Associated Press – Unknown writer

Kevin Spacey feared typecasting

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Even with one Oscar behind him, Kevin Spacey felt backed in a corner where Hollywood would come looking only when it needed the sort of sinister, lunatic-fringe type the actor was known for.

Around the time he won the supporting-actor Oscar for 1995’s The Usual Suspects, Spacey embarked on a methodical voyage to remake his career and the kinds of roles he could land.

He feared he’d become typecast as a dark knight of the soul by such roles as the diabolical serial killer in Seven or Verbal Kint, the gimpy, fast-talking hoodlum in Usual Suspects, who turns out to be the most menacing of puppetmasters.

Spacey gravitated to more nuanced roles, more fully human characters: a corrupt cop in L.A. Confidential, a charming socialite tried for murder in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, an expert hostage mediator in The Negotiator.

Capping Spacey’s reinvention of himself was his second Oscar, the best-actor honor for his take on Lester Burnham, a bumbling family man elevated to a state of grace through the oddest of mid-life crises in American Beauty.

“I came out of 1995 with a real sense that a very deep and dark impression had been laid on me as an actor,” Spacey, 40, said in an interview to promote his new film, The Big Kahuna. “So I went on a little journey to play roles that were less black and white, more gray, more ambiguous, with a sort of moral shifting ground. I was trying to lead myself toward the kind of characters I’ve more often played in the theater, which are very close to Lester Burnham and very close to Larry,” the cynical yet honorable salesman Spacey plays in the new movie.

Co-starring Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli, Big Kahuna is a dialogue-driven character piece confined almost entirely to a hotel suite, where three hapless industrial-lubricant salesmen hope to land a critical but elusive customer.

The movie opened in New York City and Los Angeles last month and expands to more cities this weekend. It’s based on the play Hospitality Suite by Roger Rueff, who also wrote the screenplay. Spacey first read Hospitality Suite in 1991, and did a staged reading of it in New York that helped land an agent for Rueff, a chemical engineer.

The play had several stage productions, but Spacey and theater director John Swanbeck knew they wanted to collaborate themselves on the story. Spacey’s busy schedule made a stage version unlikely, so they decided to make the project the debut of Spacey’s movie company, Trigger St. Productions, with Swanbeck directing.

The shoot came together in a hurry. Spacey had just finished American Beauty and had a few days before beginning rehearsals for the New York run of The Iceman Cometh last year. Since he had done the play in London, Spacey figured he could duck out early on rehearsals and shoot the film at night.

Iceman director Howard Davies agreed to cut him loose early during the first couple weeks of rehearsal, and the $1.8 million Big Kahuna was shot in just 16 days. It helped having a cloistered set – basically three guys in a room talking, with just a few street and corridor scenes and a few fantasy sequences requiring a roomful of extras.

Though Spacey, DeVito and Facinelli play a marketing team, the story puts them at sharp ideological odds. Spacey’s Larry talks trash and is quick to criticize Phil (DeVito) for renting a “hospitality closet” with carrot sticks for hors d’oeuvres, and the youthful Bob (Facinelli) for his dogmatic religious zeal. “You ought to apply for sainthood,” Larry tells Bob. “The competition’s not as stiff as it used to be.”

Unlike salesmanship tales such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Death of a Salesmen, in which ruthlessness rules, Big Kahuna evolves into a bittersweet story of friendship. Phil, disheartened by divorce and disillusioned over missed opportunities, bares his soul and elicits surprising compassion from the abrasive Larry. “I’m suddenly very conscious of the lateness of things,” Larry says, as much to himself as to the others, after the facades of all three men have fallen away.

“I actually began to view the piece as one man at three different stages in his life,” Spacey said. “You could absolutely understand that the very questions Bob thinks he’s answered concretely are the very questions that Larry doesn’t want to get close to and that Phil finally needs to get back to in his life. You could very easily see that they could walk in each other’s shoes.”

It’s a smallish film, but Spacey’s Oscar win might draw moviegoers. “I hope the movie won’t be impaired by the fact that people might want me to go away for awhile,” he says, “and I promise I am going away for awhile.” Spacey’s taking time off at least till fall after wrapping production on his next film, Pay It Forward. The drama casts him as a teacher severely burned as a child who makes an unusual connection with a student (Haley Joel Osment) and the boy’s mother (Helen Hunt). The movie is due in theaters this fall.

Early next year, Spacey is scheduled to begin work on The Shipping News, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx. He said he wants to produce more movies, particularly independent features to showcase new talent, as Big Kahuna did for Facinelli, Swanbeck and Rueff. “To me, the point of having a production company is to be able to give opportunities to those who haven’t had them before, and step back and let them run with the ball,” Spacey said. “If it were not for people who stepped forward and gave me opportunities at a time when I had not proved myself at all, believe me, I would not have a career.”