04/17/2012 08:45 am ET Updated Jun 17, 2012

Actor Guy Pearce Pumps Up for Lockout

Stranded in outer space, stranded in Serbia -- how much different can it be?

Not much, says actor Guy Pearce, whose newest film, Lockout, opened Friday.

"The thing I enjoy about being in remote places is that there are no distractions," Pearce, 44, says. "I love the idea of having three months to just think about one thing. It's hard to shoot at home -- with the house and the dogs and the banking. It's far more distracting -- and not as fair to my wife."

In Lockout, Pearce plays Snow, a disgraced CIA agent in the future who, on his way to prison for something he didn't do, is drafted for a brutal mission: He must single-handedly rescue the president's daughter, who is stranded on a maximum-security prison orbiting Earth -- on which all the prisoners have escaped.

The film was written by its first-time directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, a pair of Irishmen about whom Pearce says, "I was impressed by them." To play an action hero, Pearce (a teen-age bodybuilding champion in his native Australia) began lifting weights and eating a special diet to bulk up so he'd look formidable on camera.

Getting back into the body-building regimen wasn't easy: "I certainly didn't have the enthusiasm for it that I did as a kid," Pearce says with a smile. "And I'm far more skilled at it now. I used to go at it a bit hard. I'm far more wary about my ligaments and tendons."

Pearce was already acting onstage, about to start a TV career as a teen, when he was first attracted to weight-lifting: "My mother would go to the gym and I'd go with her when I was 14 or 15," he says. "I'd do circuit training -- and I instantly became fascinated by how one's body changed through training. There was a body-building gym run by a woman who was a runner-up in the Miss Australia and I started going there.

"I was fascinated in the same way I'm fascinated in the changes a sculptor creates. It's an artistic form of creativity. And I had the energy at that age to be enthusiastic about the training."

You can't train, however, to be funny. Either you've always got a one-liner at the ready or you don't. His character, Snow, does; Pearce, however, is not that adept.

"I really wish I did have that talent," he says. "I can be funny. But under pressure, I tend to clam up. Although, with a vodka under my belt, I'm OK at a dinner party. But I'm better off when someone writes the lines for me."

Pearce has been acting since childhood, finding TV and film work as a teen and jumping from Australian stardom (including one of the leads in the original Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) to Hollywood (L.A. Confidential). He's built a resume that includes everything from independent classics (Memento) to Oscar-winning hits (The King's Speech) to Emmy-winning miniseries (Mildred Pierce).

He took a break from acting at 30 because, as he says, "I wanted to reassess. I realized I'd been living my life and career based on the decision of an 8-year-old. I wanted to see whether there was validity to that decision, to see if I did have the skills. I came to the conclusion that I did -- maybe because there's nothing else I'm able to do."

The press book for Lockout brags that Pearce gained 50 pounds in muscling up for his role. Pearce, however, rolls his eyes at the figure.

"I don't know where they got that," he says. "It was maybe 20. And I took them off just as gradually as I put them on. I was able to decrease the amount of weight I was lifting and the amount of food I was eating. And I turned the exercises more toward cardio. My wife and I do a lot of walking. I find it's great, for all sorts of reasons. It's a good way to level out after an intense workout -- like filming in Serbia."

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