Halt and Catch Fire Q&A Lee Pace (Joe MacMillan) -
Q: Joe has always been a character who is able to transform himself. How would you describe his latest transformation at the beginning of Season 3?
A: I think the Joe we see at the beginning of this season is very much like Gatsby. He’s surrounded himself with some fascinating people, he’s created this mystique around him and his bad reputation is a big part of that mystique. He’s using that to become one of the thought leaders in Silicon Valley and people are listening to what he has to say. I think Joe suffered a really devastating blow by everything that happened at the end of the second season, but he was able to take the gifts Gordon gave him and build a company with it. The company he built sells anti-virus software, so what he’s doing is making people afraid so that they will require his service. It’s the first move in a long game that Joe is playing. He wants to add something incredible to the landscape of technology that is happening in San Francisco at the time, but he doesn’t have a good idea yet.
Q: How does the new setting and Joe’s new look change or impact how you play Joe?
A: They’re in Silicon Valley now and this is the big leagues. He’s no longer in Dallas in some kind of outpost of the technology community. He’s right in the center of where all the big ideas are happening, where there’s just millions and millions of dollars in investment money getting behind new technologies. There’s a community around him that is very, very exciting and he’s becoming a part of that community in a very meaningful way. That’s very different than it was for him in Texas where he had this terrible reputation and he was dealing with some people who didn’t like him very much. [Laughs] He’s suffered some incredible heartbreaks over his entire life and as he gets older, it makes him feel very empty and wonder what the point is. The place he’s in now is a very exciting place.
Q: Clearly there are similarities between Joe and Steve Jobs this season. What are the keys to bringing that type of personality to life? Did you study him specifically?
A: I’ve studied Jobs. Joe has studied Jobs. Steve Jobs is a very alive person in this world, and I think Joe is very aware of what he’s made and wishes he was capable of making something like that, too. Joe has “big picture” ideas, but he needs help to make them happen. He sees the culture and how the technology integrates into the culture. I think that’s the main thing he has in common with Steve Jobs – thinking in that very “big picture” way and that very simple way. Joe is someone who’s always evolving, always trying to figure out a better way to be. He knows this curse that seems to follow him around that’s making people not trust him. He’s done some very erratic things in the past that have made him an unreliable character and he’s got to live with that. I’ve played him for two seasons and learned a lot more about him than I knew. In the first season, I feel like I understood the mask he was wearing. Now, I think I understand a little more about who the man is. I’ve lived in his shoes as he’s gone through some very pivotal events in his life and those events have changed him.
Q: Joe has made a splash with the “Are you Safe?” campaign. How much of his big speech does Joe believe? Is he just trying to grab more headlines?
A: He knows, from personal experience, the dangers of opening your door and getting close to someone. Cameron screwed him last season — she just maliciously destroyed his life. So, he knows the damage. He’s felt the wound of that. The things that he’s saying to these people are not untrue, but …. he’s all about the work and he makes the product for free because he believes there is a bigger future for MacMillan Utility. He’s not interested in making an entire company that just sells the software. He wants MacMillan Utility to join the giants in the tech industry. He’s going to take this little product that he’s got and use it to build a reputation and a company that is capable of some extraordinary things. The way he’s doing that is selling the only thing he knows, which is his vision of what the future should be. The future he sees is something that is very democratic. It’s very much like, “This thing should be free so that you all don’t have a fear of getting into the tech landscape. Come join us. We’re all making something really cool here.” He wants people to get online and become a part of everything.
Q: What does Joe make of Ryan? Does he see some of himself in him?
A: I think he really likes Ryan, his tenacity and ambition. I think he does see a lot of himself in Ryan because he speaks about not being listened to. [Laughs] He’s got all these ideas bursting out of him and no one will listen, and Joe hears him say that and knows what that’s like. I think he sees a fighter in Ryan and he sees someone who is obviously frustrated over at Mutiny so he thinks, “This is a good fit for me. This could lead me towards the next idea.” He thinks this kid is great from the minute he sees him.
Q: Do you think Joe hires Ryan just to be malicious toward Gordon and Mutiny?
A: No. Earlier in the episode, Joe offers Gordon 70 percent of his company to come work with him. All he wants is for Gordon to stop being silly and get onboard. That’s all he’s trying to do. Ryan’s been begging to come and Joe knows how special Ryan is. There aren’t many Ryans out there and Joe is getting one of them. Joe loves Gordon and they’ve been through the trenches together. He loves Gordon’s mind and he really wants Gordon – for better or for worse – to be on this journey with him. So, he’s not messing with Gordon. He’s just trying to get Gordon to wake up and stop messing around.
Q: However, Gordon makes it clear that he wants no part of doing business with Joe. Does Joe recognize where Gordon’s anger is coming from?
A: Gordon wrote some software, but he didn’t do anything with it. He also wrote the virus, to be honest. He made the mistake. So, Joe’s taken this and he’s built a company on it. That takes a lot of work, a lot of smarts and clever moves – and that’s just the beginning of what Joe’s trying to do with MacMillan Utility. Gordon is distracted by this weird animosity towards Joe. He believes the factory is already built and he wants to be appreciated for the genius product we’re making before the product is even made. He’s resentful because Joe’s not celebrating him and giving him credit for something that’s not even made yet. Joe’s like, “Why are you distracted by this stupid thing? And why are you being so mean to me? I’m doing my best here.”
Q: Do you think Joe is misunderstood? You mentioned how malicious Cameron’s actions were last season, yet people seem to hold Joe up as the bad guy.
A: When things go wrong, people say it was all Joe’s fault and they don’t take the responsibility for their part that was played in it, but when things are going right, they think all the credit belongs to them and Joe’s just an idiot salesman who doesn’t have anything to contribute. I think they just don’t like him. That’s what it comes down to. He’s different. People who are different are easy to single out and ostracize. I think that’s a big part of what happened last season. They were all together doing their thing and it was easy to look over their shoulder at Joe and be like, “You’re different than us and I don’t like you because of it.”
Q: Why, then, do you think Joe keeps being drawn back to them? Can Joe can succeed on his own?
A: Joe believes Gordon is capable of doing some extraordinary things and I think the choice in front of him is to be involved in this person’s life and make some extraordinary things together or walk the other direction and find someone else. Joe could very easily do that. He could find another Gordon, he could find another Cameron, he could find another Ryan…but he’s very loyal. I think it’s like, “You’re one of my people.” Anything that Cameron or Gordon ever does, Joe will feel a certain amount of pride in even if he’s not involved because they’re people he chose. That’s where Joe’s head is with these people. Yeah, they might fight and resist, but the end goal is bigger. He’s got a funny way of showing it, but he really cares about these people and he’s very loyal to them.
Q: Your character seems even more separated than last year from the rest of the group. Is that hard for you as an actor?
A: I really loved working with Manish [Dayal]. He’s a really fantastic actor and I love our storyline this season. After these three years working together with Scoot [McNairy], Kerry [Bishé], Toby [Huss] and Mackenzie [Davis], we’ve become close and we work really well together. I really enjoy working with them, so of course I’m always excited when we have scenes together because it’s just a pleasure to be on set with them.