Lee Pace, who plays Joe MacMillan on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, discusses saying goodbye to the show, how Joe has changed through the years, and why Cameron is both a blessing and a curse in Joe’s life.
Q: Did knowing this was the final season change your approach or add any pressure?
A: It’s been a real gift to me. I loved making this show and making this character and every year, I’ve never been certain that we would be picked up for another season. When we finished the third season, I thought we’d made something really special, and when they told us they were giving us a fourth and final, I was just very grateful to get another shot to play another season. I love everyone we work with so much. It was a real privilege to be with them another year. Our understanding of the story and these characters have deepened every year and this year, even more so. We’ve gotten to know them so well that when the writers throw curveballs, it becomes really interesting to figure out who they are and how they react to things. That’s the work we do – interpret what the writers and the Chrises come up with.
Q: What’s been your favorite part of playing Joe MacMillan over these four seasons? What have you learned about/from him?
A: I love how much he’s changed. He’s changed so drastically over these four seasons and over almost 10 years that this story has taken place. I feel that’s very true to life. In our modern world, things change in ways where they don’t even resemble how they looked 10 years ago because things are changing so swiftly. I think we see that very much in his life. He’s very mutable and very dynamic. I can’t imagine the Joe we began the story with thinking that he would turn out the way he ultimately turns out. The Joe we find in the first episode here is someone who’s lost the whole thing. He’s out of the game and any ambitions he’s had.
Q: The opening of Episode 1 covers three years of story time. How, if at all, do you think Joe changes during that period?
A: The fact that Cameron is not returning his call puts a complete halt on his project. He hopes she’ll get back to him about the bugs. The browser they’re trying to create is a simple thing, but they have to get it right before they launch it. She’s not getting back to him because of her own challenges. The Joe in the previous seasons is in the technology for the sense of the future and how he can contribute to it. Now, he just wants to keep the people he loves with him. He doesn’t have a family or friends. He’s got Gordon and Cameron. Those are the two people in his life. He wants to very much keep them, and he’s failing.
Q: Do you think Joe hangs on to the browser idea so long because he wanted to prove he was right or because it’s his only connection to Cameron?
A: It’s not about proving he was right. He’s been right so many times, but it just hasn’t worked out. He’s always had the right idea, but that’s not necessarily enough. It still hasn’t worked out the way he’d hoped. I think he knows he’s been right… but it’s the other stuff that’s elusive to him. He knows he’s onto something with this browser idea and that it’s going to be a big deal. He just wants to be able to make it with his friends and to be talking about the work with Cameron and Gordon. It’s really simple right now for him.
Q: Joe and Gordon, while business partners, don’t seem to be on the same page about running the business. Do you think it concerns Joe that Gordon doesn’t have the same hunger he seems to have?
A: Joe’s not going to be returning the phone calls to keep the network alive. That’s not what he does. He’s an innovator. He chases new ideas. He’s not an empathetic person. [Laughs] He wants his friends to play his game. I guess that’s his flaw. He wants to be in the sandbox with his friends, but he wants his friends to be building the same sandcastle. They’re just different perspectives of really wanting the same thing, which is to make something with your friend. They just want it in a different way.
Q: It’s no coincidence that when Joe sees Cameron again, he gets the idea for the index for the web. What is it about her that makes his brain fire?
A: It’s a blessing and a curse. Her presence in his life makes him think in a way that’s outside the box, and he appreciates the idea of an outsider. He loves the misfits and the people who are unreasonable. That’s who he is and that’s who she is. [Director] Karyn Kusama has been with us from the very beginning. She had this great comment she made to me about how these people can be their weird selves around each other. It’s that simple. Joe can be himself around Cameron and Gordon. Just her being in the room allows him to be creative and gets him excited in the right way. It’s her. It’s the magic and creative spirit of the whole thing. It’s the electricity in the air that gives him the idea to move forward and continue pursuing her. He can be beaten down – and that’s what we see in this first episode. He just doesn’t have it in him to give up.
Q: Episode 2 is really one long phone call between Joe and Cameron. Do you think part of Joe is simply afraid to hang up?
A: Why would he hang up? He’s been wanting her to call him back for months. He’s got her on the line. He can’t get enough of her. He loves her more than he loves himself. He’s not hanging up for anything. If she wants to talk about TV in America, he’s going to talk about TV in America. If she wants to talk about vulnerability, he’s going to go there, too. He’s going to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. He’s humble and there for her. He’s not manipulating her or anything. As long as she stays on the phone with him, he’ll give her anything she wants.
Q: Joe tells Cameron about his dad dying and nobody being at the funeral. How big of an impact has that made on Joe?
A: On this show, there are characters where we see a big glimpse into their private life, like Donna and Gordon, and how they feel about things. Joe is an extremely private character and he doesn’t talk about how he feels about things. In the first season, he would only talk about how he felt about things when he was lying about them. The fact that he’s able to articulate things he feels in an honest way is a big deal for him. It’s a small thing for some characters on our show. Just like life, there are some people who are an open book, but that’s not who Joe is. But he is now and I find that interesting.
Q: At the end of the premiere, it seems Cameron and Joe are on the way toward being back together. Is that what Joe wants? Does he even know?
A: He’s not planning ahead. I don’t think he feels entitled to a relationship. I think he just feels happy that she’ll have him around. I think he understands why she’d want to leave. She’s going through a divorce and it’s a tricky time. He just honestly cares about her and wants her to be in good shape. He’s not even thinking about himself. He’s had a marriage break-up, so he knows. There are a lot of complicated emotions that come with that and hardly any clear conclusions. He just understands. He knows what it’s like to be young and bold and feel like there are no consequences, and what it’s like for reality to come knocking on the door. That’s the kind of humbleness he’s bringing to this.
Q: What has this series meant to you personally?
A: I feel like we’ve had this interesting gift that’s been on the air for four years now. We don’t get a huge amount of viewers, so we’re able to be in our own corner of the classroom just working away on it and be as truthful as we can and make something we like. That’s been a great experience – to not feel a huge amount of pressure, but a real freedom. I’ve enjoyed the conversations with the writers and other actors, in that way. It’s been a really unique thing. That’s what’s been special about this project.
Q: Without spoiling anything, are you happy with where Joe ends up?
A: Once he identified love simply as the thing he was fighting for in his life, I wanted to end the season knowing that he felt worthy of the love he was seeking. That’s the criteria I use to judge the end of the season. To say any more would give it away.
Read a Q&A with Mackenzie Davis, who plays Cameron.
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