Photo-Illustration: JJ Geiger
In the opening scene Lee Pace’s first big screen credit in 2003 Soldier Girl, her character Calpernia Addams introduces herself in a voiceover: “You might think I’m the center of this story—the main character, as they say—but I’m not.” The film is based on true events: Calpernia is a trans woman who falls in love with an infantryman stationed at Fort Campbell, and her opening lines are at least a touch insincere. There would be no need to say these things if there was no tension about who the center was. “I admit, I’ve always wanted to be the center of attention,” Calpernia said. “I am the rhinestones of this story.”
This year, Pace received the third annual Vulture Festival Honor, a very unaccredited honor given to people whose work we admire so much, we just have to award them. since Soldier Girlthe actor’s career began in television, film and stage – as Roy in the indie fantasy film autumn, Ned in the ABC series Fairy Tales Daisies push, Enter Joe Pitt angels in america and as part of an ensemble cast of ’80s tech entrepreneurs on the show Stop and fire. Last summer, he played Greg, Rachel Sennot’s mysterious older boyfriend Organs Organs Bodies. Pace is known not only for his acting work, but also for his ability to arouse the insatiable thirst of his fans. In a profile for the Cut last year, Pace was asked about the intensity of fan reaction to his Instagram. “I am aware,” he says; in the accompanying photos, he stares into the camera in a half-inviting, half-opaque manner. in August, GQ published a story titled “Welcome to the Summer of Lee Pace”; last year’s Esquire “It may be the end of the world, but at least we have Lee Pace,” he announced.
Even so—even with the charisma and talent of a leading man—many of his most notable roles have come from stepping into a small part within a huge franchise and delivering a performance on the right side of distracting magnetism. Check out his role as Thranduil, King of the Elves The The Hobbit. This trilogy of films can feel overlong and clunky, but Pace brings an otherworldly quickness to it, going through the motions neatly. “Unbelievably hot guy agrees to take part in someone else’s story” – this version of Pace has juice. There is friction. Thranduil is almost off balance films with the pain of buried grief and a deep longing for revenge. His eyes twinkle as he stares at the dwarves in need of his help. However, it’s impossible to imagine a single Thranduil story – a hero this blind and cynical would be exhausting. Such roles reveal something paradoxical about Pace the performer: He is more visible from the outside.
His most interesting leading roles are built on the same dissonance. He is at his best as a protagonist who is at odds with his own centrality, unable to stop obsessing over another. Calpernia claims not to be a main character Soldier Girl; he insists we look elsewhere. But his love makes him the person we care about the most. It played the role a decade before shows like Pace (and won a Breakthrough Gotham Award for it). Transparent opened the conversation about cis actors playing trans characters. In retrospect, the fact that he took on the job feels like a remarkable first step toward his appearances in works from an unusual canon, including on Broadway. Normal Heart and Angels in America. When she did come out to the press herself, it was only after years of instinctive, self-hedging in interviews about her sexuality.
In Daisies push, Arguably the role that made him a heartthrob, Pace plays Ned the Piemaker, the show’s straight man. (An obnoxious phrase for a show with metaphors for gay longing.) Ned is a simple, unassuming man who falls in love with a dead woman he resurrected and now can’t touch again, or he’ll kill her. . He’s so in love with this girl named Chuck that he barely works. Pace turns this pain into something endearing, as if the planes of his face have been altered just so that Ned can smile wistfully at someone he adores. Beyond that, he clings to every scrap of ordinary life he can find, battling an avalanche of oddballs: private investigators, one-eyed agoraphobic aunts, taxidermists and nuns and beekeeping killers. Pace is never allowed to be as big and stupid as his co-stars. What makes it so irresistible is that it already absorbs and reflects it all.
The role of Joe MacMillan in the film Stop and fire is constructed from a darker inversion of the same formula. Joe MacMillan is a hustler, a salesman, and a visionary who wants to be the most special person in his world and hopes that no one will ever realize that he’s making it up. He enters the series confident, a Don Draper in a world of people who just don’t get it. Over the course of the show’s four seasons, Joe is brought down time and time again by the realization that he’s not the one thing — the thing that gets others involved. He can see genius, but he cannot achieve it. Surrounded by people who have the qualities he wants and doesn’t have, he swings from acceptance to truth and back. Pace knows how to play with debilitating longing. The role may be his best yet.
Pace is also the consummate performer of his own life. He gives interviews from time to time. She sometimes posts her own photos. The most famous facts about his personal life are specific details: He lives on a farm in Dutchess County, New York. He built a house there. He has a dog named Gus. He is both a rugged outdoorsman and a high fashion esthete. All of this suggests the type of person Pace might be—so suggestive that it’s easy to forget it’s just a suggestion. You can’t be thirsty for much.
It matches his strongest quality as an actor: his lack of grip. Pace’s gaze can feel like a tractor beam. You can’t see all of him, but he feels like he sees you. Pace’s greatest trick is that he makes the entire audience feel like the main character. By watching him, we see ourselves as the object of his respect and therefore feel more worthy and attractive.