Based on the 1945 Oscar film of the same name, HBO period drama Mildred Pierce has a big-hitting cast, including Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood. Based in California in the ’30s, it tells the story of the eponymous middle-class housewife (Winslet) who leaves her adulterous husband for a better life, with dreams of opening a restaurant. Having to start at the bottom as a waitress, she worries about losing her middle-class roots, then meets the charismatic Monty Beragon. We caught up with Guy Pearce, who plays Monty, to get the inside track on his new TV role.
You’ve been part of some great films, from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to The King’s Speech. How do you choose your projects? Maybe I should start a script-reading agency, where I pick scripts that go off and win lots of awards. No, in all seriousness, I think I’ve just been lucky really.
Tell us about your new character, Monty Beragon, and his place within Mildred Pierce. Monty is from a fairly upper-class background, and is just looking to enjoy himself in life – that’s really all he’s about. He happens to wander into the café in which Mildred is working and throws out one of his charming lines: that he has to head off to the beach, and he’d love her to join him. Someone like Mildred, with her personality and sense of responsibility, would ordinarily slap him across the face and say, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Maybe a young floozy might say, ‘Oooh, really?’ and go straight off to the beach with him. But the fact that somebody like Mildred says, ‘All right then, I’m going to join you,’ is incredibly appealing to Monty. She’s obviously a very attractive woman, but you can also tell straight away that she’s not to be messed with, and that’s why he falls for her.
Monty’s charms are apparent, but Mildred is a bit of a challenge, not a pushover: is that what keeps him going back to her for more? Yes, absolutely. We don’t see this in the story, but I’d imagine that, at his age, he is probably starting to get a little bored with the women that he is able to wrap around his little finger. And probably the ones that have got rid of him in the past are the ones more like Mildred, who do want to settle down and have a proper life. I think there’s probably something very appealing about the fact that she’s not from his world. But those are also the things that drive them crazy, because Monty isn’t prepared to address that difference on any mature sort of level.
Monty does some fairly despicable things. What are his more redeeming qualities? Strangely enough, even though he’s from an upper-class background, I think he’s actually quite open-minded, and not judgemental of other classes. He’d go and have a drink with anybody. I don’t think he’d care less – he’s not a snob at all, and for somebody of that class, I think that’s a great quality. He’s very relaxed, he brings a very relaxed atmosphere to a room, and I think that’s what he brings to Mildred’s life, and Mildred obviously needs that. He needs a sense of responsibility in his life, and that is what she brings to him. But he’s not prepared to take that on, and she’s not prepared to only become a laissez-faire sort either. It could be the most amazing relationship, if they were both prepared to change a bit. She is probably more prepared to change than he is, mainly because she is smarter than he is. He has no concept that there’s anything that even needs to change. The relationship crumbles mainly because they are so different.
What attracted you to the role, and to the project? Kate Winslet. How do you say no? I knew that to work with Kate would be incredible – I’ve been a fan of hers for many years. I knew that there had been a film made, which I hadn’t seen, and I knew that the book was apparently beautiful, but I hadn’t read that either. They sent me the scripts first, which I thought were amazing, and that Monty was a really great role. It was a no-brainer.
What are you doing next? I’m making a film called The Wettest County – another period piece – about moonshiners during the Prohibition. It’s about three brothers making brews illegally. And I have a few films I’ve already made that are coming out soon: The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, a thriller I did with Nicolas Cage and January Jones; an Australian film called 33 Postcards, a lovely story about a guy in prison and a young Asian girl who becomes his pen pal; and at the end of last year I made Lock Out, a science fiction film set in a prison in outer space, with Maggie Grace. I was seriously buff for that – no ’30s moustaches. It’s all muscles and smart-alec lines.