First Person

» Lee Pace: Masochism, Off-Broadway Style

About the author:
Lee Pace doesn’t mind playing an underdog—or a villain. Hot on the heels of his Golden Globe nomination as a transgendered nightclub performer in Soldier’s Girl on Showtime, Pace—now starring in the off-Broadway drama Guardians—has been busily juggling roles on stage and screen. The Juilliard graduate earned an Obie as part of the ensemble of Craig Lucas’s Small Tragedy, co-starred on the short-lived Fox-TV series Wonderfalls and has three movies awaiting release, including Infamous, known as the “other” film about Truman Capote, in which he plays Kansas murderer Dick Hickok. Broadway.com asked this rising star to share his feelings about taking on the decidedly unsavory role of a tabloid journalist with a taste for S&M in Guardians. As you’ll discover from his first-person account, Pace isn’t afraid to get down and dirty.

Where else does one get to joke about getting finger-banged by Osama Bin Laden?

Guardians is a funny, shocking play about atrocity. An empathetic look at some small players playing some dirty games in this current climate of war and torture. An investigation of the relationship between Sadists and Masochists. It’s about pornography and spanking and a human pyramid of naked insurgents… I thought it would be fun.

Kate My Inspired Comrade Moennig plays a character based on that wretched American Army private Lynndie England. I play a young English tabloid journalist. After the Abu Ghraib torture photos from Iraq were published in the States, photos of British soldiers engaging in similar atrocities smeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror and were later proven to be a hoax. English Boy is a fictionalized character inspired by these events. His sadistic ambition, his clever analysis of power politics in our world, his bizarre sexual appetite… I thought it would be fun.

This job is never fun. It’s interesting, puzzling, funny at times, rewarding. But after the labor, after pulling your hair out by handfuls, after hours of self-flagellation, weeping, dredging up pain and fear and fathoms of self loathing, after starving yourself and punishing yourself at the gym, after chewing your fingernails down to bloody stumps…who could call this job fun?

It’s torture, and I love it.

It’s the best when the character is far from you, when you get to squeeze your foot into an ill-fitting shoe. My brief career has been plagued by diverse cast of people: a transsexual woman in Soldier’s Girl, a Serbian rapist in Craig Lucas’s Small Tragedy and most recently one of the WASPs who started the CIA in The Good Shepherd. You force yourself to move differently, speak differently. You trick yourself into a new way of thinking. For a time, you get lost in another man’s reality which, most likely, will be fraught with tension and emotion.

Isn’t that the mythology of acting? Transformation?

The humbling reality is . . . it’s just me. My voice, my thoughts. The character is provocation and interpretation. Behind the makeup and the tits, that’s my heart breaking. Behind the beard and the accent, that’s me behaving like a monster.

It’s painful, vulnerable… and I love it.

Now, every Masochist needs a Sadist. Enter director Jason Dungeon Master Moore.

He’s sliced into our most private, personal places and served up the bloody fillet to a ticketed audience. He’s got us frying in the hot seat. The play consists of alternating monologues, and we look the audience in the eyes. Connecting with strangers, revealing our secrets and justifying our sins.

The cruel devils laugh.

I should be ashamed about the way I am behaving on that stage. I’m ambitious and wicked and violent. I’m saying horrifying things. My mother would be appalled; my father would beat me.

And the audience is laughing because it’s funny. Of course, we all know that it’s just a character, it’s just a play, but as I confide the darkest secrets of my soul to a stranger, I blink out of the construct for a moment and feel genuinely vulnerable. I feel like looking into the judgmental eyes of the audience and pleading, “Please don’t tell anyone. Don’t think I’m a monster. Please, master, please . . . just keep this between us.”

Of course, I can’t say that, because it’s a play. It’s rehearsed bondage. I’m bound in the leather straps of the lines Peter Marquis de Sade Morris has written.

This is what Guardians is about. My Inspired Comrade and I confined, squirming, weeping and acting like beasts. The Marquis de Sade devising new, articulate torments. The Dungeon Master cracking his whip and cackling in the back of the theater. A room filled with cruel devils laughing at atrocity.

It’s not fun. And I love it.

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