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How an Australian Actor Became the Modern John Wayne

How an Australian Actor Became the Modern John Wayne


  • Guy Pearce’s career spans various genres, showcasing his talent in horror, science fiction, war films, and Westerns.
  • “The Adventures of Priscilla” and “Snowy River: The McGregor Saga” were pivotal projects that elevated Pearce’s profile in the industry.
  • Pearce has starred in several acclaimed Western films, cementing his status as a modern icon in the genre alongside classics like “The Proposition.”

Born in Ely, Cambridgeshire to a Kiwi father and English mother, Guy Pearce and his family relocated to Australia when the future actor was three. Since debuting at the end of the 1980s, he’s put tremendous work into various genres, like horror and science fiction. Aside from the cowboy, his greatest archetype is perhaps the soldier, with Pearce showing up in numerous war films, like Rules of Engagement (2000) and The Hurt Locker (2009).

The latter of those two won several awards and helped establish Pearce as one of the century’s greatest actors. In that regard, Memento (2000) is among the most popular movies to boast his confident presence. That particular title came well into his career, but before, Guy Pearce appeared in numerous, high-quality titles that deserve far more credit today.

The Early Years of Guy Pearce

After several stints on television with Australian soap operas such as Neighbors, he garnered critical acclaim for his performance in a movie: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Written and directed by the talented Stephan Elliott, it’s a road comedy that features Guy Pearce alongside two famous thespians: Hugo Weaving, and Terence Stamp.

They play a trio of drag queens who travel on the eponymous bus (christened “Priscilla” by Pearce’s character) to a gig in Alice Springs, and every step of the atmospheric way, each actor performs brilliantly in a critically acclaimed film. Undoubtedly the most prominent project of Pearce’s to that point, The Adventures of Priscilla is among the greatest movies by everyone involved. And though not a Western, the actor from down under would soon go on to make tremendous waves in the genre.

In the same year that Priscilla graced the silver screen, Guy returned to television in heroic fashion by playing a character on horseback. And while its name value has undoubtedly waned as of late, Snowy River: The McGregor Saga remains a high-quality title that boasts a star-studded cast. Hugh Jackman and Olivia Newton-John, some of Australia’s greatest actors, appear among the cast. Neither of them are primary characters, but no matter their prominence, everyone performs perfectly in this Western TV show.

Playing a Cowboy on Television

Based on Banjo Patterson’s poem “The Man From Snowy River”, the 1982 adaptation of the same name started a long-lasting streak of Australian Western films. It didn’t feature Guy Pearce, but in all four seasons of Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, the actor of the hour played a pivotal part in the plot. As the son of protagonist Matt McGregor, he plays the middle child Rob and helps take care of the ranch on which their family lives as squatters.

Traversing engaging dynamics and sharing well-written dialogue, the figures of Snowy River carry the plot through four straight seasons amid the atmospheric outback of Australia. Though punctuated with explosions and the occasional gunfight, this Western show with Guy Pearce is mostly centered on characters — their exchanges, idiosyncracies, and individual arcs of development.


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But Snowy River also features high-quality techniques around every corner of production, and it gave Guy great experience when working while on horseback. After 65 episodes of an Australian Western show, he soon shifted his sights to cinema, working with some of the industry’s most successful directors ever and becoming highly revered in the process. What’s more, many of his movies are Westerns.

Starring in Several Westerns

From Ravenous (1999) by Antonia Bird and The Proposition (2005) by John Hillcoat to The Rover (2014) by David Michôd and Brimstone (2016) by Martin Koolhaven, some of the greatest Westerns of their respective decades feature the talent of Guy Pearce. In each of those projects, he even plays the lead. While none are as popular as the Westerns with John Wayne, they all render the Australian thespian his contemporary counterpart.

As the two greatest Westerns in Australia’s illustrious history, The Proposition and The Rover feature essential performances from Pearce, and they hold up brilliantly as some of the best movies that the genre’s ever seen. The same can’t quite be said for Brimstone, but still: It’s highly underrated, and Pearce steals the show as the film’s vicious villain. Also overlooked by critics was the horror hybrid Ravenous, which thankfully garnered a cult following a couple of decades down the line.

Unfortunately, not many of these movies hold the name value of other titles with Guy Pearce, such as L.A. Confidential (1997). It’s among the most revered movies ever made, and Pearce plays the protagonist. Other well-known projects that feature his name among the cast include Mildred Pierce (2011) and Mare of Easttown (2021) — a pair of miniseries with famous actress Kate Winslet.



10 Underrated Westerns From the 2010s

Amid the release of critical darlings and big-budget blockbusters, these Westerns were unfortunately underrated throughout the 2010s.

None of that even touches on movies like The King’s Speech (2010) or Iron Man 3 (2013), two titles that bolstered the overall name value of Pearce. Neither of those fall within his all-time greatest genre, though. His most recent adventure on horseback came by way of The Convert (2023), a Revisionist Western by Lee Tamahori. Though another title that flew beneath the general film fan’s radar, it nonetheless bolstered Pearce’s case as the modern John Wayne.

His Filmography Ever Since

After his sweeping experience with warring tribes of New Zealand, he returned his sights to a genre for which he deserves far more credit in general: horror, with Pearce’s first movie in that regard coming by way of Ravenous. Others include Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) and Prometheus (2012), and in 2024 alone, he’s added two more scary movies to his underrated belt.

First up was Sunrise (2024), which co-starred Alex Pettyfer. Not the greatest horror movie you’ll read about today, but no matter — Pearce’s second from this year will likely prove to be far more noteworthy once it’s actually released. With David Cronenberg as the writer-director, The Shrouds (2024) will star Vincent Cassel as a widower named Karsh, who drives the plot by inventing a device that allows him to speak with the dead. Creative stuff and the upcoming Cronenberg movie only scratches the surface of future projects with Pearce.

Directed by Brady Corbet with Mona Fastvold as his co-writer, The Brutalists wrapped filming on May 5, 2023. Its release is around the corner, albeit sans an official date. The same can be said for Inside, a prison drama that features Guy Pearce as a seemingly endearing protagonist. It’s in post-production like The Brutalists, while the next project with the modern John Wayne is still in the phase of filming. Called Neponset Circle, it’ll mark his second collaboration with director Pauline Chan following their work on 33 Postcards (2011).

While none of his upcoming films can be classified as Westerns, it’s only a matter of time before Guy returns to the genre. He shines brightest on horseback, with a pistol in the palm of one hand and the audience in the other. Truly captivating on every occasion, Guy Pearce performs to perfection in each of his silver screen westerns. What’s more, he’s also played a cowboy on television, and the respective titles resonated with fans from around the world. Without a doubt, he should be commonly considered the modern John Wayne.

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