Lee Pace (“Halt and Catch Fire,” The Hobbit trilogy), whose previous theatre credits include The Normal Heart on Broadway and Small Tragedy by Craig Lucas Off-Broadway, plays Joe Pitt, a gay Mormon Republican lawyer, in the revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America on Broadway, opening March 25.
NICOLE SERRATORE: Is it true that you first read Angels in America in high school?
LEE PACE: I went to high school outside Houston, a little town called Spring, Texas. My mom suggested that I take theatre arts for my elective. I remember hearing from older kids who had seen this when it was on Broadway—I’d never been to New York, but we paid attention to who was winning the Tonys even though there wasn’t a chance of getting to see the plays. We read Angels. We’d work on scenes from it. This play contributed to me falling in love with doing this thing that I do.
Did you have any hesitation signing onto play Joe Pitt?
None at all. I love this character. I find him really enigmatic and very complicated. I feel like I know this guy. I grew up around some Joes. I like him. I care about him. It’s a real privilege to get to play him.
Most of the Broadway cast did the show in London. What’s it like to join a cast that’s been together a while?
I’m noticing more than anything how nice it is to work with a group of people like this—intelligent and fierce in their attack of Tony Kushner’s words. They couldn’t be more welcoming and curious with what I’m bringing to the role and supportive of what’s unique about my process. There’s not that sense of panic that comes with rehearsals, because they’ve done [this show before]. It feels so confident and creative.
You’ve worked on some iconic revivals, with The Normal Heart and now Angels in America. Do you feel it’s important to bring these plays back?
Absolutely. A play can be a political thing. Here we are, all in a room together, the audience, the actors, the crew, all the creatives. We get the opportunity to bring all of our own different life experiences together into the same room, think about it together, and then go back out the ways we came. To be able to revisit something as a community in that way is powerful and cool.
What has struck you as timely in Angels in America?
Joe’s a contemporary of Donald Trump’s, Mitt Romney’s. He’s a conservative man inspired by the energy that Reagan was bringing to the conservative party. One thing I think about a lot is, what is a conservative? What is a Republican? What it was then and what it is now? That’s certainly a good thing for us to all look at as a country right now.
If you were not an actor, what would you be?
I have no idea. One of the things you get to do when you’re an actor is you get to try on all sorts of different hats. Now I’m playing Joe Pitt and I think, “Oh, I could probably be a lawyer. It’d be fun to fight with people and argue about things.” I don’t know. I think this is the only thing that I can do.
You talk a lot about climate change and conservation on social media. What makes you so passionate about those subjects?
I think it’s the most important thing we face. When you look at the science around climate change, I think it’s undeniable. I feel very fortunate to have met my friends at Conservation International. They are people who are very committed towards helping our species, humans, find a way to work in a more responsible way with nature. We’ve gotten into some very bad habits about how we treat it.
Is there a piece of theatre you would travel back in time to go see?
I would love to see a play before electricity. I’d love to see what the performances were like of Shakespeare in the late 1700s. How did the actors attack it? How do you kill it onstage with Macbeth or Hamlet when you’re lit by candlelight? I think that would be an interesting ticket, right?
What was the last show you saw onstage and loved?
Hello, Dolly. [Giggles] To see Bette Midler and hear that voice onstage, I was just on the edge of my seat the entire show. Then the train comes in and you’re like, “This is heaven!” Then she makes another entrance, you’re like, “Come on, give me more!” It was great.
Is it true you used to compete in the Texas Forensic Association—basically speech, debate, and theatre—in high school?
Yeah, it is true. Texans will make anything competitive, even acting.