Der Tagesspiegel

November 22, 2003
An American Dream by Sabine Schicketanz

Of all the places Kevin Spacey picked Potsdam do fulfill his biggest dream. He plays Bobby Darin – the role of his lifetime.

He spends the whole day on the Malibu beach and in the hills of Beverly Hills. That sounds relaxing but it is not. Because the dream beach and Hollywood’s noble residential area are not on the American west coast but in the Marlene-Dietrich-Studio in Babelsberg. Here in the ‘Great South’  Kevin Spacey, two times Academy Award winner, fulfills his dream project. The title is ‘Beyond the sea’ and it tells the story of a young man who lived the American dream. Bobby Darin, born in the Bronx was a nobody and became a huge star. He wrote 163 songs, recorded 486, played in 13 films – all this in 14 years. He died in 1972 at the age of 37. It was almost a miracle that he lived that long in the first place. Doctors told his mother that if he was really lucky he might get 15 years old. Articular rheumatism, which he got as a child, had damaged his heart severely.

Kevin Spacey grew up with Bobby Darin’s music. His parents used to play Darin’s pop hits like ‘Splish Splash’ or ‘Dreamlover’ and his swing classics like ‘Mack the Knife’ or ‘Beyond the Sea’ – who is also the title song of the new Disney ‘Finding Nemo’  performed by Robbie Williams this time. ‘As a child Bobby was my biggest star’ says Kevin Spacey. It was only later, as a grown-up, that he learned what a dramatic and intense life the star led. ‘Nobody can imagine what he went through’ says Spacey. Seeing him on stage you would have thought he was thoroughly healthy. But before the extra songs at the end of a concert he would leave the stage and get some oxygen.

Bobby Darin’s music has set the tone for three decades, says Spacey, he wrote and performed pop and rock ‘n roll, always reinvented himself. ‘His lifetime was only borrowed.’ The Hollywood star, whose biggest success so far was ‘American Beauty’, knows every detail of Bobby Darin’s life. He spent several years preparing this biography on celluloid. Now, he’s not only playing the lead but is also directing, producing, he wrote the script and he recorded the songs used in the movie. The Darin family has backed him and put a lot of confidence in him. ‘They looked in the archives and came up with the original arrangements of Bobby Darin. We recorded them in London’s Abbey Road Studios just as he wrote them, note by note.’ For this specific task Spacey trained his voice for four years. ‘It cannot be an imitation, that would be flat’.

His goal is that the audience asks: Is this Bobby or is this Kevin?  But why is the Hollywood star so interested in this story, even obsessed with it? He feels connected to Darin’s story, to his innermost, says Spacey. ‘ There is no doubt that there are parallels between his life and mine’. He says he feels too emotional about it to specify that right now. ‘Maybe people will see these parallels in the movie’. But the movie must be shot first and financed. Kevin Spacey, British producer Andy Peterson and German producer Jan Fantl have gathered 20 Million Euro. The Berlin-Brandenburg film board has added 500.000 Euro, British producers have participated, Lions Gate, who will be the distributor in the US, has also helped with financing. At the beginning of next week, a guarantee by the Land, initiated by Studio Babelsberg to attract more productions to Potsdam, is supposed to round off the budget.

‘No movie has ever received such a guarantee’ says German producer Fantl. Fantl faces rumours that without this guarantee the budget might be tight, saying: ‘This has never been done before, things aren’t running smoothly yet. We consider it just a delay, that we haven’t gotten the guarantee yet. I’m in good spirits.’ Kevin Spacey does not participate financially in this musical-biography – but he plays for scale. He directs only out of necessity: ‘Nobody else was interested’. His famous colleagues, who’d normally charge millions, do him a good turn. John Goodman, best known here as Fred Flintstone and from The Big Lebowski, plays Darin’s Manager Steve Blauner, Bob Hoskins, who once played opposite Cher in Mermaids and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1986 for his role in Mona Lisa, is Darin’s father. Brenda Blethyn plays Bobby’s mother, his sister is Caroline Aaron. America’s sweetheart from the sixties and Bobby Darin’s wife, the young actress Sandra Dee, is played by Kate Bosworth.

The gentle 20-year-old is at least known to every boy in his teens since her role in the surfer-movie ‘Blue Crush’. She admits that before signing for ‘Beyond the Sea’ she didn’t know the music of Bobby Darin: ‘It was a fascinating surprise for me, wonderful inspiring music’ – John Goodman adds a humorous ‘Oh child’ to this cultural lack due to her young age. Greta Scacchi will play Sandra Dee’s mother, for the part of young Bobby Kevin Spacey discovered a ten-year-old wonder boy: William Ullrich. ‘He has more Broadway experience than the rest of us together’ says the actor. The ignorant press is more and more astonished as the youngster starts listing his performances. Most recently he played William, the younger version of Antonio Banderas, in the NY musical ‘Nine’, he sang and danced in ‘Oklahoma’, ‘The Music Man’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

At the beginning Kevin Spacey didn’t believe it would be possible to build America in Potsdam, out of cardboard and chipboard. ‘When this was suggested first, I thought: how am I going to shoot a movie that it set in the Bronx, in Las Vegas, in Malibu and Beverly Hills in Germany?’ In the meantime he is enthusiastic about the Babelsberg Studios, happy not to have to shoot in Los Angeles. ‘If we’d shoot there we’d have to peel the decades off the buildings – shoot in the same boring places where everybody has shot a movie’. Instead of California the movie is now completely shot, in 74 days until the end of January, in Germany, 75 percent in Babelsberg Studios and Potsdam and the rest on location in Berlin.

The ‘Berlin Street’ built on the lot and used in ‘Sonnenallee’ will be remodelled to fit Spacey’s New York. ‘What used to be the Warsaw Ghetto in Polanski’s Pianist will be my Bronx.’ On the Marlene-Dietrich-Lot you can see Malibu and Beverly Hills these days, in Berlin Spacey found the architecture of the sixties. On the Ku’damm, scenes will be shot in the old part of Cafe Kranzler, as well as next to the main radio station and in several nightclubs.  The script was even changed to fit historic Potsdam. ‘When you sit in Los Angeles and write, you don’t think of the Potsdam castles, when you think of how  Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee fell in love with each other in Italy’ says producer Jan Fantl. Spacey was thinking of Venice, Rome and Portofino. It was Fantl who convinced him to shoot the whole movie, and especially Italy, in Potsdam. I had the script and when Kevin’s movie ‘The Life of David Gale’ premiered at the Berlin film festival, I thought I absolutely need to talk to him and suggest to shoot the movie here. 20 days later Fantl and Spacey met in Los Angeles, and soon afterwards again in Potsdam. When he saw Sanssouci he said he’d need to talk to the set designer first. A few hours later Italy was out and on November 10 shooting started in the Orangerie in Sanssouci in Potsdam.

In these UNESCO protected surroundings you could hear the soft, romantic melody of ‘Beyond the Sea’, while Bobby Darin, dressed in a bright yellow sixties suit, was dancing with his Sandra Dee. Kevin Spacey is sure: ‘We did capture the right angles and I’m sure that the audience will say – yes I was there on holidays it’s Portofino.’

Translated from the original German into English by Anne at the Legacy group.