Star Watch

Kevin Spacey Won ‘t Let Success Spoil the Fun

By Ric Leyva, Associated Press writer 

Kevin Spacey is scaring himself.

Highly skilled at frightening the popcorn out of movie audiences with portrayals of killers and creeps, Spacey spooks himself by considering the pitfalls of success.

“How many times in our experience do we, five years or so after somebody really breaks out, ask ourselves, ‘Whatever happened to so-and-so?”‘ Mr. Spacey says, sadly shaking his head.

After building a career as a journeyman actor beloved equally in Hollywood and on Broadway, Mr. Spacey really broke out in 1995, appearing in “Outbreak,” “Swimming With Sharks,” the popular hit “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects,” which brought him an Academy Award for supporting actor.

Now, with the release of his latest film, “A Time to Kill,” (which opens today) Mr. Spacey wants to make sure he’s not one of those forgotten celebrity so-and-sos when the new millennium rolls around.

“Tennessee Williams wrote a really great essay called ‘The Catastrophe of Success’ about what can happen to someone in the arts, because it happened to him,” Mr. Spacey says, firing up the first in a steady stream of Marlboro Lights consumed over the next half-hour.

“The influences are great,” he goes on, looking unaffected in Levis, a blue button-down shirt, multicolored tie and cool Armani boots. “In California there are a lot of big cars, a lot of big houses and all the billboards, and everything has to do with a kind of outward success. If it isn’t inside you, I think it’s really easy to get sidetracked.”

Circumstances helped Mr. Spacey avoid the distraction of his big year since he was busy directing his first movie, ” Albino Alligator,” in New Orleans while Hollywood oohed and aahed over his fast-talking career criminal, Verbal Kint, in “The Usual Suspects” and the psycho-killer with no fingerprints in “Seven.”

Not that he completely escaped the distraction. An Oscar is still an Oscar, after all.

“There was sort of a steamroller effect,” he says of the critical acclaim, supporting actor Oscar nomination and the subsequent award. “It’s just been really important to me to keep working, to keep that work ethic going.

“If I honor the tribute then that means I have to continue to do things that challenge me and I have to continue doing stuff that I believe in, you know. If I do a couple of no-brainers for a lot of money, then I’ll probably deserve to get sent to my room for a little while. ”

A veteran of Broadway productions dating back 15 years, Mr. Spacey first went mainstream on television in the late 1980s, playing maniac drug kingpin Mel Proffit on “Wiseguy.”

Ever cautious, he handled his first taste of fame the same way he’s managing his latest move toward superstardom –warily.

“1 have been around for, like, years, quietly doing my work,” he says. “I’ve tried hard not to capitalize on some things I did that got attention, times when I could have run with the ball.

“When ‘Wiseguy’ happened, you know, I was offered other series and there were opportunities to, sort of, do more of the same kind of thing. But I just didn’t want to become Kevin ‘Wiseguy’ Spacey for the next five years. ”

Suddenly, without so much as a knock on the door, two scruffy Generation Xers in faded blue jeans casually saunter inside. The guy has curly hair and a patchy blondish beard. The woman is bone thin, her face partly covered by long straight jet-black hippie hair.

They’re both so dressed-down, it takes a second to realize they’re not a couple of gatecrashing panhandlers, but instead Mr. Spacey’s “A Time to Kill” co-stars Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, taking a break from the grind of publicity work.

“Hi, sweet pea,” Ms. Bullock says, hugging Mr. Spacey close and smothering him with friendly kisses. “We wanted to come and say goodbye before you go. Now, when do we get to see your film?”

Mr. McConaughey sidles over for a brotherly embrace, promising to meet Mr. Spacey again, like they did during filming, to sample the alliterative delights of “sushi, sake and sweet Spanish songs.”

Ms. Bullock insists somewhat breathlessly that Mr. Spacey absolutely MUST rent a villa in Italy she stayed at once, scribbling the telephone number down on hotel stationery. After another hug, she threatens to “play a little ditty” on the piano across the room, laughs at the looks she gets, then grabs Mr. McConaughey and dashes out, giggling.

“Uh, where were we?” Mr. Spacey says, grinning, clearly loving the sincere show of affection, revealing as much about himself as anything he might say.

Despite his longtime presence and recent prominence, the actor who turned 37 two days after the debut of “A Time to Kill” remains an enigma, and he likes it that way.

“I don’t know how many entertainment programs there are, talks shows, magazines, whatever, but there are a lot,” he says, lighting up again. ” And it seems to me that has taken some of the mystery out of it.

“The actors I’ve admired most often are the ones that I know the least about. I don’t know much about Anthony Hopkins, I don’t know much about Robert De Niro. I don’t know a hell of a lot about Harvey Keitel. And each time I see them they do something that startles me.”

So fiercely has he shielded himself from media prying, little is known about his personal life beyond the fact he lives alone in Greenwich Village.

“I happen to care greatly for the loved ones in my life. They didn’t ask to come along on this ride,” he says. “So I will continue to protect that part of my life with every fiber that I have. I just think it’s a right that I don’t have to give up.”

Mr. Spacey happily dropped his usual avoidance of the press in January when footage from “Albino Alligator” was stolen at Los Angeles International Airport. He took to the airwaves to plead for the celluloid’s safe return.

“Ah, the infamous lost film. That was five sleepless nights. I got lucky,” Mr. Spacey says. “I went on the news, which was slightly embarrassing, but I didn’t care. Luckily, it was a slow news day.”

The lost film was returned, saving the first-time director from having to reshoot critical scenes of the drama starring Faye Dunaway, Gary Sinise and Matt Dillon. It’s due to be released in November.

The busy actor, whose next film is “L.A. Confidential” with Danny DeVito, heads to Europe for a vacation when that film wraps. Then he’s taking a hiatus from Hollywood and movies to produce and star in the play “National Anthems” in New York.

For the veteran Broadway trouper with credits including “Lost in Yonkers” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” there are no mixed feelings about returning to the stage.

“I’m so happy that I’m about to break with conventional wisdom, which is that I should keep doing movies, and come back and do this play that I adore very much,” he says, returning to his favorite theme: careful success management.

“It’s easy to say yes, it’s harder to say no,” he says simply, snuffing out his last cigarette for emphasis. “Because it’s too easy to justify things you can do in this life that are wrong, just wrong. ”

July 24, 1996