Born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England, Pearce and his family immigrated to Australia, setting up roots Geelong, when he was three years old. Five years later, his father, a New Zealand pilot, died tragically in a plane crash, leaving his English schoolteacher mother to care for him and his older sister Tracey. Even as a youngster, Pearce shunned subjects like math and science in favor of art and music. He joined local theatrical groups at the age of eleven, where he appeared in amateur theater productions of "The King and I," "Alice in Wonderland," and "The Wizard of Oz." In a typical mix of Australian duality, at the same time he performed in stage musicals, the teenager also became involved in body building to pump up his naturally thin body. From ages 16 to 22, he competed in competitions, culminating in a "Mr. Junior Victoria" body building win. Lifting weights aside, Pearce knew his real calling was performing, be it on stage, telly or silver screen. Just two days after his final high school exam in 1985, Pearce won the role of hunky student-turned-teacher Mike Young on the popular Aussie soap "Neighbours" (1985), a four-year stint which helped turn him into a major teen idol. After his television successes in such other Australian programs as "Home and Away" (1988-) and "Snowy River: The McGregor Saga" (1993-96), Pearce next conquered Australia's big screen, landing parts in the contemporary rock drama, "Heaven Tonight (1990), the comical romantic fantasy, "Dating the Enemy" (1996) and portraying a young Errol Flynn in "Flynn" (1996). Then he put on a dress, and the rest was history. In the international camp classic, "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," Pearce was the youngest of the three drag performers, a bundle of energy always pushing the envelope. Although "Priscilla" was his first big hit, it was his next film that catapulted him to levels only dreamed of. In 1997, director Curtis Hanson brought him to the States and, ironically, teamed him with fellow Aussie Russell Crowe as California policemen in the superb modern day noir "L.A. Confidential." As the bespectacled Lt. Ed Exley, Pearce delivered a polished portrayal of a headstrong, politically astute cop who redeems himself in the end. Of the three leads (also including American actor Kevin Spacey), critics took notice of the two Australian unknowns, often mentioning Oscar nominations in the same breath. A far cry from the drag artiste of "Priscilla," Exley demonstrated the actor's range and versatility in adapting a flawless American accent.Pearce further honed his talents as one of a group of soldiers pursued by a cannibal in the graphic thriller, "Ravenous" (1999). That same year, Pearce earned praise for his starring role opposite Lili Taylor, as a bearded brooding musician in "A Slipping Down Life." Both films debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, but failed to capture much attention when theatrically released. He next costarred in the military courtroom drama, "Rules of Engagement" (2000), starring Samuel L. Jackson as a decorated officer on trial for a rescue mission gone bad and Tommy Lee Jones as his mediocre, but trusted lawyer. Though the two leads were trumpeted on the marquee, Pearce was cited by critics for his strong performance as a bulldog prosecuting attorney. In his most noteworthy performance since "L.A. Confidential," Pearce landed the lead in Christopher Nolan's breakthrough feature, "Memento" (2001). As Leonard, a former insurance claims adjuster who suffers from short-term memory loss after an attack in his home that also left his wife dead, he has only instamatic photographs, paper notes and tattoos to help him find his wife's killer during the 15 minutes he is cognizant. Though Pearce was hailed by critics for his intricate performance, he was overshadowed by Nolan's inventive backwards narrative and tense direction. Still, an international home run yet again.On the heels of "Memento," Pearce made the leap to big budget, special effects-laden Hollywood fare with a contemporary take on H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi novel, "Time Machine" (2002). Playing a 19th century inventor determined to change the past by using a self-constructed time machine, he is instead hurtled 80,000 years into a post-apocalyptic future, where he discovers that mankind has been divided into hunters and the hunted. The film was not a hit with either critics or theatergoers, though Pearce received his usual acting accolades. He then costarred in "The Count of Monte Cristo" (2002), based on Alexandre Dumas' epic novel, where he played the deceitful Fernand Mondego, who frames best friend Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) for a crime he did not commit, in order to have his beautiful lover, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk), to himself. After riding the Hollywood wave for several lucrative years, Pearce returned to his homeland to film "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (2003), a supernatural drama about a psychiatry instructor (Pearce) who develops a romance with a mysterious woman (Helena Bonham Carter) whom he rescues from drowning in a river. In "The Hard Word" (2003), Pearce displayed an engaging wit as the cool-headed brains of a trio of bank robbing brothers released from prison after an off-the-books deal is struck, only to discover that they must rob several banks for a pair of crooked cops and their shady lawyer.In a change of pace, Pearce appeared in the family-friendly "Two Brothers" (2004), playing Aidan McRory, a big game hunter who kills a male tiger, forcing two orphaned cubs into captivity. After the cubs manage to escape, McRory must protect a nearby village from them, only to have a change of heart after seeing them in their natural habitat. Back again to Australia, Pearce filmed "The Proposition" (2006), a western set at the end of the nineteenth century about an Outback law enforcer who pits three notorious outlaw brothers against each other. Future roles for Pearce include famed escapologist Harry Houdini in "Death Defying Acts" and infamous 20th century artist and tabloid fixture, Andy Warhol in "Factory Girl" (2006) opposite Sienna Miller as his muse, Edie Sedgwick. Following a small, but memorable turn in "The Hurt Locker" (2009), Pearce portrayed Edward, the Prince of Wales, who becomes King Edward VIII only to abdicate the thrown and leave his stuttering brother (Colin Firth) to become King George VI in the Oscar-winning drama "The King's Speech" (2010). In a rare television role, he essayed playboy Monty Beragon, who seduces a successful businesswoman (Kate Winslet) and her wayward daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in the acclaimed miniseries remake of the Joan Crawford classic melodrama, "Mildred Pierce" (HBO, 2011). The role earned Pearce an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.
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