Guy Pearce and Christopher Nolan will always be linked, as the actor was the face of Nolan’s 2000 breakthrough movie “Memento.” Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator trying to solve the murder of his wife. Nolan’s script famously tells the story of Shelby’s investigation in two timelines, one moving chronologically (shown in black-and-white) and another moving in reverse chronological order (shot in color). In a new video interview with GQ, Pearce credits his agent for sending him the script with a big note on the front informing him the script moved backwards. Even with that tip, Pearce says reading Nolan’s script left him baffled from a plot perspective. The actor’s emotional connection to Leonard was a different story.
“The thing was that even though on some level it felt like gobbledegook as I was reading it, because you got the sense that things were all over the place, what I really got and what was really clear was the emotional journey of the character,” Pearce says. “As the actor that’s the only thing I need to latch onto in order to do my job. The other stuff began to make sense the more as I worked with Chris Nolan and rehearsed with him. Once it all made sense to me, I then had to put it all away and let it all go and just treat every scene as its own little thing because I wasn’t supposed to remember what had happened before and obviously had no clue what was coming afterwards.”
Pearce says working on “Memento” resulted in his own thoughts of the past becoming discombobulated. “It made me question my own memory,” the actor says. “I would look at a photo and would be thinking about a memory around it and then go, ‘Well I don’t know if that memory is really true at all.’ It really made me question my own memories, so thank you, Chris Nolan.”
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“Memento” remains the movie that fans bring up the most when talking to Pearce. “People always tell me it was the first film of its kind,” he says. “Chris Nolan clearly is a genius. His ability to write the story and make the film that was in his head as it is. It’s the only film I’ve ever done where the finished film is exactly as the script was.”
Watch Pearce relive more notable films in his career in the GQ video interview below.