The Toronto Star

Sex queries anger Spacey by Richard Ouzounian

February 11, 2003

New York—Kevin Spacey would like us all to embrace the same ambiguities that he does.

That became clear yesterday morning, when a querulous journalist drove the two-time Academy Award-winning actor from annoyance to anger by repeated questions about his sexuality.

The verbal explosion happened as Spacey was sitting at a roundtable discussion with six writers from around North America to discuss his latest film, The Life Of David Gale, scheduled to open in Toronto on Feb. 21.

The movie, directed by veteran Alan Parker, juggles its political message within the conventions of a well-oiled thriller and that’s just how Spacey likes it.

When asked why he had chosen the film, he smiled and said “Its complexities intrigued and delighted me. If the film has a message, you’ll have to grapple to find it, but that’s a good thing because it sparks conversation.”

Then the first intrusion came, with a reference to Spacey’s recent appointment to the artistic directorship of London’s Old Vic Theatre.

Perhaps, the voice at Spacey’s right shoulder suggested, the actor felt more comfortable with the “lifestyle of London rather than that of Los Angeles.”

Spacey paused, looking for the razor blade inside the candy apple, as he asked with a polite chill, “What do you mean by lifestyle?”

The man wasn’t ready to press his point, so Spacey continued in ebullient form, talking about how he has been touring with the film to colleges around America where he finds students “less interested in talking about politics than you journalists. They accept the movie as a thriller, because they know that good politics makes for bad theatre.”

The next intrusion came as a total non-sequitur. “What article have you ever read about you that upset you the most?”

Obviously the questioner was referring to the famed 1997 Esquire cover story that raised questions about whether Spacey was gay.

Despite his emphatic official denial, it started a whispering campaign that haunts the actor to this day.

Spacey didn’t even look at his adversary this time around, dismissing it with a curt “I don’t talk about any of that stuff,” before returning to the film’s psychological challenges for the audience.

“Because you don’t see the crime that David is accused of committing, you don’t know if he’s innocent or guilty and you have to spend the whole movie having your thoughts and feelings about him constantly shift and change …”

With the clock running out, the voice in the corner finally blurted out, “Then how do you feel about those stories about you being gay?”

Spacey turned and snapped: “Don’t bother me with that crap. Just mind your own f—ing business!”

Then he choked out between clenched teeth. “Next question.”

The remaining few minutes passed in tense politeness, and when Spacey finally left, he turned to his left to avoid facing his tormentor.

A few hours later, as the two of us sit in his hotel suite, Spacey sighs with exasperation. “Why is there always someone who wants to start in on that stuff? Why can’t they just talk about my work?”

The 43 year-old actor brushes some unseen lint from his impeccably tailored black suit. His eyes are ringed with fatigue, but they still blaze with intensity as he talks about the art of acting that he loves.

“Look, I never pass judgment on my characters. I have to play them for all their flaws and contradictions and blemishes and let the chips fall where they may. This movie in particular operates with certain twists and turns and surprises. It provokes an emotional reaction that’s unsettled and I think that’s a great thing to have an audience walk out of there feeling.”

When I point out to Spacey that a similar ambiguity seems to surround most of his work on stage and screen, he throws up his hands helplessly.

“Sure, I’m drawn to those projects, but I don’t seek them out. I just read ’em and respond. After you make the movies you can look for patterns, but that’s just how it evolves.”

Evolution is also the path Spacey plans for the Old Vic, where his first season as artistic director of the once-famed British Theatre will begin in fall of 2004.

“I plan to consult with a variety of directors and pick a season of plays. Then I’ll put a company of actors together to appear in them.”

It’s been no secret that Spacey has taken a keen interest in our own Stratford Festival over the past two seasons and he admits that when he went there this past fall, “I already had the Vic in mind and I was looking at the work of specific directors and actors I might use.”

As for doing this in England rather than his native America, Spacey is quick to point out that “in no way should this decision be viewed as an abandonment of my own country. I want this to break down walls about where actors can work.”

And when asked why people should see The Life Of David Gale, he smiles unambiguously. “It’s a taut, ticking clock. Very enjoyable, great fun and you can talk about it when it’s over.”