The Nando Times
Entertainment: PROFILE: The sublimely complex Kevin Spacey
By LUAINE LEE, Scripps Howard News Service NEW YORK
(December 25, 2001 10:42 p.m. EST)
Actor Kevin Spacey used to be frenetically impatient. He couldn’t figure out why his career wasn’t leaping ahead at mach speed. But he soon got over that, he says, “by watching a lot of people succeed who were impatient and then watching what happened to them after. So I think I just got to the point where I recognized I might blossom later, my ship would come in a little later than scheduled. “But maybe by the time it did, I might know how to react to it. I might know how to behave beyond that, because ultimately it’s not about grabbing the brass ring. Anybody can grab the brass ring. It’s what you do with it once it’s in your hand.” Spacey, 42, is one of those performers who toiled for years as a journeyman actor, playing supporting roles with such unstudied expertise that important people began to take notice. His ship came in when he earned the Oscar as best supporting actor for “The Usual Suspects” and the best actor Oscar four years later for “American Beauty.” In his latest role, as the lumpish, taciturn Quoyle in the upcoming “The Shipping News,” Spacey moves to a different plane. Though he has aced the fast-thinking cynic in movies like “Hurlyburly,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” that kind of role is too easy now. No longer in search of discovery, what Spacey craves now is the challenge. And his role in “The Shipping News,” as the overweight cipher who discovers his worth among the icy wastes of his ancestors, is made to order.
Still, he admits he’s afraid. “I’m afraid of failing constantly, and sometimes I do fail. And when I fail, I’m probably a bigger target then maybe someone else who fails because there is certain expectation, that every time out, I’ll knock it out of the park,” he says, rubbing his temple. “You know, sometimes jobs you take are transitional, they’re bridges to something else, and quite frankly, in the film experience, the actor’s not responsible at the end of the day for whether the movie works. The actor is responsible for (his) performance. I do believe that, but only in so much as the director has used the best of that performance.” When he does fail, “It’s crushing,” he says, lowering his cropped head, “particularly when you’re trying to go about doing things for certain reasons and because you thought something was a good idea, but at the end of the day people call it sentimental clap, and you go ‘God, we didn’t all set out to do sentimental clap, we actually set out to do something else.’ But there’s almost this feeling that you intended to do this: ‘How dare you?’ And you’re thinking, ‘It’s more complex than that.'”
That’s the thing about Spacey. This level-eyed, easy talking, soft-spoken guy is sublimely complex. It’s not his good manners that impress, but the intensity underneath. He thrives on acting, he says, for two reasons. “One has to do with the process and how the experience is for me directly, how it makes me feel to get up in the morning and try to tackle something I find difficult or that is fraught with peril, because everything you do – and in particular when you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before, in a way you’ve never done it before – it’s always fraught with challenge. So there’s that aspect of it which I love very much. … The other aspect of it is being able to take an audience somewhere.”
He has known since he was 9 that he wanted to act. But fate has intervened more than once. He remembers theater impresario Joseph Papp calling him into his office when he saw Spacey – who was working as an assistant at Papp’s theater company – in an off-off-off-off-Broadway play. “I saw an actor on stage last night and you need to leave here and go act, you need to focus on that, and you shouldn’t be here working anymore. That’s what you should be doing,” Papp told him. “And in this gentle, fatherly way he pushed me out the door, and everything changed after that,” says Spacey, shaking his head. “That’s the incredible beauty of life … that you never know what’s coming down the pike. You just never know. And if you embrace the idea that life is a banquet, as I do, than there are many things with which to experience and explore.” Things weren’t always so rosy. “I had a number of years of starting out of being broke, living in various apartments and being thrown out of various apartments. Of working as a super in a building, selling subscription television door-to-door, of selling shoes, there’s a number of things I did,” he says. “Quite frankly, I don’t look back on that time – with a few exceptions – as a particularly difficult time. “I was at least working as an actor most of the time. I was employed – even if it was a dinner theater, it didn’t matter … So I didn’t have it as tough as a lot of people.”