Soroff/On Kevin Spacey by Jonathan Soroff

Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey was born Kevin Fowler, in 1959, in South Orange, N.J.  Raised in Southern California, he became involved in acting.  After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College for a short while before heading east to attend Julliard.  He left in the middle of his second year to join the New York Shakespeare Festival and made his professional stage debut in 1981 with a  small part in Henry IV, Part One.  He was subsequently fired by director Joseph Papp but made his Broadway debut later the same year in Ibsen’s Ghosts.  His theatrical career continued with productions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and O’Neill, and his first film appearance came in 1986, with Heartburn.  Numerous television appearances (including a PBS biopic about Clarence Darrow)  and roles in films like Working Girl, Glengarry Glen Ross and Seven followed, but his breakthrough role came in 1995, with The Usual Suspects – the film that earned him his first Oscar (as Best Supporting Actor) and introduced the enigmatic fictional character of Keyser Sose to the world.  Since then, Spacey has enjoyed a string of critical and box-office hits, including L.A. Confidential, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and American Beauty, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.  He was in Boston recently to promote his new film, The Life of David Gale, a thriller that opens at the end of February.

Jonathan Soroff: You look a little tired in your new movie.  Have you been getting enough sleep?

Kevin Spacey: [Laughs.] Well, in the movie, I should look a little tired, shouldn’t I?  I’m an alcoholic death row guy.  How good do you think I should look?

JS: If it was Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise playing that role, I guarantee they’d still look pretty.

KS: [Shrugs and smiles.]

JS: I’ve got to confess.  I figured out the ending of the movie less than halfway through.

KS: I guess you’re smarter than the average bear.

JS: If you were going to commit murder, how would you do it?

KS: With an enormous amount of wit. [Laughs.]

JS: It’s time for the Kevin Spacey quiz: Name one adjective that describes how you feel when you smoke pot?

KS: [Laughs.] Who says I smoke pot?

JS: OK, work with me here, Kevin.  Think of your last name.

KS: Oh, Spacey.  That’s a Welsh name, I’ll have you know.  It’s spelled without the e in Wales, and it’s my great-great-grandfather’s name, but I love the story that I made it up from a combination of Spencer and Tracy.

JS: I never heard of that.  Now back to the quiz.  If Sammy Sosa has a son, what should he name him?

KS: Suzie?

JS: No.  Keyser!  C’mon, Kevin, get on the ball!

KS: [Laughs.] Sorry.

JS: OK.  Relate these three things to a role you played: mouthwash, macaque, legal process?

KS: Jesus, I’m stumped.  Mouthwash…Listerine?  Colgate? Umm, Scope.  Scopes Monkey Trial!  Clarence Darrow!

JS: Ding! Ding! Ding! One out of three’s not bad.  So does being a movie star test your sense of humor?

KS: No.  But being an actor does.

JS: What’s worse: doing a press junket like this or having a root canal?

KS: Depends on what city you’re in.

JS: Very tactful.  So is Boston the smartest city in the United States?

KS: Without question.  Although Concord comes close.

JS: Concord’s not a city!  It’s a podunk little suburb!

KS: It’s not about size.

JS: Best free stuff you got recently.  Any good movie star swag?

KS: Lemme think.  I haven’t been to an event in awhile, so there hasn’t been any movie star swag.  But those baskets are unbelievable.  There’s one problem, though.  I’ve got friends who put tabs on stuff before I go to the event.  They’re like “You always get everything.  I want the blah-blah-blah.”  So I only get the leftovers.

JS: Isn’t there something funny about the fact that the richer you get the more free stuff people give you?

KS: This is very true.  Like anybody, I started out busting my ass and trying to get noticed.  Finally, you start making money.  You couldn’t afford to buy anything before, and then when you can, all they wanna do is give it to you.  It’s a problem most people would love to have, but it’s an irony that doesn’t escape me.

JS: What star from the golden era to you most relate to?

KS: Hmmm.  Interesting question.  If you mean the one I like being compared to, that would be Spencer Tracy.  If you look at the trajectory of his career, and how good he got from his first starring role in The Power and the Glory, in the late 30’s, to 1969, with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (he died 10 days after they completed shooting) – he was just an excellent actor.

JS: Finish this rhyme: Roses are red, Violets are blue, Kevin Spacey’s an actor…

KS: But that you knew.

JS: Ever feel overexposed?

KS: I have – because there are choices you make and then there’s this whole other world that happens without you even showing up, but it looks like you showed up.  And whenever I’ve felt that way, I’ve disappeared for long periods of time.  A year ago, when I’d finished filming this movie and I had rolled out two others within like a month of each other, I said to everybody, “I’m going away now, because if I’m sick of me, I can only imagine how the rest of the world feels.”

JS: When you go to the movies, what do you order at the concession stand?

KS: Red licorice.  Red Vines.  They’re like Twizzlers but better.

JS: We don’t have those here.  Must be some fancy Hollywood candy.

KS: Yup.  And popcorn if I’m not under strict supervision.  And definitely either Milk Duds or chocolate-covered raisins.

JS: Cocktail of choice?

KS: A dirty martini.

JS: Gin or vodka?

KS: Vodka.

JS: A role you weren’t offered that you’d give anything to have played?

KS: Three Days of the Condor.  Awesome movie, one of the great thrillers ever, and Robert Redford was really good.  But I would have f—ing killed him.  [Laughs.]  Sorry, Bob.  Y’know I’m about to head to Sundance. Hope I don’t see you on the street there, pardner.

JS: I’m Fed-Exing this interview to him.  So you’ve accepted roles that were turned down by people with more conventional leading man looks, like George Clooney and Will Smith.

KS: [Smirking.] Yeah, guys who have dropped from the radar screen.

JS: Ever feel like you’re getting sloppy seconds?

KS: No, and I’ll tell you why.  Here’s a great story.  1941.  George Raft.  Not the greatest actor in the world, but a big star. Very upset that Warner Brothers has assigned this young upstart from Universal to make a movie with him.  He walks off the set.  Much to the delight of John Huston, who goes out and hires Humphrey Bogart and together they make The Maltese Falcon.  That’s just the way the movie business works.  And besides, no actor owns a particular role.

JS: OK, last question.  Wanna come over to my house tonight and play board games?

KS: I’d love to, but I’m leaving for Sundance.  What kind of board games?

JS: Cribbage, backgammon, Scrabble, Monopoly.  Or we could play Celebrity.  I’ll bet you’re good at that.

KS: [Laughing.] Yeah, I am.
Print article includes a picture from The Life of David Gale. Any errors are copied directly from the print edition. Spacey fan Candis typed this up for everyone to read.

The Improper Bostonian, February 2003