Interview: Going behind the mask with Lee Pace
Don’t feel bad about not keeping up with pop culture if you’re not familiar with Lee Pace. Oh, the 6-foot, 4-inch 35-year-old actor with big, bushy eyebrows has been keeping busy in theater, TV, and movies for the past decade.
He looks like himself as Joe Macmillan in the current AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire,” and he was recognizable playing the anti-Lincoln Congressman Fernando Wood in “Lincoln.” But even early on, he was drawn to parts that involved a lot of makeup and sometimes the wearing of masks.
He played transgendered nightclub performer Calpernia Addams in the TV film “Soldier’s Girl,” he wore a red Zorro-like mask for about half of his breakout feature film “The Fall” and, more recently, black ceremonial paint covered his face when he became the villainous Ronan the Accuser in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and he’s again donning a long blond wig for his role as the elegant Thranduil, the Elf king, in the final “Hobbit” film, “The Battle of the Five Armies.”
He recently spoke about Thranduil, Steven Spielberg, and his fondness for hiding his face at an interview in London.
Q: Thranduil is a hard character to understand as far as his motivations. For those who aren’t yet “Hobbit” fans, please introduce him.
A: He’s the Elven king of the Woodland Realm, one of Tolkien’s forest Elves. He’s an isolationist, he’s cold, he’s interested in getting his diamonds out of the mountain. To me, Thranduil is a spirit of the woods, like a wild thing, like a panther. Some people have said that he’s a bad guy. But he isn’t bad. He’s not your friend. He’s not interested in being well liked.
Q: It’s been said that Peter Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens work collaboratively with actors in developing characters. Was that true with you and Thranduil?
A: Sure. We talked quite a bit before filming. We did most of our work kind of around the dinner table, discussing the character and having different ideas. He’s fought in great battles, he’s one of the legendary warriors of Middle-earth. He’s fought dragons before. It came up that it would be great if he was wearing a scar of that.
Q: Your entrance in the new film, riding on top of a giant elk, is quite impressive.
A: Yeah! How great is that! That was actually a real horse, named Moose, that they turned into the elk. We shot that on one of these incredible sets that [production designer] Dan Hennah put together. It was actually like a real city, built on the top of a hill. I’d been working with Moose for a while. He’s a big old Shire horse, like a Clydesdale, the biggest horse in New Zealand. I’d have to really kind of get him going to get a trot out of him.
Q: You’ve gone back and forth in your films between showing your face and somehow having it covered. Does wearing a mask free you up as an actor?
A: I have to admit I like a mask. There’s something about being able to get away from boring me, and into an exciting character. I love it. That’s what I loved about playing Ronan the Accuser. And I loved it about Thranduil. I love that opportunity to get away from it all, and the mask just helps. But with “Halt and Catch Fire,” the television show I’m doing, I guess the effort with that character is not to do the mask, and to learn more about myself and reveal more about myself through the character.
Q: When you made “Lincoln,” you gave that impassioned speech to Congress in a room filled with great veteran actors, and Steven Spielberg running the show. What was going on in your head?
A: We did that speech on my first day of shooting. I had ideas about the character, and I knew my lines. But in the hands of a director like Steven Spielberg, I’m like, “What do you need? How can I help?” He had this way of coming up to where I was going to stand, and he kind of put his hands on his hips and had a way of holding his head that made me understand what he wanted from that character.
I said, “Can I get away from the podium, and just kind of move around?” Because what I understood about the Congress at that time is that it was a raucous, articulate place where people argued and people used their words to make their points, and that’s who this was. I was a little nervous, but I was more thrilled about the role.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.