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Interview: Miss Pettigrew's Lee Pace

Known mainly for his role on the fantasy TV show Pushing Daisies, Lee Pace is making his debut as a romantic leading man in the 1930s comedy Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. As Michael, the beleaguered and poor pianist in love with budding movie star Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), Pace sports a British accent and some snazzy costumes while effortlessly slipping into the role of irresistible hunk. He also gets to throw a punch, wield a gun and trade witticisms with Frances McDormand-- not bad for a guy mostly known before for quirky TV roles.

Pace is gearing up to head back to work on Pushing Daisies now that the writer's strike is over, and he's happy to talk about his hit TV show as well as the upcoming Pettigrew. One thing he's not happy to talk about, though, is the musical he did in high school. We didn't press him for details, but given all the great work he's given us since then, we can probably be satisfied with what we have.

How did you work on the British accent you have in the film? How hard was it?

I think people are really picky about English accents. When a Brit comes over here and kind of does an OK American accent, everyone's like “You were great! Fantastic!” But in England, even if you were doing a pretty good accent, they're like “But where are you from?” “London.” “What part of London?” Accents are really precious over there. Joan Washington did both me and Frances' dialect work. When I first read it, I saw the script as full of these posh English people. I just wanted to do something a little different with Michael. I did him with a northern accent-- Albert Finney was what I had in mind. So he was more blue collar, heart on his sleeve, passionate. I don't know it if makes much of a difference.

Were you familiar with the book?

No, were you? [Laughter] The book is totally different from what the movie turned out to be. It's like a pulpy woman's book. You put Frances McDormand and Amy Adams in the center of it, and it elevates. It gets to be a little more meaningful than what the story actually was.

How much did the elaborate sets and costumes affect your role?

I did feel like it was a period piece, but at the end of the day it's different from most period pieces that I've ever seen. It's not like you feel like you [stern voice] sit down and watch a period film, learn about what people wore and how they talked and how things were different. [end of stern voice] Even though it was period, they had a good time with it, and it was still artful and interesting. That more than the time period I found really inspiring. And as far as the clothes go-- I never get to wear a suit in my life, much less a tuxedo. It's kind of really fun to get to dress up, because you take yourself a little more seriously if you dress nice in a starched shirt.

Talk about working with Amy and Frances.

Frances-- I've admired her work for years, I think she's so good. But to get to work with her is amazing. She understands acting for film possibly better than anyone I've ever met. She understands what she needs to do to tell the story in it. There's no actress nonsense with Frances McDormand. She's really good. If every you're unclear about what you're meant to be doing on set, you look to her and she knows what she's doing. Then there's Amy, Amy “Can Do No Wrong” Adams, who's just got these golden instincts. I'm convinced the girl can do anything. She can do anything. She's lively and smart and funny and beautiful. All I really had to do in the movie, aside from the accent and learning how to play the piano, was fall in love with her. Pretty easy job.

Did you do your own singing?

I did do my own singing.

How was that? Do you have a musical theatre background? I mean, I did a musical in high school, which we're not going to discuss. I never really sang. It was the first thing I did on the movie-- me and Amy went to Abbey Road, which was awesome, to record that song. We're in the studio where the Beatles and Pink Floyd and, you know, greats have been. We had this glass between our booth, and we just looked at each other and did the song. She's done that before, so she understands what she's supposed to do . I had never done it before, so I just faked it.

Did they instruct you to look at any old movies to get at the very specific way of speaking in this movie?

[[ br. me and anna tv really like one of the things we try to model our work with on ]] Pushing Daisies, is that old-fashioned romance where you're not going to see the kiss until the very end of the movie, or there's a good banter between the leads of it. We watch those Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn.... I don't know if a modern audience would buy people talking the way they did back then. It's a very specific kind of acting. About three years ago I saw this documentary with out-takes with people like Montgomery Clift. It was so cool to watch them doing their crazy acting talk, and then all of a sudden they would mess up their line, and they would talk like we talk. These are the guys who are supposed to have invented naturalism, and they're not natural, they're nowhere near natural. I don't know if that style would really work now.

What is the difference for you between working in TV and film?

The day is different. The way the day runs if totally different. With TV, you have so much to get done during the day that you don't really have a lot of time to feel your way through it. I know before I walk on the set exactly what I'm going to do. With film you can kind of find your way in it a little more, play with it some.

How was your time off from the show during the writer's strike?

I didn't really have any time off. Even though I'm not working right now, Warner Bros. is like “Why don't you go off to London to promote the show? Why don't you go to Australia to promote the show?” They've kept me busy.

Are you working on any more films?

I've got two other movies coming out this year. I've got this movie called Possession with Sarah Michelle Gellar. They were leading people to believe it was a horror movie, and it's not really a horror movie. I play her brother-in-law, and at the beginning of the movie I play a real baddie. She's married to my brother, who's a good guy. We get into a car crash, and I wake up insisting that I'm him. It's real sexy-- it's really good. I think it turned out pretty well. Then I have this movie called The Fall. It's a really, really good movie. We shot it in like 38 different countries. It's a big epic fantasy. I think that's coming out for sure in April. I'm really proud of that movie.

When do you go back to shooting the TV show?

Of course we would love to come back this season, to do a few episodes. It's just impossible. We're a really expensive show, and we take a lot more time than other shows. 8 weeks to get the writers up and running, 2 weeks to shoot and episode, 4 weeks of post, that puts us airing our first episode in the middle of May. It's just not cost-effective to get us up and running again. And they can't really give us a good push this year. But next year they can say “three-time Golden Globe nominee.” I'm not worried about our numbers when we get back. It's not a huge hit, the show. It's a show that a lot of people have watched, but it's a weird show. We're not going to get monster Apprentice ratings. It's not that kind of show. We start in the middle of June. That will hopefully get us a couple months ahead. What gets really expensive, when we finish shooting an episode really close to the airdate, they have to hire a bunch more post people. We have sometimes 200 visual effects in an episode. That's as many as a movie, really. It gets super, super expensive.

Do you ever have those “pinch me” moments, promoting your show overseas?

Yeah. It's totally bizarre. But one of the things about Pushing Daises, it doesn't take place in Seattle or Los Angeles or New York. If you put Japanese in our mouths, we're Japanese. That's the fun of it.

Is there any medium that you haven't worked in that you'd like to work in?

I have an answer I probably shouldn't say. It's not very nice. [Everyone laughs, figuring he means a Dirk Diggler kind of career] No, I'm happy. I'd love to go back to do theatre again. Maybe there will be time to do a movie before I go back to Pushing Daisies. But Pushing Daisies has been a great experience. And best-case scenario, the show runs for four or five years, and I still have time to do a movie on the hiatus. It'll be done and I'll be 32 years old. I have plenty of time to do movies.

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend