After winning us over as a hapless pie maker in the critically adored Pushing Daisies, Lee Pace takes on a new kind of role in this month’s Ceremony: the bad guy. Helmed by first-time director Max Winkler, the story follows Sam (played by Michael Angarano), a recent college graduate so head-over-heels in love with Uma Thurman’s Zoe that he crashes her wedding. Pace plays Whit, the documentary filmmaker about to marry Zoe, who may or may not be on to Sam’s plan to steal away his fiancé. As the self-obsessed Whit, Pace still manages to be a charmer even with a whopper of a British accent. We caught up with Pace to talk to him about working with a first-time director and Uma Thurman’s sense of style.
GILLIAN MOHNEY: The movie is set at a weekend wedding, so you basically had to party for about a month—what was that like onset?
LEE PACE: That’s basically what making the movie was—it was just really fun. Every day was fun. It was really good group of people. It was a really enjoyable movie to make. You hope it translates to the screen—sometimes it doesn’t. You can be having a good time and it’s a bad movie.
MOHNEY: How did you get involved?
PACE: My agent sent me the script and said, “This is a really fun character,” and I said, “I totally agree. What do I have to do?” I was off in Vancouver shooting another movie. I forget how it all went down, but there was a point where I was out camping—I had found this island off the coast of Maine and I was camping there. I didn’t have any cell phone reception, and I get [a signal], and I had all these messages saying, “You need to come to New York to read for this!” [My agent] was like, “You need to come fight for it!” I got on a plane the next day—I was in the middle of nowhere, Maine. I came to New York, read for it, and got it, basically.
MOHNEY: Is it more fun to play the foil rather than the romantic lead?
PACE: It’s totally fun to play troublemakers—totally… With someone like Whit, who gets the whole picture from the beginning, it’s fun to see how he behaves.
MOHNEY: You really pulled off playing him as this oblivious, pompous character. There is one scene where you’re outside with this scarf on, but it’s tied as an ascot.
PACE: That’s Uma!
MOHNEY: That was amazing.
PACE: That’s totally Uma. I came to set and I had my shirt unbuttoned really low for the costume, and it looked pompous and sleazy. But it was freezing that night, absolutely freezing—there were heat lamps everywhere. Uma was wearing that shawl. She said, “No, you need to wear this.” She stuffed it on me, and that’s what I wore in that scene. She was totally right—it looked perfect for the character… That’s totally Uma—she’s got style. It was totally cute and soft, too.
MOHNEY: It was nice to see her in this film where she’s kind of a normal, flawed person rather than someone who is always killing ninjas.
PACE: I agree, and it was really fun to watch her work on that. She has been a blonde bombshell badass. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies of all time… so getting to work with her was super-exciting, and then watching what she did with this character was awesome. She’s not that shoot-‘em-up girl, believe it or not. She’s very comfortable and a very sensitive person. It was so great to see her play with that… You don’t see that in the movie, but during the dinner scene, we had a blast! We all stayed there at the table even though it was freezing… At one point Jake [Johnson] is giving his speech—[Uma’s] like pelting him with cupcakes. How they managed to edit around that, I’ll never know. She’s nailing him with cupcakes the whole time. She’s a movie star; it’s fun to watch a movie star like her have a blast.
MOHNEY: You were all staying together on set and shooting this kind of fun, whimsical movie—were you ever improvising?
PACE: Oh yeah, all the time. It was Max—Max had a really great script, and then it was all about the experience of being there and putting it on film. That’s where I think his genius lies. He has great taste and is open to just about anything. He’s really good at steering you and then directing you once you go, so it doesn’t go totally off the wall. He’s confident—he’s cool and confident.
MOHNEY: It’s interesting because this is his first feature film—were you apprehensive about that at all?
PACE: I’ve worked with first-time feature film directors before, and this was totally different. He just knows what he wants, and he’s got a very clear idea of what he’s looking for. It just gives him this confidence, and you feel really good about doing your best work. You don’t feel like you have to control your performance… But with Max, because he has such good taste, you really felt free to go have fun and make up some lines and laugh and play with the character in a way that isn’t as structured.
MOHNEY: The film has a very distinctive style that’s impressive for a first-time director.
PACE: He’s got good taste. It’s the good taste thing—like, Uma’s wedding dress could have been anything. How many times do you see a wedding dress in a movie and you’re like, “Wah wah wah.”
MOHNEY: It can look like a cupcake.
PACE: But Uma just looked really good and casual, and that whole wedding scene just looked like a wedding you want to be at.
MOHNEY: Actually, my favorite scene was a party scene early on. There’s the scene where everyone is getting drunk with party favors, and that reminded me of the party in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—
PACE: Oh, hopefully! That’s definitely what it is… That’s one of the greatest scenes of all time.
MOHNEY: It’s a party you actually want to be at.
PACE: Yeah, well, the whole wedding was—God, I wish weddings [I went to] were like that. Instead they’re in, like, church community centers with people I don’t particularly want to see.
MOHNEY: Yeah, this is a dream wedding. But on the other hand, the wedding almost doesn’t happen—she may or may not leave him at the altar.
PACE: Do you root for Sam? Do you think Sam is going to get the girl in the end?
MOHNEY: I really had a hard time. I thought, he’s so young, maybe he shouldn’t be with her. But she shouldn’t be with [your character] either. I guess I just thought everyone should end up single.
PACE: Everyone should put some shoes on and end up single.