The World May Be Ending But at Least We Have Lee Pace – Esquire

Every product was carefully curated by an Esquire editor. We may earn a commission from these links.
He’s a science-fiction head, a star of the show Foundation, Twitter’s new crush, and an all-around good guy. He also looks great in this season’s most stylish outerwear.

Lee Pace and I have formed a sci-fi book club. His idea. Without anyone intending it, dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn has turned into our club’s unofficial first meeting. There’s The Lord of the Rings and Dune, of course, which the actor has read more times than he remembers. He also sings the praises of his favorite writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, and the universe-rattling Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. He pulls out his Kindle to show me the Bobiverse series, which he’s currently reading, and to download a couple books I suggest (Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire). I have no doubt he’ll read them immediately. “We have to get back together and discuss,” he says.
Pace strikes me as not just a fan but a scholar of sci-fi, a world where bona fides count for a lot and fakers get no respect. His reading list may come as a relief to the millions who know Pace, age forty-two, for his roles in some of the biggest sci-fi and fantasy franchises of all time. He played Thranduil the Elvenking in the Hobbit series, Ronan the Accuser in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel. Not to mention the vampire Garrett in the Twilight saga. Now he’s adding another character to that list: Galactic Emperor Cleon on Apple TV+’s Foundation, based on the Isaac Asimov series from the 1940s and ’50s. The novels are often credited with inspiring Stars both Wars and Trek and defined science fiction for modern fans.
Nonscholars, here’s the gist: Pace’s Emperor Cleon has ruled the sprawling Galactic Empire for generations as a series of genetic clonelike successors, with absolute power. And he looks good doing it. When a trailer for the series dropped this past summer, it caused something of a social-media fervor, with fans online calling Pace an “Intergalactic Emperor Daddy.”
“I’m deeply flattered,” he says of the distinction. “My mother would be so proud.”

He’s laughing, but honestly, Foundation is serious business that comes at a serious time. Our dinner-cum-book-club took place a few days after the release of a grim United Nations report on our future. You know the one: We can no longer stop climate change from intensifying over the next thirty years, but there is a chance we can mitigate the worst possible outcome if we act right away.
“That sounds like a line from Foundation, doesn’t it?” Pace says of the report’s top line. The world of Foundation is based on the fall of the Roman Empire, and it begins with a mathematician predicting the fall of the Galactic Empire. He’s got a plan to shorten the dark age that will follow, but time isn’t on the Galactic Empire’s side. Depending on your personality, it’s either the best or the worst possible viewing for our apocalyptic times.
Pace is in the first camp: “That thing, change, is the only thing you can bet on, that things will change. What the Cleons are hoping for is this imperishable permanence. You can’t do that. That’s not the way it works.”
This article appears in the October/November 2021 issue of Esquire.
Pace is the best kind of climate optimist in that he can acknowledge that “there’s a limit to control” without giving up. He’s on the leadership council of Conservation International and has traveled with the group’s scientists. “I feel like, hopefully, some of us during Covid have had the experience of a way of life that doesn’t involve overconsumption and all the things that we know we should be a bit more mindful about, but we’re spoiled, so we can’t help ourselves,” Pace says.
Ironically, for a climate activist, Pace is probably best known for playing characters who lack the physical fragility that actual humans in the grip of climate change have: an elf, a vampire, a Trumpian space king, and, most memorably, a pie maker, Ned, with the gift and curse of bringing people back to life on the cult hit Pushing Daisies. The show ran for only twenty-two episodes in the late 2000s, but it’s enjoying a reanimation thanks to HBO Max. Pace did a rewatch of his own alongside the new and old fans and compared notes. More than a decade later, he finds himself wishing to be back at the Pie Hole, with Ned’s friends. Will there be a second life for a show about bringing back the dead?
“I mean, we always joke about it, fantasize about it. I know [creator] Bryan [Fuller]’s told me his ideas for it, and they sound so cool. Everyone’s busy doing different things. I would love to be with everyone again. Yeah, I mean I’m game for it,” Pace says. Until then, there’s a stack of new books on both of our nightstands to keep us busy.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments