How Guy Pearce found his motivation playing British spy traitor Kim Philby


Guy Pearce spent six months playing Kim Philby on “Friends” — and says he still can’t quite figure out what motivated the infamous British intelligence officer to double-agent for the Soviet Union. Decades later, he fled to Russia in 1963.

Philby’s betrayal – not only of his country, but of his friendship with fellow MI6 colleague Nicholas Elliott (Damian Lewis) — drives the narrative arc of “A Spy Among Friends,” airing Sundays on MGM+ (10 p.m.).

“Part of me feels like I know [Philby]To an extent, and there’s another part of me that goes, ‘I have no idea,’ Pierce, 55, told the Post. “One hand, yes, I understood Philby… but he always slipped through my fingers.

“I kept vacillating between trying to simplify things and trying to go, ‘Well, I guess he was on the fence—on one level he believed in communism and on another he believed in British rule. Involved in the structure but hated it. So he just played both sides.’

“And then I think, ‘No, it’s not that simple.'”

The six-part series, based on the novel by Ben McIntyre, opens in 1963, when Elliot, whose relationship with Philby dates back to the 1940s, discovers his best friend’s decades-long deception – and MI6. Convinces his masters.also known as SIS) to send him to Lebanon, where Philby, previously acquitted of wrongdoing, is still spying for Moscow. Their four-day, face-to-face meeting—and what Eliot says to Philby on a hotel balcony, out of earshot of recording equipment—is a central motif as the series progresses, back and forth in time. Their friendship and Philby’s treachery (he spent many years in Washington, DC in the late 40’s/early 50’s) to track down the roots by leaps and bounds.

Kim Philby (Guy Pearce, left) and Nicholas Elliot (Damian Lewis) on a hotel balcony in Lebanon in 1963.
Adi Marinesi/Sony Pictures Tel

“I think Philby, in the end, probably felt the most hurt by the breakup of that friendship,” Pierce said (“Easttown’s Mari,” “LA Confidential”). “I think he really believed that Nicholas knew and understood why he did what he did, but Elliott wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of admitting that. fair enough.

“It was a really interesting part to work on and the question of their immediate friendship and the strength of that friendship was definitely undeniable,” he said. “In the face of what was at stake for them, they had to give something – and, in the end, it was their friendship. And that’s what makes the story so poignant, because they had a deep love for each other and, Like family members, betrayal is therefore extra-strong and devastating.

“Nicholas Elliott is being interviewed on a BBC talk show after Philby’s death and there’s a piece that says, ‘Philby wasn’t a double-agent, he was just an outright traitor,'” Pearce said. C,’ ” Pierce said. “You still see the hurt in him … I’d love to understand what it must have been like for Elliott in the years since – as well as other people who were betrayed.”

Damien Lewis and Guy Pearce as Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby at a party in the 1940s.  They are both wearing birthday hats and tuxedos and are talking to each other face to face.
Friends Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby at a party some 20 years before the events of 1963.
Sam Taylor/Sony Pictures Television

Co-stars included Anna Maxwell Martin as Lily Thomas, a lie detector expert promoted to a leading role in the Philby investigation; Stephen Kunkan as CIA veteran James Angleton; And Anastasia Hille as Flora Solomon, Philby’s longtime friend who introduced him to his second wife (the Philby-Solomon connection has a lot in “A Spy Among Friends”).

Pearce had never worked with Lewis (who Back to the “billion”.) before “A Spy Among Friends” but was a big fan Lewis’ late wife, Helen McCrory, With whom he worked in “The Count of Monte Cristo” in 2002. “She and I got on very well – she was brilliant, sharp and funny and didn’t take fools,” he said. I was like, ‘Wow, you’re really cool.’

“I felt an instant, tender connection [to Lewis]. He said,[Helen] Told me you guys got really well’ … He’s a brilliant boy, just divine: he’s smart, funny, sweet, handsome and doesn’t suffer fools. We didn’t need to spend time working out how [Philby and Elliott] There will be friends.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Lily Thomas.  He is wearing a green coat and has a dour look on his face.
Anna Maxwell Martin as Lily Thomas, who joins Kim Philby’s investigation.
Rob Youngson/Sony Pictures Tel

“We just clicked.”

Philby spent 25 years in the Soviet Union, where his life did not turn out as he had imagined it. (He thought he would be made a colonel in the KGB. He wasn’t.) He died in Moscow in 1988 at the age of 76 and was given a hero’s funeral.

“They didn’t let him into the KGB offices for 14 years,” Pearce said. “He drank himself to death.”

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