Lee Pace has ventured from Middle-earth (as elven ruler Thranduil in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films) to the stars (as Ronan The Accuser in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) during his big-screen career. But with his latest movie, Bodies Bodies Bodiesa knives-out character study helmed by Dutch director Halina Reijn, Pace finds himself in a slightly more conventional setting.
The bloody, darkly comedic murder mystery takes place against the backdrop of a “hurricane party” at a remote mansion and focuses on a group of longtime friends, save two tag-along significant others: Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Greg (Pace), the latter of whom is Alice’s (Rachel Sennott) new boyfriend. As bodies pile up, both paranoia and recrimination spread. The AV Club recently spoke with Pace about his work on the genre-juggling movie, the pleasures of getting older, his television work past and present, and more.
The AV Club: Greg is older than the other characters in Bodies Bodies Bodies. What type of conversations did you have with Halina about him? Was it all there on the page or did you come up with a further backstory?
Lee Pace: It’s been so long since we shot it [that] I sort of no longer remember what was on the page and what we interpreted. What I found interesting about Greg was that he was an outsider in this group, that he did not understand the same codes and customs that this group of friends of a very particular generation understood. And yet he’s not resisting it in any way, he is eager to meet them where they are and go on this journey with them, he’s showing up for it. He wants to have this carefree weekend with them. He’s just met Alice, but it’s that first glow of romance and there’s nothing sexier and better than that. He’s just good times and along for the ride and happy to be there and not looking for drama. So when they start getting hooked by the drama and chaos, I think he definitely finds himself thinking, “I don’t know if I’m actually interested in this. I don’t know if I want to play this. I don’t really understand it. I don’t want to make this choice for myself.”
AVC: Did the game played within the film harken back to any party games you might have played in real life?
LP: There was a game I played with my friends in the past, different groups of friends, called Mafia, which is sort of similar to this. You play with a deck of cards. If you draw one card you’re mafia, if you draw one card you’re police, if you draw another card you’re the doctor. And then everyone closes their eyes, you kill someone, and then you try to figure out who the mafioso is. And what’s interesting about the game is that it never stirs people up. It caused a fight. People sometimes take the game too seriously, and they get their feelings hurt if they’re accused of lying. It’s hard to let it be just a game. It becomes personal, especially in a group of good friends. So that very much rings true to me when I read this script—that whenever you play that [type of] game, it gets messy, always.
AVC: There are a lot of deep-seated resentments towards the core relationships in the movie. Did that trip any wires of twentysomething memory for you? And did you reflect a lot on how the internet and social media intersect with toxic relationships?
LP: I think that I see the behavior that really goes out of control in the movie as an immaturity which I think social media encourages. Not to stand on a soapbox or anything, because I think it can do a lot of different things. Booth I think [social media] can hypnotize people into a Peter Pan syndrome, where you live in Never Ever Land forever, it seems, because it feels like that is the most perfect place to be. But it’s actually really nice to get older, and to have perspective over things and realize that you have to let some things go, you don’t have to pursue everything that rubs you the wrong way, you don’t have to necessarily take everything personally—they probably didn’t mean it that way, you shouldn’t care about it so much. There are a lot of skills you learn as you grow up—and you interact with people on a physical, person-to-person basis, as opposed to through podcasts and through digital spaces—that teach you a lot about how to live a good life.
AVC: You’re a Juilliard graduate. How does classical training intersect with genre filmmaking like this?
LP: Well, it’s all scene work isn’t it? That’s the best answer I can give. Like the gym scene in Bodies Bodies Bodies where they come in—he doesn’t understand what the problem is, and it goes from there to him thinking they’re still playing a game to thinking, “Oh there’s something going on,” to then, “They’re just fucking with me, that’s all they do, so of course they’re not being serious right now, they’re fucking with me,” to, “This is actually dangerous and I need to de-escalate it,” to how the scene concludes . So it’s heightened, yes, but it’s still just scene work, and you find that with whatever you do. I’ve done my fair share of green-screen work with very heightened realities of being on the bridge of spaceships and intergalactic space battles and battles in Middle-earth, pretty extraordinary situations, and it’s all imaginative play. So the work you do is creating imagined reality behind it so that you can understand the stakes and what the character is fighting for and what his obstacles are, and play the scene.
AVC: This film is both a whodunnit and a horror film—are there any formative memories of movies from those genres when you were a kid?
LP: What comes to mind when I was a kid, and I’m talking early high school years, is that we would always be trying to sneak A Nightmare On Elm Street movies into the Blockbuster rental pile for the weekend. My mom didn’t like us watching those things. you know Hellraiser, the most violent movies we could find. But this isn’t that—this movie isn’t that kind of thing. There’s an evil to those movies that I don’t think this movie is about. None of these characters are evil, they’re just chaotic. But also Clue is one of the most brilliant movies of all time, and there’s such a brilliant whodunnit around that movie.
AVC: You mentioned your work in The Hobbit and MCU franchises. Those films will endure as theatrical experiences, but COVID has perhaps accelerated some changes to movie going. What do you see as that future: are we headed towards a time of only mega-budget offerings and a few genre things?
LP: Hello Nope on a big screen recently and I was so glad I saw that. I think there is something to leave your house. I love going to the movie theater and getting popcorn and watching a movie that you’re excited about. I’m a New Yorker and it’s a very New York thing to do—to go out, meet your friends at the movie theater and then talk about the movie after it’s over. There are a lot of things you can watch on your screen at home but it’s a different pleasure isn’t it? With this movie, we had a screening last night at Fort Greene Park and I’ve seen the movie a couple of times but I wanted to watch it with an audience because I wanted to hear where they laughed, how they reacted to certain scares. I found that really exciting, I wanted to be a part of that. Scary movies and thrilling movies are good for that. So I’m not worried, I think [theatrical] is going to come back. Yes, people’s screens are excellent these days, their sound systems are really good, their kitchen is only a few feet away. But I don’t know that human nature wants to be shut-ins. I don’t think that’s who we really want to be.
AVC: Pushing Daisies oath Halt And Catch Fire were well-reviewed series and embraced by fans, but also fairly under-appreciated, I feel. I understand as an actor you move from show to show, but how successful are you at divorcing the actual creative experience from the commercial reception of a project?
LP: You know, I’ve gotten better at it the older I get. You cannot predict how the audience is going to respond to something, when they’re going to get it. With both of those projects the audience found it eventually, it just wasn’t necessarily when it was broadcast [Laughs]. And that didn’t necessarily stop us from making the best show we could make, and working on it in the best way that we knew how. And what I’m proud of in particular Halt And Catch Fire is that I feel like had such confidence in what we were trying to unlock with that show that we didn’t ever feel the need to make adjustments to our process or the show in order to catch an audience. We were too interested in what we were working on, and so we continued to dig deeper in that way, and develop what we were trying to develop. And I think the outcome of it is really something special that I’m very, very proud of. And it’s a real lesson to me to keep your eyes on your own paper, do the best work that you can do, stand by what you do, and keep showing up and doing the thing.
AVC: What’s on tap for you? I assume most recently you might have finished more Foundationis that right?
LP: Yes, we just finished the second season of Foundation, and it was a ton of work. It is bigger than the first season and I’m so proud of what we’ve done. We’ve pulled off things that, when I read them, I was like, “That’s impossible, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do that,” and we worked my ass off on them. I’m just extraordinarily proud of what we’ve done. So I’m really, really excited for that to come out. And in the meantime I’m just reading scripts and enjoying being home. That’s an important part of it too—you can’t always be learning lines and sitting in a make-up chair. You have to live life. [Laughs]