Lee Pace Interview – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

     February 19, 2008

Written by Nicole Pedersen

I recently attended the press junket for the new Frances McDormand picture “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” Never heard of it, you say? Well, don’t feel bad. Press coverage on “Pettigrew” has been pretty sparse so far, but “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” will start a theatrical run on March 7th, and to promote the film, Focus Features held a press day at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Frances McDormand was not in attendance (busy finishing up with the Coen Brother’s “Burn After Reading, I assume?), but sitting for interviews were two of her co-stars, Amy Adams and Lee Pace.

Director Bharat Nalluri (Tsunami: the Aftermath) describes “Miss Pettigrew” as “A fairy tale for adults.” The film takes place in London in 1939 and covers one destiny altering day in the life of an aging governess named Miss Pettigrew (McDormand). After being unfairly dismissed from her job, Miss Pettigrew intercepts an employment assignment to become “social secretary” for a glamorous American singer and socialite named Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). In a whirl of parties, salons and nightclubs, these two very different women end up bonding, and ultimately inspiring each other to change their lives.

A complete synopsis and clips from the film are available here.

“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” has the cadence and rhythm of a late 1930’s Howard Hawks film; the dialogue is quick, the action is tame and the film, overall, feels like it could have been made in 1939. This will make it a hard sell for a lot of modern film goers, but I enjoyed “Miss Pettigrew,” not least because it runs a very manageable 90 minutes. This is a movie that you could take your mother or grandmother to and not want to rip your hair out from boredom a’ la “Ladies in Lavender.”

So, about those interviews:

First up I talked with Lee Pace who plays Michael, one of three men pursuing Delysia in “Miss Pettigrew.” Pace is the star of this season’s most critically acclaimed new television series, “Pushing Daisies,” but is still not quite a household name. He has also had roles in “The Good Shepherd” and “Infamous.”

Pace talked about the show, confirming it will not be returning this spring but will begin shooting on a full second season in June, about working with McDormand and Adams and about some of his upcoming projects including touching Sarah Michelle Gellar in “Possession.”

Lee pace is one charming actor, and I am not just saying that because he stopped the interview when my tape recorder broke… OK, maybe I am, but I am pretty sure I wasn’t the only female in the room who craved pie by the end of the interview.

Once again, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” opens March 7th.

Question: Michael is such a classic Hollywood character; did you research any films from that period?

Lee Pace: I did. I do the show “Pushing Daisies” and me and Anna (Friel) try and think a lot about old-fashioned stuff on that show, so we watch, you know, Cary Grant, Kate Hepburn… just to try and get what that comedy is.

Question: Speaking of old-fashioned movies, this movie is very literate and fast-talking, was that interesting for you to do as a modern actor?

Lee Pace: Oh yeah, absolutely, I think it’s really fun. I also think it’s like an old movie and it’s not really a period-piece… whenever I go see a period movie I feel like its – “alright, sit still, watch your period movie” – and this one’s not really that. It’s not like a history lesson. There was some of it that ended up being cut, I probably shouldn’t mention it, but where Nick gives Delysia coke… it ended up being cut, probably for obvious reasons, but I love that the script was still a little bit edgy. I mean, Delysia’s not a good girl. She’s kind of a slut.

Question: What was the coolest thing about working with Amy?

Lee Pace: Amy’s kind of all around cool to work with. She’s great, that girl is a movie star. She’s beautiful and fun and smart and really, really talented. And she comes on the set everyday having a good time. She’s bouncing around, doing the character and she gets exhausted by the end of the day because she gives so much to it so everyone around her feels inspired by her. She’s great. I love working with her.

Q: Tell us about working with Frances

Lee Pace: She’s great in totally different ways. She understands acting for film probably better than anyone I’ve ever worked with. She just gets it… She’s always doing something to make the story clearer… And you know, none of the actress bullshit with her, she just gets it.

Collider: You had to play the piano for this movie. Did you actually learn how to play? It didn’t look like you were playing…

Lee Pace: I was trying my very best, but it clearly wasn’t good enough. I never played before so you’re probably right. But I was actually playing on those three songs… so at a party if there’s a piano around and I’m drunk you might hear “If I Didn’t Care.” …But that really is me singing, we recoded it at Abbey Road-

Collider: How cool was that?

Lee Pace: Great, I mean we were right in that studio where the Beatles and Pink Floyd and all those crazy greats recorded stuff…

Q: Pushing Daisies came out really strong before the writer’s strike, can you talk about what that did to the morale?

Lee Pace: Yeah, we did nine episodes and then we ran out of scripts, so that’s it. And we’re not going to be coming back this season, so we’ll be back next season we start work in June, and of course it sucked, you know? But the writers got what they needed so we can all get back to work.

Q: What are the differences you perceive between acting for TV and acting for film?

Lee Pace: With TV, first it’s a lot quicker… you have a lot to get done in a day… I have to go in there and be very clear about what I’m going to do… with a movie, I think you just have a little more time and you have the luxury to kind of find it. With Bharat, when you’ve got a good director, you feel confident giving them a lot of options… because if they’re not a very good director, you don’t want to give them all those options because you don’t know what they’re gonna come out with when they cut it.

Q: You went to Juilliard, what was the most important thing that you learned?

Lee Pace: I think the most important thing I learned was not something that they really taught… what I came out with was you have to work really hard. You have to hustle. I remember when we were, our last year there, thinking “What do we want to do? Do we want to do theatre, TV or film?” As if that was the question! You have to hustle; it’s a lot of work to get a job. It’s a lot of work. I am grateful for the fact that I was there, because I got in when I was 17 so I was really, really young; When I think of these kids who go through Hollywood when they’re that young… it’s hard to see that their reality doesn’t really exist.

Q: What was the most nerve-wracking audition that you’ve ever been on?

Lee Pace: “Good Shepherd”… I auditioned for that for about a year and ended with meeting Robert DeNiro. That was nerve-wracking, from beginning to end.

Q: How has the last year been with the TV show, this movie and with “Possession” coming out compared to previous years?

Lee Pace: It’s not that much different actually. It’s a lot more work. I like that because I’m happiest when I’m just kind of working on something, I’m not good with down time… Everyone’s like “Has the TV show changed your life?”

Q: I’m sure you get a lot more people coming up to you on the streets…

Lee Pace: I don’t really get recognized

Collider: You’re kidding, if I saw you on the street I’d be like “Hey Pie Man!”

Lee Pace: That does happen… I mean in LA people are kind of, you know, there are bigger stars then Ned the baker. The thing is in the airport, every once in a while you’ll see some one kind of clock you… but I’m not totally comfortable with that yet so I try to forget that it happens. But I really don’t get recognized very much.

Q: So you have “Possession” coming out?

Lee Pace: I do, I think it was supposed to be out on March 28th, but I hear it’s pushed. I saw Sarah a couple days ago and we’ve got a different date now. I don’t know why, I think the movie turned out really well.

Collider: It’s a horror movie?

Lee Pace: It’s not a horror movie. I think we’ve changed courses on our publicity team because I think that’s what got out there. But it’s not really horror, it’s a thriller, it’s like a romantic thriller.

Q: What’s the story?

Lee Pace: I play Sarah’s brother in-law and a real baddie in the beginning and her husband is a real good guy, and then we get into a car accident and I wake up thinking that I’m him. Trying to convince her I’m her husband… I can’t touch Anna in “Pushing Daisies” but I can touch Sarah in this one and we touch a lot. And I also have “The Fall” coming out, which will be out in April, I’m not sure exactly when but it’s a movie I did with Tar Singh, and we’ve brought it to a few festivals.

Q: What’s that about?

Lee Pace: I play a stunt man who’s paralyzed and in the hospital in the ‘20’s and this little girl wanders into my hospital room and I start telling her the story… and she kind of imagines it in this pretty cinematic way… Tar Singh, who directed “The Cell,” directed it and he kind of furthers his obsession with shared imagination…

Q: Was there a lot on blue screen for that?

Lee Pace: No, we shot in 30 different countries; there is nothing on blue screen in that. We shot through S. Africa, India, Namibia

Q: So that must have been your longest trip…

Lee Pace: Yeah, it was great. That movie is great, I mean when you see the movie it’s phenomenal. And what’s amazing about it is all the locations are real…

Q: Back to “Miss Pettigrew,” the three main leads are all American; since you shot in London did you get any stick from the rest of the cast about keeping your accent?

Lee Pace: I stayed in my accent all day… I think Frances did too… I’m not good enough at accents to kind of, go in and out all day… I mean I was probably a real ass a lot of the time, going up to the English crew in my phony English accent…

Collider: I thought the accent played really well

Lee Pace: So you liked the accent. Piano playing not so much…

Q: Why should people see “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day?”

Lee Pace: Because it’s a good old-fashioned movie. I think there’s a lot of movies out right now that are really dark and exploring how hard life can be and this is light-hearted, it makes you feel good.

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