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Lee Pace in Venice Magazine

Lee Pace takes The Fall
  by Susan Michals

I was not prepared for Lee Pace. Now, that's not to say the homework hadn't been done - movies had been seen, question had been prepped. Whit I wasn't prepared for was the presence. First off, he's 6'3" - slightly taller than your average actor these days, a fact possibly much to chagrin of 4�11� �Pushing Daisies� co-star, Kristin Chenoweth. Also, in �Daisies� he plays clean cut, innocent Ned; yet in person he conjures up images of old Hollywood - the suave kind of gentlemen one might see lingering over a vodka rocks at the Beverly Hills Hotel back in the days of Sinatra. He is debonair, charming�and a mere 29 years old.

To say that Pace�s body of work is varied is an understatement. Prior to �Pushing Daisies� (a series that was written expressly for him by Bryan Fuller), he played Dick Hickock, cold-blooded partner to Perry Smith in Infamous, Doug McGrath�s take on Truman Capote�s chronicle of researching his novel, In Cold Blood. He won a Gotham Award as well as an Independent Spirit Award for his heartbreaking portrayal of Calpernia Addams, a pre-op transsexual in love in Soldier�s Girl. This month, Pace plays a dual role in The Fall, a visual feast of a film written, directed, produced, and edited by Tarsem (The Cell). It was Soldier�s Girl that got him the part. �I loved his voice, loved his performance. I said there�s only one person I want for this role and that�s Lee,� says Tarsem. It was a big commitment for Pace - the film was set to be shot in at least 24 countries. �I told him, �This is my baby, but if you�re going to take it on, you have to take it on completely.� And I only had to look at him to know that he was absolutely in.� Pace took it on indeed, and in the end, the film shot in over 43 countries around the globe - a staggering number of locations for any film - especially on that was financed solely by the director himself.

In The Fall, Pace plays Roy, an actor paralyzed after a stunt gone wrong, circa 1915. Laid up in a hospital, he is despondent and broken, ready to commit suicide, when he meets fellow patient Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who is all of five years old. For this part of the film, Pace spent the entire time in a bed - a dictate from the director, as he had told the entire crew that Lee was really paralyzed. �I needed a real person that everyone thought couldn�t walk,� he notes. �Especially her (Catinca), because if she believes it, everyone else will. I changed my entire crew and nobody knew - the production designer, the camera operator, no one - that Lee could walk� This went on for over two months of production in Capetown, South Africa; Pace was relegated to the other side of town, away from everyone else. �I was really depresses, and lonely. But that�s what I had to do to play the part.� As the film develops, we see the bond grow between Roy and Alexandria, as he tells her a fantastical tale of love and revenge (where Pace and Untaru also play major roles), and in exchange, he convinces her to sneak into the dispencary to steal the fatal doses of morphine pills he can�t get his hands on alone. The relationship between Pace and Untaru is absolutly magical to watch; if anything, it is only usurped by the sheer visual magnitude of the other world Roy creates in his story where he intermingles patients and employees of the hospital into good guys, and bad.

Venice Magazine spent an afternoon with the lanky Mr. Pace, where we discussed everything from working with a sassy five-year-old, to getting in touch with his feminine side.

This movie is beyond beautiful, but it looks like it�s not your typical movie shoot - I mean the locations are insane.
Principal photography was four months. We shot it five years ago. I had just signed the contract for the series, �Wonderfalls,� so Tarsem kind of took a chance that I would be available. He financed this film all himself, completely outside the realm of the system. David Fincher and Spike Jonze have graciously lent their names in presenting the film to get more exposure for the movie - it really helps when people like them see what a great film it is and want to support it. I mean, I�m not a big name, and this movie doesn�t have any big names.

Can you talk a bit about your co-star, Catinca Untaru? Working with a child so young must have been difficult.
Isn�t she so great? She kind of knew her lines, but it was all about trying to trick her into saying things, because she wasn�t an actress - by the time we finished the movie, she was barely even seven years old. We had to figure out ways to get her to say something that we could use that was interesting and spontaneous, and that made me do the same thing she was doing, meaning I was making it as real and genuine as I could. But at the end of that two months in South Africa (where the beginning of the flm was shot), she�d figured out the camera.

She lost her filmic naiveté?
Yeah, she was just really more aware of what was going on around her. So when we shot that scene with the bandages - we had three cameras on her and we must have done thirty-something takes - which is a lot for anyone, let alone a child. And I remember saying to her at one point, �Catinca, you really need to think about this, you�ve got a job here, we�re all trying to get this scene and you have to really think about how much you love my character and what you�re here to do.� It was a very different way of working. At the beginning it was just turning cameras on her and capturing that child in her, and as time went on, it was about getting her to act. A child doesn�t know or wasn�t taught that, [yet] you have to get her to feel deeply about this stuff.

The film takes place in two worlds: fantasy, and reality. Your character, Roy, is in a wheelchair and paralyzed in the reality portion of the film. I heard that everyone on the set thought you were really incapacitated. You look really buff in the movie, so how did you pull that off and stay in shape when you were supposed to be in a wheelchair?
I worked out on my day off. They really thought my name was Roy, too. I was in a hospital gown all the time. Also, that�s Eiko (Academy Award winning costume designer, Eiko Ishioka); she made me get more in shape - she told me I needed to lose weight. She didn�t have a time period for this film - she did this beautiful minimal thing ewith colors punctuate what was going on. I think that shot when we�re all three in the boat - one person is in yellow, one in green, and one is in red, and the colors were so rich.

The outfits are amazing; they enhance your characters personalities. But let�s go back to how everyone found out you could walk.
I wasn�t shooting this one day; they were trying to do a scene when Catinca sees the other child that�s died of a snake bite. By this point she knew where all the cameras were, and she wasn�t crying, she was distracted. But she also knew that we were going to India soon and she had to get her inoculations. Tarsem knew he had a chance to get one good take with her when he was gonna tell her she had to get her shots; she would be a little scared and vulnerable. But he also was going to tell her if she did a good job, she�s get a surprise. And her stand-in Emma, had just gotten a scooter for her birthday from Tarsem, so I think she was thinking she was going to get a scooter, too. So she did her take, and she did a great job, and he said, �You want your surprise?� And the whole crew came in and I wheeled in and I said, �I have something to tell you�I can walk.� And I stood up, ad her mother was there and started bawling and so did Catinca. I think she was more relieved than angry; the crew, on the other hand, felt like they had been tricked; they were on the offensive. The way I look at it, it�s all about getting the shot. If I felt comfortable around the crew joking about the fact that I was in a wheelchair, joking about that I was trying to cheat the little girl, it would�ve been a different atmosphere. I was really segregated from everyone on that shoot, and I was in a house on the other side of Capetown. I couldn�t do all that really fun stuff you do when you�re on location, like going out with the crew.

That sounds really lonely.
I was really depressed, and lonely, but that�s what I had to do to play that part.

How long was that for?
Two long months.

That�s quite awhile to be all by yourself in a foreign country.
But it was worth it. I had never worked with a child before, and I understand now about how you have to be careful about working with them in films. Because I think it gets really close to the line about what�s appropriate and what�s not appropriate. Tarsem wanted her to do a good job and, of course, make a wonderful movie, but he was really conscious that she had a good experience in making it too - that she�s not scarred by it and it�s wonderful. So the thing about working with a child is, they tell you right away what they�re comfortable with and not comfortable.

Children can be very blunt and just say, �I don�t want to do this.�
Well, that�s how Catinca was. At one point she was having an argument with Tarsem about something she didn�t want to do in a scene and she said, �I am Catinca playing Alexandria. That�s Roy being Roy, that�s why I don�t want to do it, because it scares me when he�s upset.� It was a scene when I get really angry, and she was not happy.

I just watched Soldier�s Girl (for which Pacw was nominated for an Independent Spirit Awards and won Gotham�s Breakthough Award in 2003).
That�s how Taresm cast me; god knows how he decided on me after that movie. Totally random and bizarre.

Did playing that role give you a new perspective on women?
What I did notice after that movie is that I had tapped into a raw nerve, and I became much more sensitive than I was�for a while at least. [laughs]

Playing Caplernia, was the role very draining?
Extremely so. I did have to lose a lot of weight to make my proportions look real. So I got down to 165, and I�m 205 right now.

You shot that film when you were really young.
I was 23. When I went in to audition, I decided I�m not going to be flamboyant, backstabbing tranny - I can�t pull out all that kind of attitude when I don�t believe that�s what she�s all about. I was not capable of doing it. The way I did it was more serious - I mean, this is really a love story. I did a lot of research and I went to see a lot of drag acts, and I realized, that�s not really what this character is about. There were sides to her like that, but she was just�genuine. She didn�t fit the stereotype; she wasn�t The Birdcage or the butt of a frat-boy joke; or the dead body on �CSI.�

How was Tarsem as a director?
I loved that crew, I loved working with Tarsem. Tarsem always said, �This is what I�m shooting.� He�d let me know what was going on and kept me in the loop. And in the editing room, he showed me how he was putting this together, and mixing the music.

Isn�t that incredible to see how much goes on in the edit room, after shooting in done? I mean, from an actor�s perspective, it must put a whole new spin on things for you.
It�s unbelievable. I really gave over a lot to him, that I�m not usually comfortable giving over to directors.

What do you mean?
The story was not like other scripts. He gave me a lot of respect and I gave him that in return. He let me know exactly what he wants. A lot of directors will be like, �stand there,� I�m not like that; I�m not like that; I don�t like that kind of control. I just trusted his vision and trusted that he was going to be right, and do right by me.

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