscilla, The King's Speech, The Proposition, Animal Kingdom. But in Australia we possibly never would've made Mildred Pierce, Memento, LA Confidential, The Hurt Locker, The Road and the list goes on. You have to work overseas as well, don't you?
I guess so. I'm fortunate enough to be in the position where I get offered work overseas and I go and do it because it's there and it's good work. I kind of went from not having much work at home to suddenly having work overseas and I feel like I missed that thing of having a great career at home in Australia.
I'm sure a lot of actors in Australia manage to have fantastic careers without having to step offshore. I do know I'm always hankering to get back home and do stories I feel more connected with.
In a way it doesn't matter what country you're in, it doesn't matter where the story comes from, because you're dealing with people so it doesn't matter if you’re in a desert in Iraq [like The Hurt Locker] or a desert in the middle of Australia [Priscilla].
Of the films I just listed which is most unforgettable for you?
Look, I think The Proposition means the most to me? Yeah. And when I look at the work I've done overseas Mildred Pierce was really special. It's a funny thing. Obviously there's that difference between the external perspective and how it is for me on a job. The external perspective being the finished film. You can make a judgement just based on that, and I do as well. I look at the finished film and think wow, that worked really well. Or it didn't.
I got to work with the wonderful Kate Winslet.
But a big part of the film experience is the making of it and to work on something like Mildred Pierce for all that time – I was there four or five months – I got to work with the wonderful Kate Winslet, the extraordinary [co-writer/co-producer/director] Todd Haynes, who'd written a beautiful script [from James M. Cain's famous novel], and when you're in amongst all that inspiration it becomes a really incredibly unforgettable experience. And that's why The Proposition for me is also a benchmark.
And I look at Animal Kingdom and The Rover as great experiences as well but there was something about being where we were on The Proposition, out in that part of the country and experiencing some Aboriginal culture the way we did. Some films really just stick with you and you have great memories of the whole thing.
Which film do you credit as opening up your career for you?
That step from working on TV in Australia and getting to be in Priscilla which then opened up doors in America as far as being able to get to meet agents and to get to go to meetings and have people go "OK, you're an established actor" to some degree which then led to being able to audition for LA Confidential.
You know, that kind of progression was very quick and fast and furious, really. I mean I made Priscilla in '93. It came out in '94. I auditioned for LA Confidential in '95 and made it in '96. It came out in '97 and I was off and running.
I couldn't have been luckier. Really.
You're just a good actor mate, come on!
Well, thank you. I appreciate that but I mean there are plenty of great actors who haven't had the good fortune I've had. You kinda go whoa, imagine if I hadn't said yes to Priscilla! Or imagine if I didn't go to that meeting with that agent who now represents me and sets me up to go and do those auditions. I do feel luck is involved as well.
Another Jack Irish [a series of ABC TV movies] coming up?
Ah, we're talking about potentially doing it as a small series. Without going into too much detail . . . I think it's difficult for the ABC to justify doing the TV movie. There's one book left that we never made but they're very interested and so is Ian Collie [producer] and Andrew Anastasios [script editor], Andrew Knight [writer] and Matt Cameron [script consultant].
I love playing Jack. Hopefully, we'll do another one.
They're very interested in expanding on that final book and perhaps you know looking at making maybe a six-part series, I guess in the same vein as Rake. And I'd love to, I love playing Jack, and I think working with those guys, and of course Jeffrey Walker at the helm, is a great thrill for me – I get to work at home in Melbourne on a great serial so, yeah, hopefully, we'll do it.
What are you doing in Japan?
A film called Equals, directed by Drake Doremus for whom I made the film Breathe In [released last year] three years ago. This is his new film, a futuristic love story, and our main protagonists are Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. Jacki Weaver's in the movie as well. Having some great fun with Jacki, she's lovely.
And cropping up everywhere.
It's funny. I was talking to her the other night and she said "I was thinking about retiring four or five years ago! And suddenly everything's taken off!" She's a delight. We're on the island of Awaji which is just off the coast of Kobe where the famous beef comes from. We're down in the south-east part of the country and I'm here for another couple of weeks.
When does the film come out?
I don't reckon they'll know themselves until they get it all finished. It'll be a year away.
You're 46. You're pushing 50.
How do you feel about that?
I feel great about it. I kind of laugh about it occasionally. I've had inklings of feeling like ah, I'm getting old but nothing too devastating at this point. I have to say this, I'm in really great shape right now only because – I'm not bragging, I'm just saying – because I just played a fitness instructor.
That was in the last movie I did [Results, due out next year], in Austin, Texas. It was for Andrew Bujalski and I play an Aussie fitness instructor, so I had to get in super shape which was great. And I really needed to. It's been a while since I was in good shape.
Yeah [laughs], very much so. I've always been, on and off, in pretty good shape though you know it does get harder as you get older [smiles].
Tell me about it.
Yes. And of course I'd be in the gym and I'd pull a muscle or something and normally three days later it'd be sorted whereas a week later I'm still going ow! I am 46, aren't I! ❏
■ WIN a Broken Bones CD, personally signed by Guy Pearce, plus a Blu-ray or DVD of Guy's movie The Rover here.
■ Read Ian's other interviews and reviews:
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James Cromwell for Rupert: The human face of one of the world's most powerful men | VIDEO, AUDIO, PHOTOS
Anthony Callea for Ladies & Gentlemen, the Songs of George Michael | Ladies and gentlemen, Anthony Calles | VIDEO, PHOTOS
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