Das moderne nachrichtenmagazin. (The modern news magazine)
Nr 2, 10 January 2000
Interview by Sarah Stern
‘The American patient’ The end of cosmetic beauty: Oscar winner Kevin Spacey about the film satire AB, that shows a sick US lifestyle.
FOCUS: After film hits like Se7en and The Usual Suspects, after all the bad guys that you made famous, you now play an average, common character.
SPACEY: Yes, I wanted to break away from all these manipulative characters that are always ten steps ahead of everyone. This film is much closer to my own experiences, which is also the case with things I did on the stage for a smaller public. It’s really an unbelievable story: everyone in American Beauty goes through a process, discovers new sides to his/her personality, his family and his relations.
FOCUS: You turned 40 yourself recently. Were you struck by the mid-life crisis that Lester goes through?
SPACEY: For him that’s different than it is for me. But this feeling, that one wants to break away that’s something I recognize. Like wanting to say what you really think, without thinking of the consequences. I think that’s the case for a lot of people, if you have success or not.
FOCUS: Looking at the wild years that you left behind you, one could think that you played all these criminals just to stay on the right path.
SPACEY: Nothing bores me more than those deep psychological explanations. I just took the roles that interested me, that’s all. If I can keep apart who I am and who I play, then I can convince someone much better.
FOCUS: Can someone learn the real life from film and theatre?
SPACEY: Not only as actor, but also as spectator one can learn from a story. When I saw American Beauty for the first time I was really moved by the broadness of these human emotions that are shown: the question what’s really important in life. The whole idea of the American dream. Everyone tries to have success and make a lot of money, but in the end you can only find happiness inside yourself. I think that’s a very joyful message.
FOCUS: Does that mean that fame and stardom don’t mean much to you?
SPACEY: Not all the outside effects, only the things that happen inside you, how you develop yourself.
FOCUS: However, you went through a physical change because of the fitness program.
SPACEY: That was great! Normally you only exercise for not more than three times a week. When you have to do it daily, for a couple of hours, with an official trainer and watch your diet, then you see a result real quickly. It’s the first time that a role demanded such a physical presence and I wanted to be in the situation to do this as good as I could.
FOCUS: You often work with promising, starting directors.
SPACEY: I only went for the role or the film, whoever directs is a matter of coincidence. I was lucky to find directors who had a clear vision despite the fact that they weren’t experienced. If it was Bryan Singer with The Usual Suspects or now Sam Mendes, in my opinion they both put down an unbelievable achievement. I knew Sam’s work from the theatre, but I didn’t know he had such a cinematographic viewpoint.
FOCUS: Despite the low wages and not as much glory, you always return to the theatre. What do you get out of theatre, that the camera can’t offer you?
SPACEY: Everything that I hope for to reach as an actor! Every emotional, personal and artistic important experience for me happens in the theatre. Everything I do on stage is good for film acting. I could never have played Lester without my experience in The Iceman Cometh. I would never touched the spirit of this role or play it with the empathy I needed. I can’t imagine my work anymore without having to go through a character, like you do on stage every night.
FOCUS: Did your stay in London change your view on America?
SPACEY: It was a very favourable time to be away. It was painful to be an American, because of all the things that happened at the time.
FOCUS: Do you mean the Clinton/Lewinsky affair?
SPACEY: Yes, that story dominated all the news. It was interesting to call with my American friends: “You can’t believe how high they play this and how much time we waste on this!” I think it was an interesting experience for the country. Maybe it also had its good sides, that you look at yourself, your own viewpoints, the way we treat other people and our whole mentality. That’s why American Beauty is so important!
FOCUS: The comedy aspects of the film remind us of your past as a stand-up comedian. Did that stimulate you?
SPACEY: Not directly. But it was great, after working as a comic actor for so many years, to do it in cinema and go that far. I’ve always tried to bring a humouristic aspect to my roles, but this was the first opportunity to be really comical. We had so much fun while shooting! We only laughed the whole time. Annette Bening, my film wife almost killed me being funny. When we had scenes together it was incredibly hard to stop giggling.
FOCUS: You are able to distinguish yourself in spite of your plain face. Do you like your own face?
SPACEY: Of course, it’s my face – what can I do about it? I’m satisfied with it. On some days more, on other days less.
Focus, January 10, 2000, pages 82-85
Interview by Sarah Stern, German to English translation courtesy of Suzanne Boer.
Pictures of American Beauty scenes and the two pictures of Kevin.