No Matter What You May Think, Lee Pace Promises That He’s Not British
Before interviewing Lee Pace—who returns to Middle-earth as the Elvenking, Thranduil, in the upcoming ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’—I conducted a completely scientific poll (it was not scientific at all, I randomly asked my friends), asking “Where do you think Lee Pace is from?” Of the seven people I asked, only one knew that Pace was born in the United States. (This particular person guessed Nebraska, the correct answer is Oklahoma.) What’s most remarkable about this is just how shocked people look when they find out that Pace went to high school in Houston. (Honestly, this all seems like a compliment. An “actor from England” seems to have more prestige than “an actor from Houston.”)
Pace, to his credit, laughs all of this off, admitting he doesn’t quite know where this came from or what to make of it. Regardless, it’s been quite the year for Mr. Pace. Alongside ‘The Hobbit,’ he’s coming off playing Ronan the Accuser in another movie that everyone saw, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Pace repeats over and over how much fun he’s having this year. A lot of actors say that, but something tells me that Pace is telling the truth—it is most likely a lot of fun to be in two of the biggest movies of the year.
I conducted an informal poll of five people, asking where they thought you were from. Three said “England”; one said “Scotland”; and one said “Nebraska,” which is at least closer to true.
[Laughs] England and Scotland?
People are under the impression that you are from the United Kingdom.
I’ve gotten that. I’ve heard that before. I don’t understand where that comes from, actually. Well, I grew up in the Middle East. My folks have a very thick, kind of Oklahoma accent, that’s where I was born. But we moved to the Middle East right after I was born, so I guess we were surrounded by English people and French people. Who knows?
I think ‘The Hobbit’ movies play a role, not that Thranduil is British.
Yeah, probably. That’s cool, though. I’ll take it.
I’ve heard people say, “Lee Pace’s American accent on ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ is amazing.”
[Laughing] Are you kidding? That’s genius. I guess I’ve played English a few times; I’ve done a couple of movies. I did ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,’ which was English. And I did a movie called ‘Ceremony’ where I was English in that movie as well.
People think of you as regal.
I’ll take it. If it makes Peter Jackson cast me in his movies, I’ll take it.
We are at the last ‘Hobbit’ movie. Is there a sense of “Hey, we did it”?
It’s kind of, right now, it’s a real moment of celebration. It’s important to complete things and finish what you started. And this movie is the very last piece fitting into place. And I can’t imagine how proud Pete must feel right now. I mean, I certainly feel so lucky to be a part of it. We worked so hard on these movies for such a long time. There’s going to be a time soon where I feel really sad I won’t fly into New Zealand again to enter into Middle-earth and play this extraordinary character and look across at Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey…
That has to be surreal.
It’s actually amazing. Or to see Bill Connolly dressed as a giant dwarf. It’s incredible to have those moments on set. There will be a time when I’m really sad I’m not doing that with my life. But, right now, we are just so proud that it’s done.
You get to ride quite a steed.
It’s an elk played by a horse named Moose.
It has massive horns. When you come on screen riding that, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.
Yeah, that was me really riding Moose in. He was the biggest horse in New Zealand, a big Shire horse. And lazy, he just didn’t want to move.
Is that like Clydesdale size?
Yeah, Clydesdale size. He’s the biggest horse I’ve ever seen. And I like how angry the elk is, he made him kind of snarling—he’s a lot like the character.
It’s something I’d imagine Thranduil would like to own.
Yeah, he likes to make an entrance, this Elvenking. He’s not a wallflower, is he?
‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies have their place in history. How do you think we will judge ‘The Hobbit’ movies in 10 years?
I think that’s the real achievement here, what Peter Jackson has really done. It’s not six movies, it’s one 18-hour movie—with all the extended cuts and stuff. What I enjoy most about ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is that extended cut. To be able to sit there on a Sunday afternoon and watch ‘The Lord of the Rings’ from beginning to end is pretty fun. Now there’s a whole other first half of that story. So, you can watch Gandalf meeting Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of ‘The Hobbit’ all the way to the very end of ‘Return of the King,’ and that’s a big modern epic.
So it will merge into one long story, instead of two entities?
Well, there will be a whole generation of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fans, ‘The Hobbit’ fans, Tolkien fans who have not yet experienced any of these movies. Who will only experience them from watching ‘The Hobbit’ through ‘The Lord of the Rings’—who will never have seen ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and then are kind of watching ‘The Hobbit’ as a prequel. I think Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens have very carefully plotted ‘The Hobbit’ out so that it does feel like the starting point for ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
This feels like “The Year of Lee Pace.”
[Laughs] Oh, no.
We did a list of people who are in the highest-grossing movies of the year and you were sixth.
Are you kidding?
Between ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and what ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’ will make.
That’s incredible. I know, I mean—that’s great. It’s so fun. And when ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was doing so well earlier this year, everyone was seeing it and tweeting “I am Groot.” It was just like, “Wow, it’s really fun to be a part of a hit like this.” It’s really, really fun. Now, when you’re shooting it, when you’re making it, it’s creative. That’s what I love so much about the Marvel movies and what’s so incredible about these Middle-earth movies is they’re just creative. It’s like, you’re not telling a story that takes place in someone’s kitchen [laughs]. You’re in the far corners of the galaxy; you’re in this incredible battle of five armies at the gates of Erebor. And I’m playing characters that are so far from myself. I’m in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ wearing a crazy mask!
You look like you are having the time of your life as Ronan the Accuser.
Yeah, it is really, really fun. I really enjoyed playing that character. Yeah, just making this bad alien as bad as he could be.
Yes, it’s part of the bigger Marvel story, but it was nice watching a sci-fi movie, with characters most people didn’t know, do really well.
True. And I give the credit totally to James Gunn. I think he’s a real singular moviemaker. He’s got a sense of humor that’s very singular. And we had such a good time making that movie—and that’s an important part of the whole equation. I think that’s the key to the calculus on it. If you can have a good time with it, it’s an important part of it, to have a good time. To know that you’re making your director laugh inside the tent, that’s part of it. So much of my work on ‘The Hobbit’ here was trying to do something I thought Pete would think is cool.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.