Chicago Sun-Times
October 21, 2001

Spacey touts spaced-out role in ‘K-PAX’
by Cindy Perlman

LOS ANGELES–It’s not a midlife crisis. It’s just that in the most important way, Kevin Spacey refuses to grow up.

At home in Manhattan, his mode doesn’t require a driver’s license. ”It’s basically a skateboard with handlebars and a souped-up speedometer,” he says. ”I can go about 20 mph on it. It’s great. When I’m on there in a suit and tie, with my helmet and kneepads on, I feel like I’m 12 years old again.”

He also has a youthful approach to his work.

”I approach movies the same way I did high-school plays. I respond to the story. I don’t want to know who else is in it, or even who’s directing it. I just go, ‘This is a great story. I want to play this part,’ ” he says. ”It’s no different if you’re auditioning for ‘Oklahoma’ in your school auditorium or a $100 million Hollywood movie.”

He has been a part of some of Hollywood’s best movies in the last decade. Spacey won an Oscar for playing a suburban man dissatisfied with his life in ”American Beauty” and another for the slick crime film ”The Usual Suspects.”

These days he stars in two of the most highly anticipated movies of the fall and winter season. Around Christmas, he has the lead in ”The Shipping News” with Julianne Moore. First up is ”K-PAX,” opening Friday. Spacey plays a mysterious man wandering through New York’s Grand Central Station. When police nab him, he insists that he isn’t nuts. Nope, he’s just an alien from another planet. A kindly doc at the mental hospital he’s sent to actually begins to agree that he might be telling the truth.

”A couple of years ago, I read a script for a movie called ‘K-PAX’ and fell out of my bed because it was so good,” he recalls. ”I talked to my agent and said, ‘I want to do this part of Prote.’ My agent said, ‘Kevin, stop. That’s not the part they want you for. They want you for the psychiatrist.’ ”

Casting this movie was a bit like playing musical chairs. ”At first, Will Smith was playing Prote. I was so disappointed,” Spacey says. ”Not that I don’t like Will Smith. But for whatever reason it came around back to me with Jeff Bridges playing the psychiatrist.”

Spacey stepped in and saved ”The Shipping News” from languishing in development hell after John Travolta pulled out of playing the lead role. ”I read the script years ago and wanted to do it, but it was John Travolta’s movie, so I dismissed it from my mind,” Spacey says. ”Now six years later, I’m going to play the lead role in this extraordinary, beautiful love story.

”The film coming back to me this way was truly a gift.”

The gifted Spacey hails from South Orange, N.J., where his father worked as a technical writer. At age 3, the family moved to Los Angeles where a young Spacey started acting in school plays opposite classmates Mare Winningham and Val Kilmer. He began directing, writing and acting in one-act festivals and also hit the standup comedy circuit, where he learned to do impressions.

Spacey made his film debut mugging Meryl Streep’s group therapy class in ”Heartburn.” He got noticed by critics for his role in ”Glengarry Glen Ross” after Al Pacino personally recommended him for the role. Spacey won a Tony for ”The Iceman Cometh” and then went on to win an Oscar for ”The Usual Suspects.” He won another Oscar for his role as an unhappy suburban man in ”American Beauty.”

As for the Oscar, he says, ”I’ll tell you when I started to realize the weight of it. It was about two days after the Oscars when a friend of mine sent me a list of all the actors who had won the best actor trophy. Seeing that list and seeing names like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracy blew my mind. It is immeasurable how much they have meant to me,” he says. ”That more than the night itself stunned me.”

Also a bit stunning were his first public bashings for the sentimental ”Pay It Forward,” which was a huge flop. ”There was a danger in that type of movie,” Spacey says. ”It’s what I call the goo-factor. If people feel the movie is sentimental or has a do-gooder factor to it, people say, ‘Oh no!’ But I loved the sentiment of that movie. It asks you to look at that heinous part of yourself, the dark spot we all have, and say, ‘Can’t you find it in your heart to be kind to another person or maybe a poor little actor?’ ”

His feelings toward stardom waver ”Fame could only hinder me if I changed the way I make choices,” he says. ”It’s not easy to keep those things at bay, but I continue to call myself a character actor, no matter how many times people call me a movie star.”

Distributed by Big Picture News, Inc., Copyright 2001, Digital Chicago Inc.