Jack Irish star Guy Pearce on returning to Australian TV after 20 years in the US

Guy Pearce as Jack Irish in Dead Point.

Guy Pearce as Jack Irish in Dead Point.

More than 20 years is a long time between Australian television series for Guy Pearce.

In the 1980s, the actor found fame playing Neighbours heartthrob Mike Young and followed this with a stint on Home And Away as David Croft. Now he is back as private investigator and debt collector Jack Irish, a one-time criminal lawyer who gives up his career following the death of his wife.

In the intervening years, Pearce, now 48, filmed a string of critically acclaimed movies including The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Memento, The King's Speech, Prometheus, The Hurt Locker and Iron Man 3.

Guy Pearce as Jack Irish in Bad Debts (screening on Choice TV on Sunday, August 7)

Guy Pearce as Jack Irish in Bad Debts (screening on Choice TV on Sunday, August 7)

Then, in 2011, he won an Emmy starring alongside Kate Winslet in the US mini-series Mildred Pierce.

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Despite his international success, the actor is still fiercely proud of his time on Neighbours.

Marta Dusseldorp as Linda Hillier in the Jack Irish series.

Marta Dusseldorp as Linda Hillier in the Jack Irish series.

"It gave me my start," Pearce says. "I owe so much to that show. I gained so much in friends, in experience and knowledge. 

"I finished high school at the end of 1985 and went straight on to Neighbours three days later. 

"In those four years, all my friends from school were at university doing their arts degrees, their medical degrees, law degrees and whatever other degrees they were doing. 

Roy Billing plays Harry Strang in the Jack Irish series.

Roy Billing plays Harry Strang in the Jack Irish series.

"I was there doing an acting degree in a way, so it was kind of like my uni days. You really had to be on your toes to get through a show like that and I loved it. It took its toll and eventually I'd had enough. I wanted to go and play other characters – but that's OK, you move on."

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Pearce leapt at the chance to bring Australian author Peter Temple's Jack Irish to the small screen.

"As soon as they said Jeffery Walker (co-producer), Andrew Knight (executive producer), ABC and Peter Temple, I knew it was going to be a good show," he says, from Amsterdam, the home of his Game Of Thrones star girlfriend Carin van Houten, who will give birth to his first child this year.

TV Guide is in stories every Thursday.

TV Guide is in stories every Thursday.

"And I think that's always the thing. If you have an immediate response, are able to picture something, that's quite often what makes me say 'Yes'. Mildred Pierce was exactly the same. They said HBO, Kate Winslet and (novelist) James M Cain."

But some Temple fans were not as convinced that Pearce was the man for the job.

"We actually had a bit of trouble in the beginning because Jack is kind of presented in the books as a bit older, a bit more haggard, a bit more – not masculine necessarily – but a bit more of a man," Pearce says.

"When we did the first two films I had a lot of people saying to me 'You, Jack Irish, no, not right'. So actually there was a bit of a hurdle for fans of the book to get over but it seems to have softened as time's gone on.

"I've had a few reluctant fans come up to me and say 'You're OK as Jack' so I feel like I've slowly won people over. We did get some nice notes from Peter Temple himself saying he was happy with how we were presenting Jack so I feel like we're a little bit off the hook now."

The actor's friends see many similarities between him and Jack.

"Lots of my friends at home say 'Oh wow, finally we get to see you on television'," he confesses.

"Often I play characters where I don't look anything like me and I think that's what they mean. Jack's not anxious where I'm quite anxious; I am not as ambivalent as Jack. I have no interest in horse racing at all so there's a certain group of elements that have nothing to do with me whatsoever but I am sure there are certain little mannerisms, behavioural things, that are far closer to me than the characters I played in Lawless or Prometheus.

"Obviously the beauty for me is that I am playing an Australian. So all of that vernacular, all of the 'ums' and 'ahs' and pauses come completely naturally to me as opposed to playing King Edward VIII (The King's Speech) who is of another time and of another place."

There are now three Jack Irish telemovies – Bad Debts, Black Tide and Dead Point – all based on Temple's books, which also star Marta Dusseldorp (A Place To Call Home) and Roy Billing (Agent Anna). 

Then comes the six-part series, Jack Irish, which incorporates some storylines from the fourth and final book in the series, White Dog.

The movies and the series have been hugely successful in Australia, the UK and Europe, and a second series is being discussed.

Jack Irish, Choice TV, starting Sunday August 7.

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 - TV Guide

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