Guy Pearce playing the American icon in the Edie Sedgwick biopic
He's one of America's most important icons - Andy Warhol. His art and movies changed the way people looked at Campbell's soup or Marilyn Monroe or any of his other modern paintings.
His life has been immortalized on the big screen by so many people; but in Factory Girl, Guy Pearce transforms into the blonde-haired 1960's visionary. He plays opposite Sienna Miller, who stars as his former friend, Edie Sedgwick; she was one of Andy's first inspirations for new art and film until she succumbed to drugs.
Movieweb.com sat down with Guy Pearce to talk about the role and working with Sienna. Here's what he had to say:
Is it important for you to disappear inside a character?
Guy Pearce: I just feel like you go as far as it feels right to go; consequently you see people play the same role in every film they ever do, and they do that pretty well, some people. I don't know, I just find people, as Andy says in the film, so fascinating, and kind of endless qualities to people, so maybe I'm sort of - it sounds wrong; I was going to say maybe I'm a perfectionist or something, but probably no more than anybody else.
How did all of the other people who played Andy influence you?
Guy Pearce: Well, all the research I did certainly in my mind superceded my perception of the other performances that I'd seen; I felt like they were kind of different perspectives on Andy anyway - Bowie's is the '80s, it's after he's been shot. Jared (Harris)'s is during that period with Valerie Solanas, and the interesting thing about Harris' Andy Warhol I think which is great for the film (I Shot Andy Warhol) is that you don't kind of really get inside Andy too much, which I think helps us as an audience feel Valerie's frustration with him. I guess that justifies shooting him (he gives a little laugh) to a certain point. And Crispin (Glover), his moment in The Doors it's such a trippy kind of thing anyway, so I felt like they were all different. I had seen them all before, I did watch them all again once just to kind of go, 'hmm, hmm,' but then all the research stuff that I had, particularly all the audio recordings, Brigit Berlin allowed me to - and Vincent Fremont who takes care of all her work, they allowed me to re-record some of the phone conversations that she and Andy made. Andy and Brigit basically taped every phone conversation they had from the '60s onwards; Brigit was obsessed, she was quite wealthy and had all this money to bug her whole house, that's a whole other story in itself. So she recorded every phone conversation that she had with Andy, and I've become quite friendly with Brigit now, and she was wonderful as far as research goes, and so all that audio stuff just left everything else behind as far as my perception on other films. She said to me one day, I'd gone in and I got all these recordings of those two together and started working with them, and then said to me one day, 'Oh, November 16th, 1971, go to the box and you'll find I tell Andy Edie died.' And sure enough, I go to the box and there's a tape, I tell Andy Edie died. And their conversation is just so heartbreaking.
What was Andy's reaction?
Guy Pearce: He had a number of reactions, the phone conversation goes for five minutes, and there were a couple of moments, he's clearly shocked and stunned by what's happened. And his very first reaction is to go, 'Who, what, where, how, why, who,' and he does an incredible job of evading the actual information. Then there's a huge long pause - they end up talking about her husband for awhile, Michael Post, and then there's this huge long pause and Andy says, 'Does he get all the money?' And then they get back into it again, and Brigit's clearly not happy with that response, and then there's another big pause, after they talk about some other stuff, and Andy says, and you can tell he's about to cry, he says, 'Gee, I just thought she was going to pull through and get well,' or something like that. So in typical Warhol fashion, I think he didn't want to attach to the emotional response and tried to evade.
How long did it take you to come up with the mannerisms and the accent?
Guy Pearce: Well, I knew about the film in April I think, so I started reading and looking at documentaries and doing all the research, and then we shot in November, so I kind of had a good six months to really play around with stuff.
Did you have a coach?
Guy Pearce: No, there's so much material to use, there's so much footage, and there is many, many more hours of footage out there that I didn't even get to see. So, no, I think using these audio tapes were a great help.
Was there a big physical transformation, it seems his skin was a lot paler, and he was slightly less built
Guy Pearce: Yes, I did another movie since then where I stacked on about 15 kilos, so I'm a little bigger now than I was a year ago or so. Yeah, that's right, he had a condition when he was a kid; it was sort of a nervous condition, but it affected the pigment in his skin, so he kind of became this weird translucent looking ghost in a way.
So they painted your face white?
Guy Pearce: Absolutely, yeah; he would also apply make up. In the film, you see me pop some make up on, so there were a number of things that we did to try and get us closer to Warhol's look.
Can you talk about your off-set work with Sienna?
Guy Pearce: It's hard to really remember, we really were in each other's pockets for quite some time, Sienna and I. We met in England and really started to work on the script there; there were still things we needed to clarify in the script, and we were doing so much research. I read about thirty books on Andy, and she read how many books there were on Edie that existed. And we went to Pittsburg together; we went to the Warhol Museum, and they allowed us to look at whole lot of footage of Edie and Andy that no one had seen really before, and just spent a long time together. We spent about six weeks together in New York the first chunk, and then another huge chunk after that, and really we got on so well, and we were really supportive of each other, that I think we were just really eager to kind of, 'How am I doing, how am I doing,' kind of stuff. So it was a great experience, because she was really open and willing to go the whole way, clearly as one should, and I was too. It was actually a really nice reflection too I think of probably, potentially, the energy that might have initially been sparked when Andy and Edie found each other in the first place.
Do you think he was more of an observer than he was an actual participant in life?
Guy Pearce: I think he probably worked a lot harder than people realize; a lot of people that I talked to said you have to remember the amount of work that he actually did. You go to the warehouse, and you go, 'Ok, so he did a lot of work.' And even though you see him on film, a lot of the time if they came to interview him and he was just sitting back on a couch kind of doing nothing, when the cameras went away, he got all the screen prints back out and he worked; he was a workaholic. But I do think he had a particular perspective on the world; I think he was so insecure about his own look and his own background, his own sort of history, that really he had such a fantasy about the life that he wanted to live. The glamorous life that everybody else seemed to be living, particularly - on one end of the scale, you had movie stars, and on the other end of the scale you had either drug addicts or politicians or whoever that happened to be, or just anybody walking down the street. I think he had a real fascination based on his own insecurities about himself; I think he was super-sensitive, super-emotional.
You're also playing Harry Houdini in Death Defying Acts; did you approach that any differently than this movie?
Guy Pearce: No, I treated that completely differently; it's almost a fictional fairytale anyway. There's footage of Houdini and there's audio stuff of him, but I decided to go in a completely different direction and really just work off what my own imaginative response was to the script anyway I think rather than really just trying to channel somebody, which is what I felt like I tried to do with Andy in a way.
What did you see in Andy's art that maybe you didn't before?
Guy Pearce: Well, a couple of things; one really was just having more of an understanding of the guy, so therefore looking at the work going, huh, I know about the person who's behind that idea, who's behind that painting. But actually it was also about just accessing more work, seeing all the illustrations that he did through the fifties when he worked as a commercial artist, and that's where he really worked, and worked, and worked, he's such a beautiful illustrator and such a beautiful colorist that those drawings, beautiful drawings of shoes and cats and all this gorgeous stuff that he did, which clearly indicates that he is a brilliant artist. And I think that was his dilemma, he knew he was a great artist, as far as actually being able to be an artist, but then you can't jump from commercial art into fine art without copping flack and even just trying to do it I think was difficult enough, so I think that really forced him to kind of look at art in a whole different way, and go, 'Well, if I'm going to get in, I've got to get in a different way,' and go, 'Well actually maybe that's no more art than that anyway, so here's a picture of a Campbell soup can.' He kind of started off in a fine art sense with using the same products and things that he used in a commercial art sense. It was really strange, but he changed the way people look at the world.
What surprised you most doing your research?
Guy Pearce: I think I really discovered how intelligent he was and how funny he was. I think he really had a great sense of humor, but the fact that he was - this decision of his to be one step ahead of the game and claim that maybe he was stupid, claim that he was ugly, all this kind of stuff just to sort of survive and, as I said, be ahead of the game, I found really fascinating. But I think his humor is what I was really surprised by.
Factory Girl opens in theaters February 2nd; it's rated R.