Over the years, cinema has given viewers a number of characters that can firmly be classified as heroes or villains. One end of the spectrum includes the likes of Ben-Hur and Ellen Ripley, while the other features Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader. There are even some like Michael Corleone and Severus Snape who can be referred to as antiheroes. Some roles are easy to classify, but others, like Guy Pearce’s turn as Han van Meegeren in The Last Vermeer, are harder to pin down. Pearce views his character from a very nuanced perspective, but it appears that his work in the Marvel Universe did teach him something about villains.
The Last Vermeer centers on the exploits of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch folk hero and art forger who swindled millions of dollars from the Nazis by selling them replicas of highly sought-after artwork. The role allowed Pearce to really dive into the eccentricities of Van Meegeren and chew up a bit of scenery in the process.
Still, the role is a far cry from his performance as villainous think tank founder Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3. And when I recently spoke to Guy Pearce about his work on The Last Vermeer, he revealed that he didn’t even view Han van Meegeren as a villain or hero. However, he did explain that his time with Marvel Studios helped reinforce one key fact ahead of his portrayal of Van Meegeren:
I suppose on some level, I didn't even view him as a hero or a villain. it was really important to understand his history, it was just important to understand that and I suppose, you know, if you play anybody, unless you're doing something that is perhaps of the Marvel Universe, where you're just playing a villainous character, and it's really... fantastically sort of tasty for an audience. If you're doing something that is somewhat based in reality, I think you can't help but understand, or try to understand the motivations of anybody, even somebody who who commits murder, or somebody who, you know, commits some terrible acts of treason or whatever they happen to be. I can't help but have some sense of sympathy, at least to the point where I go, ‘Well, I'm just curious to know where that comes from. I'm just curious to know why that happened. And as vile as it might have been, what's the reason for it?’ I'm so curious about human nature and behavior and psychology, I suppose.
In regard to playing a villain, Guy Pearce’s work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe helped drive home the point that in bigger films, many antagonists tend to fall into that over-the-top (or even mustache-twirly) mold that audiences have become accustomed to. But with Han van Meegeren, Pearce was able to find the layers within the somewhat “questionable” character and in the process, find his humanity.
Guy Pearce tries not to look for a heroic or villainous label for his characters, especially ones that are as multidimensional as Han van Meegeren. The actor went on to tell me that he seeks to answer other kinds of questions when examining a role:
And so whether someone is a hero, whether someone's a villain, I think for me playing the guy, it's just about going, ‘What is my history? What have I been through? What's my drive? What am I trying to do?’
Guy Pearce certainly puts a considerable amount of thought into the roles he plays and how he approaches them. And with The Last Vermeer’s Han van Meegeren, he ultimately managed to paint a vivid portrait of a truly complex and complicated man.
The Last Vermeer is now available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment