CHANGE OF PACE
Pushing Daisies is a love story and a murder mystery with a whimsical twist. Guy Davis talked love, life and death with its star, Lee Pace.
OAn unconventional combination of mystery and romantic comedy keeps Lee Pace smiling. ver the years, the term “quirky” has gone from being a mark of distinction to a warning sign. To help their work stand out from the crowd, many creative types throw in all manner of oddball bits and pieces, and the results can be twee, too cute by half or just plain annoying.
But quirk isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, when it’s done right, a movie, song or TV show that is a little offbeat can provide a terrific, refreshing contrast to the mainstream.
The new series Pushing Daisies … well, it’s a little weird. How else are you going to describe a whimsical romantic comedy about a mild-mannered baker who can bring people back from the dead?
“I always feel so stupid, like I’m not doing the show justice when I try to say ‘I play Ned, who can touch dead people and bring them back to life, but if I touch them a second time, then they die. And if I keep them alive for more than a minute, then someone else will die’,” said Lee Pace, the star of the series.
“It makes it sound like CSI with a twist. It’s a really tricky one to describe.”
That it is, but in a good way. In a twist on the usual crime-investigation yarn, Ned uses his gift to help ill-tempered detective Emerson (Chi McBride) crack murder cases.
But one of their cases has a heartbreaking twist when they discover that the victim is Charlotte (Anna Friel), the childhood sweetheart Ned never stopped loving.
He brings her back to life but can now never touch her again. The course of true love rarely runs smooth, but on Pushing Daisies it tends to involve beekeepers’ suits or a whole lot of plastic wrap.
So it’s a romance with a slightly melancholy touch, and a murder mystery with a playful side. Tough sell. But the generally optimistic and hopeful tone of the show gives it an appeal all of its own.
The likeable cast helps a lot as well, with charming UK actor Friel and imposing tough-guy actor McBride adding texture to the series.
But much of Pushing Daisies’ success hinges on the character of Ned, the kind of role that requires both the presence of a leading man and the charms of a character actor. And Pace brings both to the table.
Series creator Bryan Fuller knew he needed Ned to be “this likeable guy”. Having worked with Pace on his short-lived but critically acclaimed series Wonderfalls, he believed the 30-year-old actor to be “adorable, violently charming and intensely likeable”.
So he crafted the central role with Pace in mind. Pretty flattering, you might imagine, but there was a hitch. When it came time to line up the show’s cast, Pace was completing an eye-catching supporting role in The Good Shepherd and the actor’s representatives were more focused on film roles.
“His agents shut the door in our faces,” Fuller said.
Fortunately, wiser heads soon prevailed. “The more I thought about it, I couldn’t see it going wrong,” Pace said.
Born in Oklahoma, Pace grew up in Texas, where he initially excelled as a swimmer. But when injuries forced him to quit the pool, his mother suggested drama and debating as alternatives.
Pace soon won praise for his theatre work, as well as his performance as a transsexual in the telemovie Soldier’s Girl.
When it came time to audition for the role of Ned on Pushing Daisies, he was confident. Not only did he have the support of the show’s creator, he felt the network executives were behind him as well.
“Everyone in the room really wants you to get it,” he said.
“You wouldn’t be there unless they really wanted you to get it. They want you to come in and be yourself and knock it out of the park. They don’t want to see you try to be George Clooney. They don’t want to see you try to be something that you’re not.”
And he clearly did, achieving both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his performance as Ned. While the show has not been renewed for a new season, Pace revealed that he had nothing but good memories of making Pushing Daisies.
“With this show, it’s just so fun and light-hearted,” he said. “I don’t wake up grumpy. I wake up and it’s ‘Ah, it’s a sunny day in LA and I get to go shoot Pushing Daisies’.”
Colourful characters: From left, Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth and Chi McBride negotiate life in a different way in the playful drama Pushing Daisies.