How to sum up rising star Lee Pace? He’s daring (he played a woman in the television film Soldier’s Girl), has an adventurous spirit (he traveled the world for his role in The Fall and loves to do his own stunts) and he’s a dreamy romantic (see his roles in Pushing Daisies and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). Oh, and did I mention he’s super nice, really, really tall and has a killer smile?
His new film The Fall was made under truly unique circumstances. Pace plays a depressed man named Roy who’s confined to a hospital bed in 1920’s Los Angeles. When a curious little Romanian girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) who’s recovering from a broken arm wanders into his room, he begins telling her story. The film cuts back and forth from the little girl’s imagination to reality. What makes it unique? Director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) filmed it in at least 26 different countries including South Africa and India (virtually none of the fantastic shots are green screen), he made it with money from his own pocket, and perhaps most interesting of all he had a very unusual request for Pace. For the sake of the character and the performances of the actors around him, Singh told Pace to pretend he really couldn’t walk.
“I was in a wheelchair for the first two months of it and that was Tarsem’s idea that everyone would call me Roy which was my character’s name and I would be in a wheelchair and everyone thought I was truly disabled,” Pace says. “I really think that that helped Catinca not be afraid of me and feel like I was approachable to her. The first scene where she comes into my hospital room, that’s the first time we met. It’s really the first time we met. She came in and when you see her lingering in the doorway that’s her thinking, ‘I kind of know my blocking and I’ve heard a lot about him but should I go in there and do it now?’ So that all is truly real but then we got to know each other and she would wheel me into lunch and go get me dessert and we’d spend a lot of time together like that so we would get really close. When we’d do those scenes where she’d get up on the bed, we’d pull the curtain around. She had no idea she was being filmed. We’d just kind of talk and get her to be herself.”
The young actress is a marvel to watch because of her innocence. Pace recalls, “There was a time when they’d cut holes to get our coverage in the curtain and she started complaining about Tarsem about something and everyone in the next room laughed cause they were watching it and she kind of goes ‘What are they laughing at?'”
Although Tarsem’s little wheelchair trick seemed to be working for the film, it wasn’t so much fun for Pace. “I remember the first week I was like, ‘Yeah we’re really acting now! We’re really getting Method on this one!’ he says. “And I was thrilled about doing it. But by the end of it I was truly depressed because [the crew] were all on one side of Capetown [South Africa] and I was at Camps Bay which is about 45 minutes away, just so I could walk around down there and no one would see me. So I didn’t have any friends in the crew, I just wasn’t doing anything. And also I was lying all day because people would be like ‘So Roy, how is it being a disabled actor?’ And I have to tell some big, stupid story about how difficult it is. It’s bad, it’s no fun lying to people every day.”
But the movie’s outcome was worth it. “I think it’s a good-hearted movie and it affirms life at the end and you don’t see that in many movies like that,” he says. “[Alexandria] wins. You’ve got these two forces that are very different. She’s absolutely innocent and she just wants to soak things in and she’s soaking the story in and he is at the end, he’s jaded, he’s self-involved and not able to extend himself and she forces him to, gets him on his track again.”
Pace credits his director for his singular, uncompromising vision and artistic styles. “This is all Tarsem and it’s the kind of thing when I watch it, the more I watch it the more I’m able to see what he was doing and part of that I don’t know if he did it consciously,” he says. “I think he wanted to chase this image that he had in his head but I think it speaks of not only the loneliness of the characters that he has createdâ€”like that image of the carriage in the desert, the more I watch it the more I get this visual representation of loneliness, like real loneliness and real isolation and both of the characters in reality are feeling that and that’s how they create that image together.”
Unlike Roy who is sad and broken-hearted, Pace’s character in the hit show Pushing Daisies has found his soulmate, albeit with some strange strings attached. The show is about an unassuming pie-maker with a complicated ability to bring the dead back to life. The premise essentially revolves around Ned and his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) whom he brings back from an untimely death. But their romance is halted by the fact that if Ned touches her again, she’ll die. The second season starts filming in July and Pace hints at what’s coming up. “There’s a whole story that’s going to open up with me and Chuck’s fathers,” he says. “Our fathers are going to be a big part of what happens in the first episode. And Olive [Kristin Chenoweth] is going to be in a nunnery. That’s gonna be really funny.”
Pace says that out of all the things he has done, Ned the piemaker is the character most like himself in real life. That can be a challenge, and Pace is constantly finding new ways to make Ned interesting. “We’re both kind of shy,” he says. “I can be very detached and shy. That’s one of the reasons I love L.A. ’cause it’s so easy to kind of hole yourself up in your house and you don’t have to see anyone. It’s great! Also, just the way he talks is a lot like me.”
Does he think Ned will ever end up as depressed as Roy if his true-love Chuck ever dumps him? “That’s one thing me and [Pushing Daisies creator] Brian [Fuller] talked about a lot, because I think Ned is the most interesting when he’s uncomfortable and he’s out of his element,” Pace says. “So I think a lot of this in the next season is gonna be about Chuck being like, ‘I got to pull away from this for a little while because if you touch me I’m dead and I can’t deal with all the lies.’ So we’re just gonna make Ned fight even harder to get close to her and win her.”
With his charm and versatile talent, it won’t be long before Lee Pace wins us all!
P.S.- Yup, that’s me with Lee in the second picture on the right!