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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—Part of the secret of getting what you want is not wanting it anymore. At least that’s what actor Lee Pace learned after he returned from London, where he had co-starred as the baddie in “The Good Shepherd.”


Pace checked into a meditation retreat—“... probably to detox for the amount I drank while I was in London,” he laughs. “One of the things that they work on with you there, is that you can let go of anything. You just let it go. You sit there for hours during the day just meditating and being quiet. Your back hurts, you get tired and hungry and the whole point of the practice is you just let it go ... You can really bring that into life. You can let anything go, bad feelings about things, attachment to things that aren’t useful to your life. You can just let it go.”


Many actors are so absorbed in the parts they are playing that they never correlate the roles with their lives. Pace is not one of those. In fact, his role as the magical Ned in ABC’s whimsical “Pushing Daisies” has accelerated his interest in the meaning behind the words.


Ned can miraculously bring people back to life by the mere touch of his finger. “I do think I’ve been away from spirituality since I left home at 17,” says the 6-foot-4-inch Pace. “So now I think I’m coming back to it in a way I hadn’t before. I’d forgotten it’s an important thing to give thought to your morality and how you intend to live your life.”


When he was barely a teenager Pace had to learn to let go of the biggest passion of his life: swimming.


He was a competitive swimmer even before high school. “I would get these really terrible earaches and I had to go to the doctor and they’d poke a hole or put in tubes to release the pressure. And it got to the point where it was causing me so much pain to swim, and I was really running the risk of losing my hearing that I had to give up swimming. I was devastated! When you’re 15 years old it’s the worst thing ever,” he shakes his head.


“My mom was like, `Why don’t you maybe do theater arts?’ I said, `You’ve got to be kidding. That sounds like the worst thing ever!’ But I did it. I liked it. I’m glad she (said that) because I liked it and still like it.”


Pace later studied at Juilliard. “It’s a drama school, and it’s not real world at all but you learn the craft of acting in a really intensive way,” he says. “But as far as my grown-up life in acting goes, I love it. I wouldn’t’ give it up for anything.”


What Pace likes is the problem-solving aspect of acting. He earned his first major kudos for Showtime’s “The Soldier’s Girl,” in which he played a transgender nightclub performer whose sweetheart is murdered. “I felt I couldn’t do it at all during `Soldier’s Girl,’” he sighs.


“I didn’t know how cameras worked and I wasn’t eating anything because I had to lose so much weight for it and was running around on the set in a dress. I remember thinking, `This character’s so far from me I don’t know WHAT I’m doing. I’m kind of trusting Frank Pierson, who’s directing it, and crying a lot,’ and I just didn’t know what I was doing. I walked off that set the last day thinking, `I’ve just done the most horrible performance and I’m never going to work again.’


“But then I watched it, and that’s what he caught. He caught a woman who was dealing with a crisis in her life. I was dealing with a crisis in my life because it was my first movie. You take that feeling with you. So after that you go into things thinking, `OK, this movie’s about something pretty rough and chances are I’m not going to feel good for the next month and a half.’”


The positive news, says Pace, is that your work can also make you feel good. “Shooting `Pushing Daisies,’ I’ve never felt better,” he smiles. “It’s a show about life. Ned is someone who gives life who has the gift of life ...”


When Pace was 2 his dad, who was in the oil business, moved the family from Oklahoma to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. His third and fourth year of school Pace went to India for two months. He’s shot movies in China, South Africa and India.


“That made it possible for me to make all these changes,” says Pace, 28. “Once it’s unlocked, the world is really much smaller than you think.”


A chance visit to a church in New York with an eloquent pastor also endowed Pace with a new perspective.


“He said something that day: that one of the things that separates humans from animals is that humans know they are going to die, that somewhere down the line they’re going to die which makes them turn toward their faith. I think that’s really, really interesting. Maybe animals do know they’re going to die, but the way that humans deal with that is by supporting this idea of faith—not what is going to happen after I die but what do I do now before I die to make my life worthwhile?”


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“Men in Trees,” climbs back to ABC again on Oct. 12. The show, which stars Anne Heche, is about a city girl who’s supposed to know all about what makes relationships tick, but the truth is she’s as confused as anyone. Jenny Bicks, the show’s creator, admits she’s up the same sycamore.


“I still don’t know anything at all about relationships,” she says. “So for me it’s always interesting to write this show because we’re always examining what a relationship is, whether it’s with a town, whether it’s a love relationship, or there’s a friend relationship, that’s always endlessly interesting to me because I continue to be completely befuddled by them.”


___


Connie Britton might be overlooked in a show about football, but as everybody knows, NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” isn’t about football. It’s about people. And we haven’t had that luxury since reality shows hit pay dirt. Britton plays the coach’s wife, who’s also a guidance counselor. But she’s also a woman of Teflon backbone and solid opinions. “I think the fact that our show takes place in the South was really helpful to me,” says Britton.


“There’s something about Southern women—and I grew up in the South. There’s something about Southern women that has always kind of exemplified a strong, feisty woman with a sense of humor—but in unconventional circumstances. So in that way she really kind of breaks out. So I think that our circumstances really allow for a lot of freedom in that way. And these guys (the writers) gave us a great platform, and it was a big risk at the beginning. I don’t know if you remember that or not, but we weren’t sure where the character was going to go. And the writers really ran with it. And I think being the high school counselor helped.”


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Daphne Zuniga plays Carly Summers, the main subject of the first episode of “nip/tuck’s” fall season, premiering Oct. 30 on FX. Zuniga, still beloved from her role on “Melrose Place,” says she was a big troublemaker when she was young.


“My parents got divorced. I was very stressed and I acted all my anger and confusion out at school. When I was 12 I had a teacher who took me out of class and I thought, `Oh, great, he’s taking me to the principal’s office like every other teacher has.’ He brought me down to the conference room and said, `Daphne, this is Miss so-and-so. This is drama class. I’m going to leave you here for the rest of the day.’ I fell in love. We played games. It was the beginning of this thing I was supposed to do. I did a play that year and it just never stopped. It was the insight of that teacher to see that kind of misguided acting out, aggressiveness. His name was Mr. Knorr.”

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