I sat down with “Halt and Catch Fire” stars Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis in January at the Television Critics Association press tour when they hadn't begun production on the second season of the AMC drama, so there was a limit to how much could actually be spoiled about Season 2, which premieres this Sunday evening (May 31).
While I could get some Season 2 teases in my chat that same morning with showrunner Jonathan Lisco, with Davis and Pace the conversation mostly stuck to where their respective characters, Joe and Cameron, grew and changed in the first season.
How were Joe and Cameron shifted by their ill-fated relationship?
How were they changed by the less-than-rhapsodic reception to the computer they designed?
And is Davis just a big fan of Mary Stuart Masterson's haircut from “Some Kind of Wonderful”?
Click through for the full Q&A…
[I sit down with them. Her hair is a bit longer than it was last season. He's more scruffy and bearded than when we last saw Joe.]
HitFix: Okay, the first question is your current looks. Do they have any sort of correlation to Season 2 looks?
Mackenzie Davis: We”re actually going to trade.
Lee Pace: Yeah, she”s going to have the beard.
Mackenzie Davis: And he”s going to get a weave.
Lee Pace: I”m going to be gorgeous.
Mackenzie Davis: Yeah.
[It should be noted that those looks that morning had no connection at all to how the characters appear in the Season 2 premiere.]
HitFix: I mean is Joe going down a sort of scruffy path, I guess? A sort of dark path?
Lee Pace: Yeah I think we find Joe at the beginning of this season in a real kind of state of malaise. So it”s very possible. It”s like he”s that ambitious but he”ll stop at nothing to get what he wants is different and it”s different now.
Mackenzie Davis: And I think Cameron, I”m going to cut my hair a little bit but I think mostly her hair in the first season and her whole self is just like helmet of hair and this wardrobe of “Don”t touch me.” And I think she”s just chilled a little bit this season. I think we find her feeling a little more like happy with where she”s at. And so there's just a little more of a hippy in her.
HitFix: Did you have a sort of favorite description of your look last season because I just went with Mary Stuart Masterson to “Some Kind of Wonderful” and that was how I described it but did you sort of…
Mackenzie Davis: I know! I”ve never seen it so I don”t know. I think somebody said “Tank Girl,” which I just love “Tank Girl” so that was cool.
HitFix: But you didn't have an '80s touchstone that you were using?
Mackenzie Davis: No not at all actually. I mean I hadn”t seen “Some Kind of Wonderful” and then when I saw the pictures I was like, “Oh, yeah, it looks like we just copied this.” But we didn”t at all. I mean even cutting, what was the wig at first, and then my hair later was a really organic process of us all being like, “No, no…” and then just taking more chunks off until it looked kind of undone cool and yeah.
HitFix: They talked a bit about it on the panel today the way the last season jumped around in time a little bit. It wasn”t like every episode was today where you knew exactly how long it was going to take. So what was your reaction when you sort of got the finale script and saw where we were leaving Joe at the end of the season and where we were leaving Cameron?
Lee Pace: Actually, I think that in a way we end with Joe, kind of he gets what he has coming to him which I think is a real reckoning. He spent this entire project lying, manipulating, bullying people and they failed. That”s what he wanted to do, was build a computer that nobody else had the balls to build. And they didn”t. They built one, you know, they got it done. So he knows that about himself. He knows that he can get it done like can make the thing. And that”s hard. But I think where we find now is like, “But there”s more than that. Like it could be better. I have to be better or I will continue to fail. I will continue to repel the people who I love most. I will continue to be unhappy.” Joe”s a very unhappy person. It hit him like a, you know, a burning truckload of computers last season. It”s like, “You are a miserable f*** and you need to wake up, live your life, be happy. Sort your s*** out.” That”s where we find Joe.
HitFix: And Cameron seems like she sort of went the other way. She didn”t know where her place was and then by the end at least, in theory, she finds it?
Mackenzie Davis: Yeah, I mean I was really happy with the way it ended. She was a very independent spirit who got taken under somebody's tutelage in a relationship that was never really going to work. She tried to manipulate the people around her and this company to bend to her idea for a computer and thought she had succeeded and ultimately it got ripped away from her. And in the end found that she really was an entrepreneur and like an iconoclast and needed to be an independent person and create something of her own. So I was really happy, after a very difficult season of struggling like a very square peg in this company how to make that work, and then finally admitting it didn”t work and creating something far more interesting than what she was doing.
HitFix: I love the review that The Giant gets at the end where it sort of the ultimate backhanded compliment. “a strong contender in no frills computing.” It sounds okay but clearly it”s a slap in the face to some degree. You guys are artists so when you hear the tone of that what do you guys read into a review that sounds like that.
Lee Pace: Well I think Joe saw it when he sees the Macintosh. He sees very clearly that what he's made is fine. It”s not the thing. One of the questions I think we were all kind of interested in the first season is does the technology bear the mark of the people who create it? Does Frankenstein imprint his soul on the monster. So that review of the computer is I think something that Joe can take very personally. And I think he wants better. I think he”s capable of better. I hope he is. I don”t know. It”s that funny place where ambition lays right next to inertia.
HitFix: For you guys personally and professionally when you think of work that you”ve done, how often have you had projects where you've gone into it thinking “This could be something special, this could be something visionary” and you walk out and you see how it looked and your reaction is, “Okay, that was good, but…”
Mackenzie Davis: I mean for me it happens a lot of the time because you”re not in control of the final product. And so you just have to find your vision for the thing not being the final product, how you would make it and all of the like perfect ways without any compromises. But like, “How can I be purest to my vision for this thing and then let everything else aside?” I mean I think you have to do that to survive as an artist or a creator of anything. Just tot focus on what you have control of and make peace with what you don”t have control of.
Lee Pace: It”s a true comparison with one of the big themes of the show is like… I don”t know. It”s that gray zone. Yeah, of course. Yeah and it”s like I”ll wake up one day and it”s raining and I”m like, “This is disappointing.” And then the sun will be nice outside and like, “I really like that, I”m really proud of my work. I don”t care that no one liked it.” Do you know what I mean? It”s that weird kind of insanity of life. That nothing is true and everything is true all at once. I think it”s that gray zone of the show and I'm interested in that element of it, that ambiguity, that it”s not like “XYZ is success” and “XYZ is failure.” It”s like that
Mackenzie Davis: It”s a struggle. It”s just like a f***ing enduring struggle that never stops for everybody.
Lee Pace: And you put that in that moment, that kind of time, kind of before the revolution happened and I think that revolution gains a certain kind of perspective, that kind of disappointing thing. They did make a contribution to computers. Was it the same contribution that Steve Jobs made? No. Will the project that we embark on this season? Maybe. Maybe not.
HitFix: Your characters both communicate a lot through their sexuality in the first season. They're using each other sexually for different reasons. They”re also using sexuality as a tool allowing each of them to navigate in their business worlds. How was it to get a sense of these people through that side of the characters?
Mackenzie Davis: I found it was so illuminating and helpful. Just being down in the wires and in this really isolated way with computers and being sucked into a world that you couldn”t break out of. That when you needed to break out of it you just went to the most like cathartic, immediate pleasure that you could find. And there”s like those two things needed to exist in tandem in order to stay human.
Lee Pace: I totally agree with you 100 percent that it was like a real key to the character with Joe. Sex is like that for everyone and the more I tried to talk about the character, the more I kind of realized that”s just life. That”s the way it goes. Sex is complicated, you know. It”s close to everyone”s heart. There are no easy answers. When I think about how we approached that second episode where Joe takes Cameron and puts her in this room downstairs.
Mackenzie Davis: Dungeon.
Lee Pace: Yeah so that he can control her and give her what she needs so that he can get what he wants out of her. I mean it is twisted.
Mackenzie Davis: But I think she subverts that right away.
Lee Pace: No, no you can”t control her. That was the way we looked at it. There”s no controlling her and that”s why he”s so kind of committed to trying to. And I think what resulted from that conundrum is genuine love, this thing that he didn”t expect that hit him over the head like a baseball bat which is, “You are not a computer.” The way I kind of defined it about how a computer should be judged in the ninth episode was, “How well and how fast does it do the things that you ask it to do?” That”s how Joe defined his life. That”s how he looked at how he brings value. American men define their lives on how much value they bring — to their family, to their corporations, to the whole f***ing thing. The question now has become a little bit different. “Boy it felt nice to be in love. What is that like if I”m not f***ing it up at the same time. That”s the question now.
HitFix: Does Cameron view it as love? Because I”m interested by that. I was going to ask if there was a nourishing and positive side to this or if it was not romantic to any degree?
Mackenzie Davis: No I think it was. I think that it was one of those experiences that like I certainly – I mean not this exact one — but that you have in your early 20s and then like five years later you sort of process what that meant to you and how important it really was. And I think Joe is, without a doubt, her first love. And probably did some long-term damage to her. I don”t think that she is capable of admitting that, but… Yeah. Season 4.
“Halt and Catch Fire” returns for Season 2 on Sunday, May 31 on AMC.