Actor Guy Pearce strums his stuff

Guy Pearce, who is starring in Netflix series The Innocents, plays a guitar at Rudy's Music in Soho, New York.
Guy Pearce, who is starring in Netflix series The Innocents, plays a guitar at Rudy's Music in Soho, New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

The Australian star of movies such as Memento and LA Confidential owns 85 guitars and released his first album in 2014

NEW YORK • How does Australian actor and musician Guy Pearce know when a guitar is right for him?

"You play it and it's just like butter in your hands," he said.

Pearce, 50, was standing on the lower floor of Rudy's Music in Soho, a gleaming, vaulted shop that is part gallery, part temple. Hundreds of guitars, amps and pedals, along with a few ukuleles, were arrayed around him.

"This is heaven for me," he said.

When Pearce was here in 2010, he bought a 1962 Fender Jaguar in Fiesta Red ("really divine," he said).

It is one of about 85 guitars he keeps in his Melbourne studio. He bought his first guitar, a 1952 Gibson Southern Jumbo, for the character he played in the 1999 movie A Slipping Down Life and he has been obsessed ever since.

Today, he had come to look at a guitar he has seen online, a 1959 Gibson ES-335, one of only 71 that were made.

It lolled inside a glass case on a bed of hot pink velvet, its maple body topped with Mickey Mouse ears and a dotted rosewood fingerboard.

He admired the angle of the neck, the chunky thickness of the neck, the nickel-plated screws.

"The '59 really was the one, it really was the best," he said. "But I mean, I probably can't afford it, to be honest."

He guessed that it would sell for more than US$100,000 (S$137,210). He moved on.

Pearce, whose films include The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994), LA Confidential (1997) and Memento (2000), was in town briefly to promote The Innocents, the Netflix series about a shape-shifting teenager on the run.

Pearce plays Dr Halvorson, a scientist who has established a small commune on a remote Norwegian island and pioneered a therapeutic technique to help shifters control their powers. A lot of Nordic sweaters are involved.

As an actor, Pearce shape-shifts professionally. But over the past four years he has made some other, more personal shifts too.

His wife of 18 years, the psychologist Kate Mestitiz, divorced him. A few months later, he met his current partner, actress Carice Van Houten (she plays priestess Melis-andre in TV series Game Of Thrones), and they now have a child, Monte.

And Pearce decided to make a late debut as a singer-songwriter.

He released his first album, Broken Bones, in 2014. His second, The Nomad, written in the wake of his divorce and named for the plane that crashed and killed his father, came out in July.

"I know I'm not the greatest songwriter in the world, but at the same time I do enjoy the challenge of trying to improve," he said.

At Rudy's Music, the staff was busy assisting other customers, so Pearce wandered up to the loft where the arch-top guitars are kept.

He spotted a Silvertone acoustic with a jaunty white pick guard - a "cheeky guitar", he called it - built by Sears department stores to imitate a Fender.

"But they're kind of cool," he said, picking up the guitar and neatly removing the "Please Ask for Assistance" tag.

"They're a bit retro."

He tuned the guitar before playing a dirty little riff. Did it feel like butter?

"Not quite butter; no, not quite," he said. "Lard? No, I shouldn't say lard."

Replacing the Silvertone, he moved on to a short-scale Gibson ES-140 ¾, custom-finished in a blazing orange-red, that was once owned by jazz guitarist Tal Farlow.

This was a different calibre. He went downstairs to ask if he could play it.

The store manager, Mr Gordon French, told him he could and took him back up to the loft.

Pearce sat on a leather bench and began to strum, trying out a few plaintive Jeff Buckley riffs, a Bob Dylan song.

"It's nice with the flat-wound strings on it," he said.

When the guitar is plugged in, Mr French told him: "It's incredibly warm and fat. Kind of luscious."

"Mellow," Pearce said.

He probably meant buttery. Sadly, another customer already had a deposit on it. Tentatively, Pearce asked about the '59 Gibson he had salivated over downstairs.

"Buy lottery tickets," Mr French said. The guitar was priced at US$130,000, too much for a new father also paying off what he described as "a rather expensive divorce".

Pearce declined to try it out.

"If I can possibly avoid playing something that I know is out of my price range," he said, "there's much less chance I'll feel compelled to get it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2018, with the headline 'Actor Guy Pearce strums his stuff'. Print Edition | Subscribe