Being tall is a blessing and a curse. I’m 6’3, meaning no matter where I am at a concert, I can see the band on stage. That’s the blessing. The curse? The poor people who get stuck behind me have been known to, on occasion, kick me in the back of the leg, or silently whisper, “This guy in front of me is such an asshole.” (Another concert blessing/curse: My friends always know where I am, like I’m a meerkat sticking his head out of a hole, which is good; my friends always know where I am, which is bad.) It’s impossible for me to not stand out in a crowd, and I’m on the shorter end of the tall spectrum. If I were to stand alongside Lee Pace, I’d look like the Hound next to the Mountain.
Pace is 6’5. He’s taller than his Marvel Cinematic Universe playmate, the mighty Thor, but it doesn’t seem that way, does it? Hemsworth carries his authority in his muscles; Pace’s comes from his natural command. He’s the kind of guy you see in a coffee shop (I, for one, can’t imagine Hemsworth walking into a Starbucks), and even if you didn’t recognize him, you’d still think, “Don’t I know him from something?”
That something might be AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, which just returned for its third season. It was not a quality show in season one — Pace’s character, Joe MacMillan, was a Difficult Man without any of Walter White’s genius or Tony Soprano’s might; basically, he was an unrepentant jerk. The drama was barely renewed for another season, but thank goodness it was, because Halt got pretty great in season two. The focus shifted from Joe and fellow damaged genius, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), to Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé), who, yes, stand out as women in a male-dominated industry, but they’re also multifaceted characters with a complex relationship.
The third season premiere spent far more time with Cameron and Donna than Gordon or Joe, who doesn’t appear until the end of the episode. But he’s a presence throughout. Joe is Steve Jobs, and Gordon is his Steve Wozniak, the talent who gets none of the credit (Joe wouldn’t have been able to secure his $10 million in venture capital without Gordon’s anti-virus software). While the rest of the world eats up Joe’s “Are you safe?” presentation, Gordon warns Mutiny’s coders, “Don’t you underestimate him. That’s when he’s most dangerous. No, Joe’s brilliant. When you’re in that guy’s thrall, it feels like a drug. You know, you feel like the most important person in the world. That’s when you wake up with your neck slit, bleeding all over the floor.”
Joe — whose reduced screen time makes him that much more menacing; spend too much with Darth Vader, and he becomes an obnoxious brat — has an unmistakable presence on Halt and Catch Fire, even when he’s making unintentionally-but-also-kind-of-intentionally threatening phone calls to Artie, the Strongest Man In the World. Much of that credit goes to Pace, who, like me at a concert, has a physical ubiquity that’s impossible to ignore. It can be imposing. Yet despite his stature, Pace is an undervalued star. He’s quietly put together one of the more varied careers of any working actor today.
-He’s currently on the critically admired Halt and Catch Fire.
-He’ll always be known as the deliciously adorable (and Emmy-nominated) Piemaker from Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies, one of the greatest Gone Too Soon series in recent memory. He was also on Fuller’s Wonderfalls, which like Pushing Daisies, was quirky, really funny, really dark, and quickly canceled.
-He was a villain in a Marvel movie (arguably the best Marvel movie).
-He was in both the Twilight and The Hobbit franchises (in the 2010s, this is a necessary evil, because these — movies based on existing properties — are the only kind of films that get made anymore). The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies aren’t good, exactly, but they introduced him to millions of people who had never even heard of Pushing Daisies. Also, they no doubt did wonders for his bank account.
-He’s the star of The Fall, which some critics think is a bore (59% on Rotten Tomatoes), while others claim it’s, to quote Roger Ebert, “a mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy, a free fall from reality into uncharted realms” (that’s a compliment). I agree with the latter — it’s a modern-day classic.
-He’s been in romantic comedies, on both the big screen (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and When in Rome) and the small (The Mindy Project).
-He did this in Soldier’s Girl, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
-He’s in a Best Picture nominee: Lincoln.
-Every actor on Earth is legally obligated to play a suspect or victim on Law & Order at least once. Pace crossed this off his list early, when he appeared in a random episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (there is no such thing as a not-random episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).
-He played The Human in the notorious box office dud Marmaduke.
-Lastly, here’s a fun IMDb fact: “During high school, he attended the senior prom every year and was accompanied by a different girl each time.” My man.
To recap, Pace has a current respected series, two former respected series, a cult cinema classic, a Marvel movie, Twilight, The Hobbit, romantic comedy experience, Emmy and Golden Globe acknowledgment, a Best Picture nominee, and Marmaduke, to keep him humble. He can play cute (Pushing Daisies), he can play villains (Guardians of the Galaxy), he can play anti-heroes (The Hobbit), he can give lengthy monologues in Steven Spielberg’s movies (Lincoln), he can act alongside comically large CGI dogs (Marmaduke), and he’s even an acclaimed theater actor, having been in The Normal Heart.
That’s an impressive, under-the-radar showcase for someone who you wouldn’t think of as a traditional “star.” Pace probably deserves to be bigger, but something tells me he’s fine just being the biggest guy in the room.