Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Even elf king Lee Pace can't stump Tolkien expert Stephen Colbert

Lee Pace, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

There’s something about Lee Pace’s persona that lends itself to inhabiting charismatic, vaguely otherworldly types. Apart from a galactic conqueror, a magical pie maker, or the odd vampire, Pace’s eerie intensity sees him making for a fine elf king in The Hobbit’s Thranduil, something that no doubt perked up Late Show host and Tolkien fanatic Stephen Colbert’s human ears when Pace was booked on Thursday’s show. And Pace was armed for bear (or Beorn) in preparing to greet the late-night superfan, rushing to return Colbert’s initial greeting with a book-appropriate reply, in the original elvish.

Or at least that was the plan, but apparently Pace’s time as Thranduil on Peter Jackson’s ill-advisedly rushed and chaotic Hobbit trilogy was still clanging around in his head, because he screwed up this simplest elven greeting. You know the one—Colbert sure did—from when Frodo greeted Gildor Inglorien on his way out of the Shire in The Fellowship Of The Ring with the sentence “Elen síla lumenn’omentielvo.” (“A star shines at the hour of our meeting.”) Pace was aghast at his stumble, but luckily Colbert was there to pick him up, not only nailing the original elvish phrase, its translation, and from and to whom it was spoken, but also offered up a handy excuse for why Pace screwed up.

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“It’s not surprising that you might have trouble saying that,” began Colbert with nerdy generosity, “because your character Thranduil is Sindar, and that sentence is actually Quenya which is the Noldorian elves language, not the Sindar elves language. You speak Sindaran, not Quenya, so it’s totally understandable.” Pace, who clearly had thought he knew what he was getting into could only goggle appreciatively as Colbert’s in-studio nerd army applauded their one, true king.

As to the reason for actually being on the show, Pace told Colbert that his lead role in the John DeLorean biopic Driven gave him yet another obsessive, ahead-of-his-time, yet ultimately frustrated innovator to play. (Plus another in his career-long parade of glorious wigs, this time that of the disgraced car designer and laughably bad cocaine salesman’s tousled, salt-and-pepper 80s hair.) Pace expressed some admiration for the late DeLorean—who did help design the GTO, to be fair—saying that Driven was another story about an idealistic dreamer whose ambitions weren’t matched with business acumen. (Noting that the DeLorean was eventually made right next to where the Titanic was built in Belfast might have been a bad omen.)

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Driven opens in theaters and VOD today.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.