Passion that borders on obsession, undeniable charm, and a sense of otherworldliness—these are the hallmarks of Lee Pace’s performances, whether he’s leading quirky supernatural dramedies or appearing in blockbuster franchises like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films and the mega-profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe. These facets all come together for his latest film, the Nick Hamm-directed Driven. Not quite a biopic, not quite a heist movie, Driven centers on John DeLorean, the not-quite-notorious American engineer who gave the world the Pontiac GTO and Firebird as well as the DeLorean DMC-12 of Back To The Future fame.
In attempting to ensure that he wasn’t solely remembered for losing virtually everything, DeLorean fell into the ludicrously orchestrated cocaine deal that makes up much of Driven’s plot. The film, which was shot in Puerto Rico before and after the island was devastated by two hurricanes, gives as much credence to DeLorean’s singular vision as it does his lack of business acumen, filtering DeLorean’s downfall (although he was saved a conviction) through the perspective of his neighbor (played by Jason Sudeikis) with his own ulterior motives.
But, as Pace made sure we understood, DeLorean’s life was even more complicated than any bizarre anecdote or one film could properly convey. With Driven now out in theaters and on demand, The A.V. Club spoke to the erstwhile elf king about myths, revivals, golf courses, and the resurgence of the narrative of American ingenuity.
The A.V. Club: For most people, John DeLorean’s legacy is primarily made up of the DMC DeLorean, the car seen in Back To The Future, and his big run-in with the law. How familiar were you with the rest of his story when you signed on to Driven?
Lee Pace: I actually didn’t know much about him when I took on the role. What I knew about John DeLorean was the car, and I guess my first exposure to the car was the car in Back To The Future when I was a kid. But then you kind of gain awareness as you grow up about him being this incredible guy and how he was involved in something so controversial. I read the script and I kind of didn’t believe it was true at first, which I found really interesting—just the kind of truthiness, which I find a real part of our culture today. It’s kind of in the way people debate today, the way they discredit each other and call each other liars. They try to make each other out as frauds. That was what was so appealing about the film, is that I didn’t know what to believe about who John was or what he’d done. This is also obviously a story seen through the eyes of Tim Hoffman, who was his neighbor and is brilliantly played by Jason Sudeikis in the film. So what we see is really a question of who John DeLorean is, which doesn’t really bear the burden of meeting reality.
AVC: It does seem that even with the most well-known figures, we’re only ever getting part of the story. Especially in this case, where Jason [Sudeikis] has flat-out described his character as as an unreliable narrator.
LP: Yes, but I feel like that’s so common when it comes to stories about John DeLorean. So I ended up doing a lot of the research; I read John’s autobiography, and then I talked to a lot of people who knew him or had done business with him in the past, and first of all you hear the most insane anecdotes about him. Just insane stories.
AVC: What’s the most memorable one?
LP: Oh my god, well, here’s one—the factory he had in Belfast was firebombed and the only things that were found that weren’t destroyed were the financial records and the engineering sketches. After the cocaine scandal, DeLorean tried to reinvent himself as a watch designer and had a whole company with investors, people who were pre-purchasing these fancy luxury watches, and he actually passed away before anyone ever got a watch, and they never even went into production. But he was able to keep the money. [Laughs.] They had bought into the dream that he was selling. So I mean there’s so many incredible stories about who he was and I found it interesting. I found him to be kind of a very 21st-century entrepreneur in the vein of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, these people who have this magical way of thinking. The only enemy they can encounter really is reality, which I think got to John. Because then—look, he had created the GTO, the Firebird. These are cars we still see on the road. And there are so many things he invented inside automobiles that are in all the cars that we drive. And what he had in mind with the DeLorean was great—a car made out of stainless steel so it could never rust. Side-hinge doors so you can park it anywhere. This is innovative thinking and I believe if he had had luck on his side when he was trying to manufacture this car, the result would have been very different than the way it turned out.
AVC: Were you much of a car guy growing up?
LP: Not exactly, although I do remember the cars I had. God, there was a time when I was desperate for a GTO. I even looked at Craigslist. I used to have this great ’83 Chevy, so much fun. When I was in high school, I had an ’85 Jetta called a Wolfsburg and I remember stalling all over Houston, Texas learning how to drive it. A Jeep Cherokee is what I drove to California the first time I went to L.A. That was the greatest car. Indestructible.
AVC: You mentioned visionaries earlier—that’s the kind of role you really became familiar with, albeit without the FBI stings, on Halt And Catch Fire. Do you think, given everything else that’s going on in the world, that audiences are more primed right now for these stories about that kind of “American ingenuity”?
LP: Yeah, but I also think there’s another color to the American hero story, really. You see it in [Halt And Catch Fire’s] Joe Macmillan and now John. They’re not people-minded people. They’re not—they’re just unrealistic in their approach, but that’s kind of the amazing thing about them. I think we need people like that. I like that quality of [John’s].
Our director, Nick Hamm, is very much like that, too. Right before we started shooting, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, and then Hurricane Maria came through and shut down production. There was so much destruction left behind, and we all got evacuated and I was convinced we weren’t going to come back to finish the movie. But Nick was determined to finish the movie, and just as important, so was the crew in Puerto Rico. And want to talk vision—I’ve never seen a harder-working group of people, you know? Thinking on their feet, thinking smart, coming together as a group to solve problems, from “Oh, the pool is now full of dirt” and “We have to make it look like southern California in the ’80s” to making sure everyone on the film set had pipes and water and food or fuel to run their generators. Tara Summers [Pace’s Driven co-star] came down with a suitcase full of solar-powered lights for the crews to bring back to their communities and give out to people. At the head of that was Nick Hamm, who would just not allow this movie to fall apart, and similar to DeLorean, just trying to keep the thing going. [Laughs.] I mean, look, no one in our movie did a drug deal to keep this thing alive. I mean, John really crossed the line with trying to get involved in a $30 million drug deal, which is insane that he tried to do. I do think the spirit behind that was well-meaning, though.
AVC: Were you aware of the other John DeLorean production that came out earlier this year, Framing John DeLorean? It’s a documentary with reenactments by John Travolta.
LP: Is it John Travolta? I thought it was Alec Baldwin.
AVC: Oh, sorry—yes, of course, Alec Baldwin. I thought about the wig I saw in a still and my mind immediately went to John Travolta.
LP: [Laughs.] I mean, there could be. Why don’t we—Let’s all take a stab at it.
I didn’t really know about it beforehand; I didn’t become aware of it until it was released. But it’s funny, because a bunch of years ago, I did a movie about Truman Capote. It was called Infamous, and that came out the same year as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s movie Capote came out. So it’s just a bizarre thing that happens with stories that get told. I think there’s just something about them that makes us want to talk about them no matter what the time period.
AVC: Is there someone whose life you’d want to bring to life on screen? This isn’t exactly a biopic, but—
LP: Yeah, it’s not really about John DeLorean’s story, it’s more about this FBI informant neighbor who we learn nothing about, because he’s in witness protection. I’d say this is painted more as the anti-biopic—it’s not really about John DeLorean’s life, but this one act. I don’t want to say that he was bad, because I really don’t think he was. I know I initially said that this drug deal is a big part of the way he’s remembered, but from the research I’ve done and seeing the things that he accomplished, I just think there’s so much more to him than that.
I don’t know, if you had asked me five years ago if I’d be playing John DeLorean, I wouldn’t have seen myself doing it. Actually, when Nick first asked me, I thought, “Are you kidding? I don’t look anything like him. I’m 20 years too young to play this. I don’t really understand why you’re asking me to do this.” But I’m so glad we did it. It’s such a worthy challenge with such an inspiring group of people.
But I learned so much. An interesting little factoid: After the coke scandal, John went bankrupt and lost his Bedminster, New Jersey estate. It’s now currently a Trump golf course.
AVC: That is simultaneously a strange thing to hear and yet not at all surprising.
LP: Isn’t it? [Laughs.]
AVC: Your passion for your work is always obvious, but is there any one role or production you’re proudest of?
LP: One that I’m most proud of? I’m not sure… I will say one that I’m uniquely proud to have been a part of was Tarsem Singh’s The Fall. Looking back, I can’t believe my good fortune with that, because it was on that shoot that I really learned how to do this job. I hadn’t really done film before that; Soldier’s Girl was the first [TV] movie I was in. And then I went on to The Fall, which shot in so many different countries. So many incredible artists working on that film, and Tarsem was just a great director to be on set with. I was so fresh when I did that. I didn’t really understand how the camera worked, back when I was shooting that. I think about that movie a lot now, and what a gift it was to be a part of that.
AVC: You recently said you’re up for whatever Pushing Daisies revival Bryan Fuller puts together. After revisiting the role of Ronan The Accuser in Captain Marvel, are there any other properties you’d like to return to? Because Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings series is set in the Second Age, which is a lengthy period of time, but that also means there’s a lot of interesting stuff you could dig into as Thranduil.
LP: [Laughs.] Oh wow, you know your Tolkien! Yeah, Thranduil is actually a very interesting part of the Second Age. But there are so many stories to tell that you never know who they’ll focus on. But Thranduil is—that character is so much fun. I mean, what a dream. To get to play with Tolkien? It’s just such a privilege.