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SYFY WIRE Foundation

Lee Pace says 'Foundation' presents a world where 'anything is possible'

By Tara Bennett
AppleTV+ Foundation Lee Pace

Lee Pace wants you to know his sci-fi love runs deep. The actor's certainly been cast in an array of modern sci-fi and fantasy classics, including TV's Pushing Daisies and movie franchises like The Twilight Saga, The Hobbit, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the upcoming Apple TV+ series adaptation of author Isaac Asimov's Foundation, which co-stars Pace, might achieve pinnacle geek for the actor.

Foundation takes place in the Galactic Empire, which has existed for 12,000 years. However, Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), a brilliant mathematician, determines through specific calculations that the empire will fall in 300 years and won't recover for 30,000 years unless the leaders follow his path to lessen the destruction.

In the series — developed by David S. Goyer — the leaders of the empire are actually a trio of clones made from the original Emperor, Cleon the First. They have been created to sustain their unending rule, so there are always three Cleons ruling together at different life stages: Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), Brother Day (Pace) and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann). Together, they are parents, mentors and co-leaders to one another until Dusk finally dies. Then each shift into the next role and a new Brother Day is born. Rinse and repeat in a never-ending dynasty of power.

Pace is the haughty Day, always asserting his perceived excellence amongst the three, but still doomed and destined to live on the shadow of exact copies of himself. It's heady stuff and Pace is clearly delighted to be playing in such a thought-provoking sandbox. SYFY WIRE spoke with Pace about his history with the book, how Goyer enticed him to jump aboard and what the Brothers say about ourselves now.

Was it Asimov's book or Goyer's pitch that convinced you to join Foundation?

I'm gonna give two answers to what you've just asked me. The first is I knew Foundation before they gave me this book. I'm a huge sci-fi reader. When they told me about it, I was like there's no way they're going to be able to make a show about this. It's too big. The ideas are too big. There's too many characters, I don't understand how you can dramatize it in this medium. But then I read Goyer's first three scripts. He sent them to me, and he was like, "This is what I'm working on. I would like for you to play Brother Day." And he cracked it. He was able to create these characters that you can emotionally invest in that will, potentially, if we get the good luck of getting to do more seasons, really take us through the 1,000 years that we will need to tell this story.

The Cleons are a new element invented by Goyer. What were your thoughts about what they represent and how they rule?

The thing about the Cleons that I found most interesting, it's like a riddle about inherited power. Here we are on Earth, we're very familiar with monarchies and very familiar with certain classes of people who can hold power. But they're fascinating to me, and this can only really happen in science fiction where you can abstract something so that you can remove all the triggers that get us into the circular conversations that we have about the world that we currently live in. Let's remove all those triggers, expand the idea to take over the entire Milky Way galaxy, and look at what this autocrat is.

He is living in this fantasy of control. He believes he has control over the entire Milky Way galaxy. He believes he can live forever by cloning himself. He's lived for 400 years, and he will continue to live maintaining this imperishable permanence. I'm not playing a man. I'm playing a role that many men will fill, right? That role is of the Emperor of the galaxy. But these individuals that slide into it are responding to different circumstances, are educated in different ways. Although they are living in the fantasy that they are the same man, I think what we're starting to see in this first season, we're watching them realize that they have sentience, that they have individuality.

The interesting question becomes, what's next? Day is looking towards Dawn and saying, "This is the blocking. Here are the lines, here are your props, here's the costumes. This is what happens when you inherent his supreme power. This is how you keep the balance." But he's also looking towards Dusk and saying, "You made a lot of mistakes. Now that I'm in control, I'm going to do it like this. I'm going to distinguish myself and I'm going to be better than you ever were." There's such an interesting conflict inside of that to me. And once Hari Seldon's math convinces them that they're doomed, and they're forced to start improvising, what happens next?

I'm curious, is there something that you talked with Goyer about, or you just dialed into that's a trait specific to Day as this clone stuck between two versions of himself?

I'm very cautious to say too much, because I really want the audience to be able to come to these characters as I got to come to them. So, take anything I say with a grain of salt as it's really only my opinion. I stand by my words, but I want people to have the freedom to interpret and solve this riddle for themselves. What I will say about Cleon is that one of the things that I find interesting about him is that he's extraordinarily clever. He's like a two-strike hitter. He's watching, watching, watching, but when his back is against the wall, you cannot beat him. He is unbeatable. He will dominate. He always has dominated, and he always will dominate. I think that in a way is his curse. He can't be stopped and it prevents him from seeing the change that he needs.

Depending on the lens in which you view life, the Cleons are the ultimate representation of unending power, or they're rather tragic repeats of the same thing. How do you look at them?

When I talked to David, [I asked] "What is this show about? What is it about?" One of the things he says is that it's about change. It's about the principle of change. The one thing you can bet on is that things will change. Yet we are resisting change. We are holding on to it as tight as we can, and we will fight like hell to stop change from happening because we believe that it is the best thing for mankind and for the people that we have taken on the responsibility for. The only thing we know how to do is hold the monopoly of violence. That's the only thing we know. You compare us to a character like Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), who couldn't be more different than the Emperor of the galaxy, but someone who we look at with the same weight that we hold the Emperor of the galaxy. She never chooses violence. She tries to always find another solution to the problems, so these characters absolutely foil each other in a way that makes their story clear.

What in your opinion as a sci-fi enthusiast is the allure of this adaptation?

I think the way that they have created the spaceships and the planets and the effects is, in my opinion as a fan of this stuff, exquisite. But the story is about the people. The story is about what does it mean to be a human? Where does your soul reside? Is it in your body? What happens when you lose your body? And what questions can we investigate with math? Math can quantify minutes, but does it really give you an accurate picture of the change? What is better explored through the realm of spirit? What does that teach us?

It's a novel, this show. It's a big, big story, so knock wood we get the opportunity to really take our time with it and investigate it. I think that in this world, anything is possible.

The first two episodes of Foundation premiere globally on Friday, Sept. 24, on Apple TV+, followed by one new episode every Friday through Nov. 19.

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