CNN Connie Chung Tonight – December 30, 2002

Connie Chung: And, when we come back, looking back and paying back. Kevin Spacey puts his Web site where his mouth is.


CHUNG: If you’ve seen actor Kevin Spacey’s work over the past few years, you’d probably agree that he’s one versatile guy. He can do just about anything. If you saw “Se7en,” or “The Usual Suspects,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” or “American Beauty,” then you know just how wide-ranging his talent is. He can be kindly, he can be funny, he can be scary. So what’s the secret to Kevin Spacey? You should know that he has also undertaken one of the movie industry’s most high-minded, altruistic projects in years. Is Kevin Spacey’s big secret that he’s just one heck of a nice guy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AMERICAN BEAUTY”) ANNETTE BENING, ACTRESS: Buddy, this is my… KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Her husband. We’ve met before, but something tells me you’re going to remember me this time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHUNG (voice-over): You probably remember Kevin Spacey from his Oscar-winning performance as Lester Burnham, the suburban dad having a midlife crisis in “American Beauty.”


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE USUAL SUSPECTS”) SPACEY: The only thing that scares me is Kaiser (Keyser) Soze. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHUNG: Or you might remember him from his first Academy Award: best supporting actor in “The Usual Suspects.”


CHUNG: Spacey also had memorable roles in films such as “L.A. Confidential,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Pay it Forward.”


CHUNG: Born in New Jersey in 1959, Kevin Spacey began acting on the stage. He won a Tony Award in 1991 for “Lost in Yonkers.” He was mentored by Jack Lemmon and said he feels a responsibility to help other young actors.

SPACEY: It’s part of the payback, really. It’s an important — and it actually feels great. It really does, when you do something that you see it affects people. CHUNG: Spacey has taken most of this year off to focus on creating, a free Web site devoted to finding and helping new talent, screenwriters, and filmmakers.


CHUNG: And he’s set aside just a couple of minutes from that task to fill us in on exactly what he’s doing. Thank you.

SPACEY: Thank you for having me.

CHUNG: I am loving you. I’m loving your work. I am telling you…

SPACEY: Well, I’m glad to be here so we can talk. CHUNG: All right, we’ll talk. SPACEY: You and I together.

CHUNG: Yes. This is what we’re going to do. (LAUGHTER)

CHUNG: But you know what? It’s that little grin, that “I’m up to no good” that I love about you. And it’s the full range from devilish to downright sinister. Did your mother used to say to you, “Kevin, what are you up to?”

SPACEY: Well, yes, I did get away with a lot as a kid, but my mom raised me right. So I’m making up for it now.

CHUNG: You’re a good boy?

SPACEY: Yes, I’m making up for it now.

CHUNG: OK, you credit two people in particular for sort of jump- starting your career. Tell me about them.

SPACEY: Well, the first, which we saw just a little clip of, is the great late Jack Lemmon, who I actually met when I was 14 years old.

CHUNG: Really?

SPACEY: Yes. I went to a seminar. I still remember the moment I shakily walked up to him to ask for his autograph and asked if he had any advice. And he gave me advice.

CHUNG: Because, at that time, you already knew you wanted to be an actor?

SPACEY: I already knew. I knew when I was about 8.

CHUNG: You’re kidding?


CHUNG: How come?

SPACEY: For me, it was an incredible world where you could escape. I grew up sort of watching the late movies and admiring actors enormously. And I think my parents would say I was always the class clown and the one making the silly voices in the back of the room. So, Lemmon actually gave me some pretty great advice and said that, if I was serious about it, I ought to come to New York. I ought to study. I did. I went to Juilliard here for a number of years. And then, finally, I met him again in an audition for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which we’ve been looking at a clip of. And I ended up playing his son for more than a year.

CHUNG: But then you worked with him several more times.

SPACEY: Yes, we did.

CHUNG: His mentoring didn’t stop.

SPACEY: No. And aside from the joy of being able to work with him and how much I admired him, I think his example, of being able to work with somebody who had reached the pinnacle of success, who never allowed Hollywood glory to go to his head, and who really is the person who kind of gave me the phrase that if you’ve done well in whatever business you’re in, then you ought to spend about half of your time sending the elevator back down.

CHUNG: So good. Such a good thought, but you’ve moved it into action. OK, the other person who was key in your life?

SPACEY: The other person I think, really, was the first film director who ever fought for me against the studios, which was Alan Pakula. And I did a film with him called “Consenting Adults.” It was, for me, an extraordinary beginning, because it was really only after that studios began to pay attention to me. And it was because one person stood up and said, “No, I think this actor is the right actor for the role,” even though, at that point, I was really kind of a obscure theater actor.

CHUNG: All right, so, let’s get to your Web site. It’s payback time. You decide you are really going to do something for — really put your heart and soul into it for a whole year. So, you take off work, doing any movies or whatever.

SPACEY: That’s right. CHUNG: And now this is your dream.

SPACEY: Well, what’s great about talking with you tonight is that this almost gets to be a little bit of an update about how it’s doing. And Dana Brunetti, who is my business partner in this adventure, and, actually, I should credit with this being really his idea, after a series of conversations we had about things that I was frustrated by in the industry, the first being, you can’t take unsolicited material, that little manila envelope that arrives at your office that could be a great screenplay.

CHUNG: And why not?

SPACEY: Well, because there’s all kinds of legal reasons why you can’t open unsolicited material. But the fact of the matter is, is that I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for unsolicited material, because of the first-time directors, second-time screenwriters, first- time playwrights who gave me a chance and I took a chance on. I felt it was somehow odd that I’m suddenly cut off from that whole pipeline of talent. So, Dana came up with this idea and approached me with it a little more than a year ago.

And, essentially, it is — right now, there’s an online short film festival and a screenwriting forum. It doesn’t cost anybody any money. All you have to do is go the site, you have to register, go through the process, and then you have to read, rate and review or watch, rate and review two screenplays that exist on a site or two short films.

CHUNG: I, as an ordinary person, in order to submit, have to review two others.

SPACEY: Yes, you must participate, because what we’re trying to do is to create a community, where you could be the next great filmmaker, but if the only people you’ve ever shown your work to is your family, you may not be getting the best criticism. And so far, as of today, I think we are at about 38,000 members.

CHUNG: What?

SPACEY: Registered members. There’s some 20,000 reviews that have been posted; 1,000- something screenplays have been uploaded and over 600 short films. So, clearly, there was an audience out there just that we’ve managed to come along in the Internet, and we’ve started this new adventure.

CHUNG: Well, obviously, all these people want the doors to open for them. Is that opportunity going to be there, do you think?

SPACEY: I think that what I’m going to try to do, in addition to paying attention to it for our own company, mostly, we want people to write and to do the things they want to do because they have a passion for it, not because they might win something at the end of the day. But I hope to get the industry to pay attention to it, that other studio executives, that production companies, that executives and producers will take a look and realize that there’s a new place…

CHUNG: A source.

SPACEY: … to find material. And that’s

CHUNG: That is so great. If there is one thing that I don’t understand is how can you prevent people from stealing thoughts and stealing script lines and…

SPACEY: We can. (This is a mistake. He clearly said “We can’t.” while shaking his head.)

CHUNG: You can? Oh my gosh. (“You can’t?”)

SPACEY: Essentially, we ask the people to come to the site, that they’re responsible for protecting their own work.

CHUNG: How do you do that?

SPACEY: Well, you can go to the Library of Congress. You can go to the Writer’s Guild. I mean, there are all kinds of ways in which people register their work.

CHUNG: I see.

SPACEY: So that if at any time a film came along that had very similar ideas. I mean, this is what happens all the time in the film business. You know, sometimes you get — you suddenly find yourself in a litigation on a movie I might have made that somebody else says is similar to something else. So we can’t protect their work, but we can expose it and can hopefully give them an opportunity to listen to good advice, you know, even if it’s blunt advice.

CHUNG: OK, this is a question out of the blue.


CHUNG: How would you describe yourself?

SPACEY: Evolving.

CHUNG: No! Really?

SPACEY: Well, I think that I’m an enormously lucky fellow who I was raised by two pretty great parents. They taught me a lot, and I’m trying now to honor a lot of the things that they taught me as a young man.

CHUNG: Such as?

SPACEY: You know, how important it is to take responsibility for what it is that you do and to take it seriously and to try to — I mean, I kind of look at myself almost like a facilitator. You know, I sort of feel like I’ve been placed here to bring people together and try to make them — look, why I’m doing all of this and why I’m up to the things I’m up to is because nothing satisfies me more or makes me happier than when I see somebody get an opportunity and run with the ball, and get a chance, and the major reason is because it happened for me, you know. And I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to have doors slammed in your face and be told you’re not good enough, and you’re not this enough and you’re quirky and you don’t quite fit into a mold. I am really happy that there were a lot of people who had faith in me long before I even had it in myself, who gave me a leg up, and I think that the kind of person I am is now trying to sort of give that back, because I don’t know what else to do with it.

CHUNG: Did you have to take jobs in, you know, other professions in order to survive?

SPACEY: Oh, yes. I sold shoes. I sold shoes at the Galant Camp (ph) shoe store in the Northridge Mall. I sold on subscription television door to door in Orange County, California. (One of the Los Angeles area fans says that should be Gallenkamp Shoes.)

CHUNG: Really?

SPACEY: And let me tell you, this was one of the earliest cable companies and our tag line was we had to knock on the door and say “hi, have you turned on yet?” And then usually — humiliating. I worked in a restaurant for two shifts, and then they fired me.

CHUNG: Oh, why? What did you do wrong?

SPACEY: I just wasn’t — I wasn’t meant to be a waiter.

CHUNG: You couldn’t hold double plates on one hand?

SPACEY: Something about the amount of crockery that was being broken.

CHUNG: That’s a pity.

SPACEY: Yes, but I’m grateful for that. And probably one of the most interesting jobs I had, because it led to other things, was when I had done Shakespeare in the park, which was my first job in New York, playing a spear carrier, and I went back to Joseph Papp, who was the producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and he gave me a job in the stockroom at the Public Theater. So I handed out pencils and pads to directors, and eventually worked my way up into his office, and it’s really because of him that I ended up really getting out in the town, because he came to see an off, off, off-Broadway play that I did and brought me into his office the next day and fired me. And I thought, what have I done? And he said, well, last night I saw an actor on stage. And like a father, he pushed me out into the streets of New York, and four months later he and his wife Gail were in the opening night audience of my first Broadway play.

CHUNG: Oh, my goodness, it’s a wonderful story.

SPACEY: It’s a great story, but it’s true. And, you know, so I — sometimes these odd jobs that you think aren’t going to lead to anything actually end up leading to your first big breaks.

CHUNG: OK, so you have got another movie coming out. It’s — it deals with the death penalty issue, and there’s this incredible twist that occurs in your character. Give us one or two lines on that.

SPACEY: Well, in the film, it’s called “The Life of David Gail (Gale),” which is directed by Alan Parker, one of the great directors, I play a very well known and very popular college professor of philosophy, who also happens to be the leading opponent of the death penalty in the state of Texas. In the course of the film, he’s accused of a crime that you see and you know he didn’t do it, but later on in the film, after his reputation has been damaged, he’s accused of the murder of a colleague. Now, you don’t see that happen. So the leading opponent of the death penalty in Texas winds up on death row, and the film is six years later, when he’s finally agreed to talk to a journalist, played by Kate Winslet, and it’s four days before his execution, and she has four days to find out whether he did it or not.

CHUNG: Oh, you got me hanging there. You really do.

SPACEY: Well, what I liked about this movie is is that it isn’t a pro-con argument. The death penalty is kind of the politics that are underneath what is a thriller on top, and I actually think that the issue tends to trickle (Kevin actually used the word perkle here. Or would that be spelled pirkle? Purkle? A UK fans suggests percol as in percolater.) down as opposed to it being a film in which you have to take a side. But just from my own point of view, I played Clarence Darryl (Darrow) once and he was one of the staunchest opponents of the death penalty, and in fact, saved the lives of many a convicted criminal. And, you know, you listen to his words about it, and boy, does it make a lot of sense, but then again, I’ve never had my sister murdered. But I also can understand how a family would feel that they’re looking for some kind of justice, but I do get a sense, very often, that families walk away from those kind of executions and they don’t feel…

CHUNG: No closure.

SPACEY: No, there’s no closure. So I think, clearly as a society, if you look at the fact that we’ve gone from hangings to firing squads to electric chair to basically putting people to sleep, that just from a societal point of view, we’ve clearly gotten more and more humane, and clearly, the issue is an uncomfortable one for us as a society, and I suspect that the debate is going to go on for some time.

CHUNG: All right. I thank you so much for being with us.

SPACEY: Thank you.

CHUNG: Hope you have a good holiday.

SPACEY: I will indeed. I will indeed.

CHUNG: Happy holiday season.

SPACEY: Thank you very much.

CHUNG: All right. Thank you.

SPACEY: Thank you.


CHUNG: “The Life of David Gail (Gale)” is set for release February 21.

CNN transcript