Pop Culture

Lee Pace’s Body of Work

The Bodies Bodies Bodies star has become the object of the Internet’s affection. He’d rather be working on his house.

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During the production of Bodies Bodies Bodies, a clever and self-conscious A24 horror-comedy about a bunch of very online rich kids whiling away a storm in a secluded mansion, the bulk of the twentysomething cast stayed together in upstate New York. Their costar Lee Pace, 43, went home each night to his husband and the house, not far from set, that he literally built with his own hands.

In 2010, Pace explains, just after he finished working on the cult TV series Pushing Daisies, he decided to build his own house on land he had bought in Dutchess County. “There’s something—a fundamental lesson about self sufficiency—inside this,” he says. “I wanted to explore it. And I took this timber framing course up in Maine where I learned how to do the math to design it and carved the joints with a handsaw and chisels.”

His speaking voice is low and soft and warm and rich; discussing house building could be a great ASMR side gig if he wanted it. He spent a season on the edge of the woods, ordering beams from a sawmill and carving them all summer and into fall. When the time came, he gathered a bunch of (presumably loyal and strong) friends together to peg the beams together and push it up over two days. Over the decade that followed his career kicked into high gear: he booked roles in the Hobbit trilogy, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and Halt and Catch Fire, a beloved TV show about the early days of the tech industry. But between projects he would return to the farm and keep working on his house, adding walls, a roof, the whole deal.

“Of all things that I’ve done I’m like, ‘Hey, I actually built this thing,’” says Pace. Who cares that it had no water or electricity? He lit the place with candles and oil lamps and built an outhouse and visited his friends, a ragtag crew that includes artists and first responders, whenever he needed to shower. Now he’s bought the land on the other side of the property, and a neighbor’s house, too. When I ask how many acres he’s sitting on, he gets a glazed look in his eyes and says, “Oh it’s big, very big.” There are no fences, and currently no crops. Just grass and wild turkeys and bears and foxes.

The house is a testament to the two decades of steady work Pace has put into his career. But Pace seems to be particularly thriving this summer. That’s not just because he’s starring in one of the most anticipated summer movies, in Bodies Bodies Bodies, or because he just filmed the second season of Apple TV’s galactic spectacle Foundation, or because he treats his every red carpet appearance with serious enthusiasm, though of course it’s because of those things. No, the reason that Pace seems to inspire such a devoted fandom—one populated by insidery sci-fi memes about his characters and collages of him wearing advanced fashion—seems to be rooted in the cool and easy brand of unselfconscious masculinity he practices. He built a house; he wears sock garters on the red carpet at the Met Gala; he sees no real tension between the two.

He is the kind of guy who went to Juilliard, where he read Shakespeare and Chekhov and learned stage combat, but also happily talks about canoeing in a national park in Canada and seeing a moose swim. He has an ease with masculinity, I suggest, of someone who has thought about it a lot. He wonders: “Who doesn’t?” A lot of men, I say. “They’re just stuck in it,” he replies. “It’s awfully loud. It’s a loud force in our world. And I think that makes it very hypnotic. But I also think that it’s a very multifaceted thing. There’s lots of different ways to look at what that is. It’s not always the toxic thing that we have come to stamp it as.”


Bodies Bodies Bodies centers on a group of old friends and their significant others waiting out a storm together. They pass the time doing drugs and bickering about discourse-y topics like gaslighting and triggering and hate reading. Eventually they decide to play a werewolf- or mafia-style party game called “bodies bodies bodies.” What’s the worst that could happen? The result is paranoia, some dark humor, and a lot of blood; the end result is best described as Agatha Christie meets Euphoria.

Pace plays Greg, a man who is as chill as he is tan. (When I asked Pace if they had to lube him up to get so uniformly bronze, he replied, dryly, “Lube won’t get you tan.”) Greg is an older and enigmatic outsider. Pace is the sole Gen X representative in a Gen Z-heavy cast of highly visible stars, which includes Pete Davidson; Myha’la Herrold from Industry; Maria Bakalova from Borat; Amandla Stenberg from The Hate U Give: Chase Sui Wonders from Generation; and Rachel Sennott from Shiva Baby, who plays Greg’s podcaster girlfriend. It’s like an all-star team of cool and talented young actors.

Pace is nonetheless the most magnetic part of the film. At 6’5”, he is one of the few actors who can tower over Davidson, which works for their antagonistic rapport in Bodies. “I loved working with Pete,” Pace says. “I found him as a human being fascinating—his stories were interesting. His approach to the work was serious and interesting. I don’t watch Saturday Night Live, so I don’t know what he does on Saturday Night Live. But in that context, I was like, ‘You’re cool and I really am curious to see what things you do in your career.’”

In the film, Pace’s character expresses himself less in words and more in his body; Pace does a lot of acting with his eyes and limbs. This might be the first time he’s played kind of an airhead, though he’ll dispute that characterization. “I feel like it’s not fair on poor Greg. Why? Because he takes his shirt off when he swims? Does that make him a himbo?” Pace asks. “He’s loving life and he’s got this 23 year old that he’s met on Tinder. They’re in the first week-and-a-half of their relationship. There’s nothing better. She’s like, ‘Let’s go up and party with my friends.’ And he’s like, ‘Sure.’ You know?”

When we meet, that laidback vibe in his clear from his outfit, which is both extremely cool and extremely chill: an ancient t-shirt, denim cargos from Brain Dead, Salomon sneakers, a gold pendant of Mary and Jesus he bought in Tenerife, and some of the wildest Oakley sunglasses I’ve ever seen. He has a bit of a regal presence, with height and lush, longish hair and enviable eyebrows that seemingly have avoided any contact with a tweezer. He carries a general sense of being, like, someone. But we’re in Washington Square Park, so no one even gives him a second glance, whether because there are other, more prominent characters in the vicinity or because he’s a local, having lived basically around here since graduating from school.

Perhaps a little of that ease comes with being settled into a marriage. He wears a slim band on his ring finger. Pace and his husband Matthew Foley, an executive at Thom Browne, were set up a few years ago by a mutual friend. “I said to my friend, Nick, ‘You know a lot of people, who do you have for me?’ And it luckily has worked out,” Pace says. He is ridiculously endearing when he describes Foley. “What I’ll say about being married, it was once described to me as an endless sleepover with your weirdest friend. In our experience, that is absolutely true,” he says. “If you’ve found one person you can be weird around, hold on tight.” A kid, or maybe a couple, might be in their future: “I’d love to have kids. I think there’s nothing better than little kids running around,” he says.

He’s tight with his family, too. He was born in Oklahoma. When he was young his family moved to the Middle East for his father’s job. He remembers fragments of his time there: watching fishermen untangle nets on the beach from their house, playing jump rope in kindergarten with a tree root someone had dug up. His high school years were spent in Texas, where his parents and brother and sister and their spouses and kids still live.

Before Bodies, he shot the second season of Foundation. It’s a sprawling epic based on Isaac Asimov stories, and shot in Ireland, the Canary Islands, Prague, and Malta. His character is literally the emperor of the galaxy—which is to say, a guy with some weird hangups around his manliness. “I play a different character every season, because there’s big time jumps. There’s just so many different layers of generations of men,” he explains. But there’s plenty for him to dig into: “What is interesting about this character is that it’s like this grotesque of a man who’s in control of everything–he’s Emperor of the Galaxy; no one can stop it–and the absurdity of that,” he says. When they were done filming, the emperor of the galaxy returned to Texas, and his parents drove him back to New York with his dog Gus in their camper.

The ease in which Pace plays with gender roles is an ever-evolving thing. Almost 20 years ago, he was cast as a transgender woman in Soldier’s Girl, his first film. It’s based on the life of Calpernia Addams, who fell in love with a military man. He was lauded for the role, earning a Golden Globe nomination and the Gotham Award for breakthrough actor for it. “I was so convinced that I was like, ‘There, I’ve done it. That character is so far from myself. I completely transformed,’” he says now. “But when I watched and I watched it back, I didn’t see someone who was different from myself. I just saw me and who I was then. Speaking with another character’s voice and stuff, but I saw more, much more of myself than I would’ve, than I expected to,” he says. Nearly 20 years later, I say, it seems unlikely that the producers and director would have cast a cisgender man for the role. Would he care to weigh in on the ongoing debate on actors and identities? “No, I do not, thank you,” he says. And pauses. “Um, they might. Well, we did. Some of the actresses that I worked with were trans. And Calpernia was there the whole time helping me with her story and her truth. She was extremely collaborative with us, the entire shoot. They probably would. I don’t know.”

He was raised Catholic, never missing a Sunday and singing in the choir, and has lately been pondering the role religion might play in his life. Or maybe “experiencing” is the better word. While in Prague for Foundation, he wandered into an old beautiful church on a Sunday morning. “Sitting in this church, listening to these Czech services, I didn’t understand a word they were saying, so I didn’t hear sin or judgment or any of those things that bothered me so much when I heard them when I was younger,” he says. “I found myself among all of these other people who had wandered in off the street to think about their lives, to think about how to be good people, to think about the challenges that they face.” The experience had stuck with him, as an example of the grace that can be found in quiet reflection. “I’m not interested in dogma, but I am interested in understanding my life better.”

That understanding, he’s come to learn, only comes with sustained effort. He says emphatically and without hesitation that nothing about the job has gotten easier. In fact, “it’s just gotten harder and harder and harder,” he says. “I guess I expect more of myself–what I choose to do, what characters I choose to play. I want to feel like I can do something with a part. I want to feel like this is worth my investigation. I don’t need to know all the answers, but I need to know that this is a book I want to open.”

Between projects, he returns to his upstate home like he always has. The timber frame he built is still there. Changes have been made; he and Foley have taken up residence in a 200-year-old farmhouse on the property. But it’s the old house—building it, growing with it, adding to it—that has shaped the man Pace is right now. “The decision to build that house there has impacted my life,” he says, “in ways that I could not have imagined.”


Photographs by Tyrell Hampton
Grooming by Kumi Craig at The Wall Group

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