When Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 premieres tonight, you'll see yet another side to Joe MacMillan thanks to the amazing talents of Lee Pace.
When we talked this week, he walked me through where his character will be during the new season, whose arc he found the most impressive over the course of the series and a whole lot more.
Enjoy the conversation below and don't miss out on our other interviews with Scoot McNairy, the Chrises and one coming later today with Kerry Bishé. There are light spoilers to follow, so if you'd rather go into the premiere completely unaware, come back after watching the show tonight.
I think Joe MacMillan is one of the most misunderstood characters in TV history. What's it like playing someone so complex?
Lee Pace: Well, one of the things I really love about the character is how much he's changed and evolved over these four seasons. I mean, I just think he's such a drastically different person than he was in that first season.
You know, when he runs over that armadillo, you just see this guy who thinks that his life is about ambition and is about making computers and is about none of the things that life is really about. He learns some really hard lessons throughout the course of the series, and I think the person that we find at the beginning of seasons four wears the scars of that, and he is changed by the continued failure in basically everything he's ever tried to do.
Everything he's tried to do has ended in a disaster. His marriage has ended in a disaster. His family, his relationship with his father, is a disaster. His namesake company, total smithereens. I mean, it's just ... we end every season with kind of an annihilation of who he is.
I think we see someone now who understands better than I think he thought he ever would ... There's that line in the pilot that he says to Gordon. He says, "You know, computers aren't the thing, they're the thing that gets you to the thing." It's been this interesting riddle that has existed inside the show.
Like, what do computers mean? It's all they ever talk about, but what do they mean?
I think that he's starting to figure that out, what that thing is. And the thing is, you know, super simple, and it comes very easily to a lot of people in this world, but it does not come very easily to Joe, which is just love, you know? It's love. It's loving other people easily and feeling like you're worthy of the love that they have to offer. That's what this season is about for Joe, you know?
It's no longer about search. It's really about just these people that he cares so, so, so deeply about, and in a very humble way trying to do whatever he needs to do to keep them near him. I mean, it's like his life depends on it, you know?
It's almost like his desire for search is so that he can get other people where he is now.
Yes. Yeah, yeah. I think, yeah, it's like he definitely makes those connections in what he's feeling in life to what the technology is capable of. We certainly saw that in the first season, where he just wanted to make a computer that was cheap and fast and small.
That's what he kind of ... he saw his life, he saw himself in that way. Then Cameron enters the picture and says, "No, it can be more that. You know, you can be more than that." It blows his mind, you know?
It's the biggest turning point the character has ever had, is having someone he cares about and respects saying, "You should be more than this. More than what you are. You're capable of thinking in a different way." He is just ... Like, now, after 10 years, and he's changed in such a dramatic way that he understands what she means. You know?
Before we get to Cameron because I do want to mention that a lot, but I love that he's working with Haley on his search. It's something that is so different for him because he wasn't always willing to let somebody else take his ideas and run with them. But it never even crossed his mind to question what she had done with his ideas.
He just wants it.
Instead, he just thought it was the greatest thing and, of all people, "Of course, I'm going to work with her. This is wonderful. It's like my family."
Yeah, no, I mean, it is his family. I mean, this is the little girl that he went out into the lawn when a hurricane came and fought a hurricane with flashlights to make her laugh. Like, that's who this is, you know? He's watched this little girl grow up. I think ... You know, Joe never talks about himself.
He never really talks about how he feels about things. He's not someone who's comfortable doing that in a way that some of the other characters on the show do. He doesn't feel entitled to have his emotional needs met or addressed, you know?
What this season, I think, reveals in such a great way is how much that relationship means to him, those little girls and watching them grow up. Of course, they mean a lot to Gordon, but they mean a hell of a lot to Joe. It's, in a way, the role that Joe missed. You know? It was the role that he always should've played but missed, is to be a father.
To have children of his own. Because that's, you know, we see it with Cameron, we see it with Ryan. Joe likes a protégé, you know? He likes it. He likes to be around a young genius. Yeah, I love the relationship. And Susanna, the actress who plays Haley now, is just fantastic. She's just the best. I just had the best time working with her.
You could tell. They're just beautiful scenes. Another beautiful scene, I think, is when Cameron and Joe finally connect again, and it's that day-long telephone conversation. Those kinds of conversations don't really happen anymore, but they did. I loved that that's how it happened, because there's something really raw and pure about those conversations because you can be yourself without having to be face-to-face, so you can let a little more out.
Lee Pace: Yeah. What me and Mackenzie found so interesting about that is that there's privacy to them. You know? It's like, they can't see what you're wearing, they can't see how you're sitting or what you're doing while you're talking. There's this sense of privacy and intimacy at the same time, and this demand to articulate and use your words to connect.
Right, the lost art of that long conversation is something I feel people are missing out on now with FaceTime and Skyping and such.
When you just text with gifs.
Yeah, when you text with gifs, or even whenever you try to look at somebody. You have to put all your makeup on and sit just right and try to look sexy or whatever it is.
Yeah, no, different now. I mean, different in this conversation. Yeah, I love this ... When I read it, I was like, "Oh, guys, you're the best. Thanks for writing this one. This is good." Because it's so ... God, I just love it. I just think it's so ... He's so happy to have her.
You know what I mean? He loves Cameron. He loves her in that way when you love someone so deeply that you can just put yourself aside and not think about that anymore, and your own needs. That's how he loves her, you know?
She's going through a tough time. She's going through this divorce, she's ... It's like, he knows what it feels like to be this bold, uncompromising person that you feel like you're just indestructible and you can do whatever you want, and then reality knocks on the door and says, "No, actually, this is life, and here's what a handful of heartbreak feels like, and this is your dose of reality." That's what she's dealing with right now, and I think it's like, he just gets her. He just gets her.
Cameron, you know, she's giving him his game. She's the game master. She's the ultimate game master. She's always got a game that she wants him to play, and he's just happy to play it.
He's like, "All right, I'm going to stay in this game as long as you'll have me." He's not getting off that phone for anything, you know? If she wants to talk about TV shows, he's talking about TV shows. If she wants to know about, you know, his father, he's talking about his father.
It was brilliant. I loved it.
Oh, good, good. I'm really glad you liked that. I was really excited about it when I read it.
They absolutely love you, of course.
They want to know what season Joe MacMillan is closest to Lee Pace.
Oh my God, that's a really tough question. I would say this season. I mean, yeah, yeah, fourth season, I think. Yeah. I think this is where I ... You know, I just, God, I've been playing this character for five years now, and it's just, I've thought a lot about my own life through the lens of this character.
You know, I've used this analogy that playing a character is like a laboratory to look at your own life and things you observe in life. Like, you know, this is what happens to love when you treat it like that, and this is what affects ambition when you put this chemical on it.
Lee Pace: I guess after experimenting with Joe all these years, I feel this sense of, I've learned a lot about myself, and I've ... And some things that I don't like so much if I'm totally honest. You know, some kind of like, "Oh, that's a little bit like Joe MacMillan, that thing in your own life, and maybe have a look at that." I don't know, so yeah, definitely this season I think I feel close. I feel like, "Oh, okay, I get this guy." Yeah, this season I'm closest to this character.
What's your favorite character arc over the course of the series?
My favorite character arc? Even ...
You know what I have to say, is Donna. I find the way they've written Donna fascinating. I never have scenes with Donna. I mean, the characters are like polar opposites in their understanding of the world and their rights inside of this world. Like, Donna has rights that Joe would only dream of, you know?
Joe can be kicked out if someone looks at him wrong. But Donna, inside of this world, because of those girls, because of her relationship with Gordon, because of her emotional availability, has a seat inside of this world that no one can shake her from. You know what I mean?
I mean, the things that she's done in this series. She's responsible for the slingshot because she thought she was going to have an affair with Hunt and she let the plans loose, you know? But Joe's the one who felt the consequence of it.
Joe felt the consequences of a lot of things.
Lee Pace: Yeah, but that's what I ... It's like, but that's life, in a way. You know, I used to be so ... I would get so angry at the writers about that, and I would call them and be like, "This is not fair." Right? "You can't treat Joe like this. Don't do this to him. It's not fair." But that's life, and that's what I think is so genius about what they wrote and so compelling about what they wrote, is that life isn't fair. You know? Joe does not get the perfect life. He gets a real life. He is misunderstood. That's the truth of him.
Yes, that is. I've always thought he was misunderstood. That's why I said he's one of the most misunderstood characters in history.
Yeah, you're completely right about that. But Donna gets this gift of being understood, you know? When she wants something…
I think she's feeling the heat in season four, don't you?
Well, she's also acting nuts in season four.
I don't know. I don't want to speak about ... But I think with Donna's character, I just love the arc. I just love how much she's changed from the first season.
Yeah, her arc is fascinating. Let me ask you this…
Lee Pace: It's just fascinating, and I also think that it's a perfect marriage between ... you know, the writers were so inspired about that character, and Kerry Bishé knocked it out of the park. Like, she just connected to the character in all the right ways and was inspired by the character in all the right ways, and just was awesome.
How do you think Joe would be faring in 2017?
Well, I know how this season ends, so I…
Oh, God, now you make me think he's dying.
No, no. No, I'm not going to take anything off the table, but ... No, no. No, don't ...
Lee Pace: Okay, look, we're all ... no one's getting out of it alive, so everyone's going to die at some point, right? [laughs] But I will say I think that this character that we've seen change and struggle with his identity all of these years, we see him settle into a place that is so appropriate for him, and really is his best self.
We see that at the end of this season in a way that I ... it completely took me by surprise when the Chrises pitched me the way it was going to end. I was like, "What?!" I was like, I fought with them for a while about it.
But when we shot it, I was like, "Oh, this is just perfect." You know? It's, "This is exactly ... this is just right." You know what I mean? In that kind of intangible way, like, I'm happy for Joe. You know?
Anyway. I don't want to say too much because I don't want to take the dragon out of the room, but ...
Well, Scoot said it was perfect as well. That was his answer. He said he couldn't wish for a better ending to the series, so ...
Yeah, yeah. I think, yeah, it all just starts to ... Well, you know, the show just becomes about life in a way that is just so interesting to me, and so not what I expected when I started shooting it and playing this character. It just becomes this exploration of contemporary life, life with these machines, that is not science fiction at all.
It's just the real effect of this technology inside of our existence. I don't see it depicted in this way in other sources that isn't sci-fi. Because you know, with sci-fi you can create an allegory that can tease out aspects of life and humanity through, but this show does it with the people, you know?
Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 1 kicks off a two-hour TONIGHT at 9/8c on AMC. Don't miss it! You can catch up as best as possible before hand when you watch Halt and Catch Fire online right here on TV Fanatic.
Don't miss what's next for Pace as he'll be playing John DeLorean in Driven alongside the woman who makes him laugh most in the world, Judy Greer, as well as Timothy Olyphant and Jason Sudeikis.
In the meantime, be here each Saturday for a full rundown on all the remaining episodes of Halt and Catch Fire until the finale!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.