There hasn’t been a character like Monty Beragon on the screen — big or small — in quite a while. Played with rakish charm by Guy Pearce in Todd Haynes‘ masterful mini-series “Mildred Pierce,” he’s the devilishly handsome man who falls in with Kate Winslet‘s titular character and in what is truly a case of opposites attracting. A part owner of a fading fruit company, Monty lives as he always has, with not much thought for tomorrow and usually with a good amount of money in his pockets thanks to his regular dividends. His life revolves around his country club and Mildred and beyond that, not much else. His lifestyle runs counter to Mildred’s, she is divorced and working nearly around the clock to make a name for herself and more importantly, earn whatever she can to get everything her daughter desires. Yet in each other, Mildred and Monty find something missing in their own lives. The five-part series allows for plenty of room for the actors and characters to breathe and while the film is primarily about Mildred’s fractured relationship with her daughter Veda, her affair with the beguiling and bewitching Monty is given equal time and is just as crucial to the film’s heart-wrenching closing chapters.
One of the best dramas so far this year regardless of the format it’s being shown on, “Mildred Pierce” wraps up this weekend with its final two parts. We chatted with Guy Pearce late this week about his work on the project, his attraction to the character of Monty and the instant kinship he felt with the main star, Kate Winslet.
“There’s sort of an old movie star quality about Monty. I think he would never admit it, but I think he kind of carries himself [and] almost sees himself as bit of a Cary Grant type character,” Pearce said about his role, and it’s an apt comparison. Monty is an intriguing character to watch because as self-centered and repulsive as he gets, there is something undeniably and indescribably compelling about a man who very much carries himself as a bit of celebrity. And there was much in the character that Pearce found, as an actor, interesting to investigate and explore. “And so here’s Monty, really not allowing himself to be fussed by the things other people are fussed by which we then see, particularly when Mildred and Monty get together. She’s all about survival and he’s not at all. So just that in itself as a simple idea was quite fascinating, but knowing that it was in the hands of Todd and that it would be with Kate made it extra appealing to me.”
“There’s something about what we see in that very first scene where he offers to take her to the beach. And she’s drawn in by that. The thing that’s appealing for him I think, is that she’s the kind of woman normally who would probably slap him in the face and say ‘How dare you!’ And normally the kind of woman who would say yes to him might be somewhat more of a floozie or someone who’s not as interesting as someone like Mildred. So he falls for her. He falls for the fact that there is this woman who is clearly bright and insightful and sharp and witty and attractive. He finds her at the right moment in her life,” Pearce explained about the attraction between Monty and Mildred.
“At first when she starts to question him — when they’re at the beach and they’ve made love and he’s cooking for her — and she’s asking him what he actually does. Just to sort of see a little disdain in even being questioned about what he does, I find that sort of stuff really exciting. The great thing about the film is that even in the most subtle ways you can telegraph a lot in a character,” Pearce elaborated about his appreciation of the material. “And of course, it’s so beautifully written. The dialogue just leads down beautiful paths….you’re never doing anything that feels too expositional or false. Conversations go back and forth and dip in and out the way life really normally presents itself.”
And it was in that complexity on the page that Pearce — along with the rest of cast — found appealing: a rare opportunity to spread out and find nuances that an ordinary film with a regular running time just couldn’t allow. “Kate has the leading role in the show and normally it would only be her character — if it was a film — that would be allowed to fleshed in such a manner. Whereas Brían O’Byrne‘s character of Bert, and James LeGros‘ character of Wally not to mention the daughter Veda played by the two girls [Morgan Turner and Evan Rachel Wood] — everybody, every character, you just get to see extra bits and pieces that normally would end up on the cutting room floor [in a regular movie],” Pearce said adding, “Making it was great. It was a really grand experience. We all felt like we all had the lead role [because] all the characters were so beautifully realized.”
And the undeniable electricity between Pearce and Winslet on the screen was not only due to both of their tremendous talents, but strong mutual respect for each other’s work and an intuitive feel even before production began on how they would play the characters.
“Kate and I, when we first met, we admitted our attraction for each other. She’d been a fan of mine from many years ago. I was on a television show in Australia [‘Neighbours‘] and it was huge in England and she must have been 10 and I was 18 or 19. And I’ve been a massive fan of hers ever since seeing her in ‘Heavenly Creatures.’ And I find her gorgeous and divine,” Pearce explained about how he got involved in the series. “I was asked to do the show, and at the time I was asked to do the show I was potentially going to be doing another film, so there was a few weeks where I wasn’t able to say yes and it was all a bit awkward. And in that time were the BAFTAs in London, and so I went to those awards [and] we saw each other and immediately just ran into each other’s arms and hugged each other like we were long lost boyfriend and girlfriend. And we just knew how Monte and Mildred would be together. And she said, ‘Please say yes! Please say yes!’ and I felt like how I could possibly say no, I’ve got Kate Winslet’s arms wrapped around me saying ‘Please say yes!'”
“We really clicked very very well, Kate and I,” Pearce adds. “Funnily enough we share birthdays as well. We kind of feel like kindred spirits in a way. We didn’t need to get know each other, it was like we [already] knew each other.”
And that easy give and take between Pearce and Winslet, and the rapport they share is clearly in evidence in “Mildred Pierce.” It’s a tremendous piece with strong work from the entire cast from top to bottom including all the aforementioned talent as well as great turns by Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham. It’s a kind of rich, dramatic work they don’t make much of anymore in television or the movies and another strong achievement by director Todd Haynes. “Mildred Pierce” closes with parts 4 and 5 which will premiere on HBO on Sunday, April 10th at 9 PM.
Photo credit: Andrew Schwartz/HBO