Spacey’s biopic: Not the same old song

Chunks of idol’s life left out of flick
Star sang in film, plans musical tour

PETER HOWELL
MOVIE CRITIC

Kevin Spacey has a lot of explaining to do.

Dressed in a sharp business suit, his white shirt open at the collar, he holds court in the garden lounge of the Hotel InterContinental.

He’s illuminating in brisk 10-minute press interviews his fascination for pop singer Bobby Darin, who died at age 37 in 1973, when Spacey was just 14.

Spacey is both director and star of Beyond The Sea, his Darin biopic that had its world premiere over the weekend as a Gala selection for the Toronto International Film Festival.

He’s taken the tribute one step further, with a planned concert tour in which Spacey will sing from the Darin catalogue, including such standards as “Mack The Knife,” “Splish Splash” and the movie’s title track. He hopes to bring the tour to Toronto before Christmas.

Q: You were barely a teenager when Darin died. Why did you care about him so much, when other kids your age were listening to Led Zeppelin and the Eagles?

A: It was due to my parent’s record collection. My parents had all kinds of music. In a weird way, I grew up listening to the same music Bobby listened to. Because my dad had a collection of 78 (rpm) records, like (Darin’s family) did: big bands, the great recording artists like Bing Crosby, Jolson, Donald O’Connor. People whom Bobby admired and actually patterned himself after in his early days — and obviously later on, Sinatra, Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald and all that. Bobby Darin was it for me when I was in my teens. I thought he was the coolest guy ever. And then when I was in my 20s there were a couple of books written about him. So I stared to learn things about his life, which I knew nothing about.

Q: Why did you think Bobby Darin was so cool?

A: I just liked his style. I just thought his style was so great. The way he got around a song, the way he attacked a lyric, was just different than anybody else. And yet it had elements of influences in his life that I only learned about later when I read about him.

Q: Why did you decide to both play Darin and direct? You didn’t act in the first film you directed, Albino Alligator.

A: I didn’t plan it that way. I was just going to play Bobby, at first. But there were problems finding directors — two other ones that were interested ended up taking other projects. And I realized that the ideas I had for this film would work better if I did them myself. And I’ve always loved musicals.

Q: Beyond The Sea doesn’t take the normal biopic path of following an artist’s progress. You jump through big stretches where his fame is growing. Why didn’t you use the traditional storytelling approach?

A: Because a lot of traditional biopics are boring, frankly. We already know the man is famous! Why do we have to prove that? So we jump right into his first hit, “Splish Splash.” There were so many other elements of his life that I found more interesting.

Q: Did your appreciation of Bobby Darin grow, the more you read about him and studied his shows?

A: Yes. He had been just a performer to me before I started reading about him. And then when I found out all that he’d faced, all that he’d overcome, the fact that he’d died so young, I just thought it was ripe — what a great movie this would make!

It took me about five years to get the rights out of Warner Brothers. I got them in 2000. So it has been four years of trying to put the movie together.

Q: You also had to persuade Darin’s son Dodd, and his friend and manager Steve “Boom Boom” Blauner, that you could do justice to the man’s memory.

A: It wasn’t easy, at first. They didn’t immediately see me in the role of Bobby, and they especially didn’t like the idea of me singing the songs instead of using Bobby’s originals in the film. They had very strong feelings about it. In fact, Steve Blauner went so far as to say, “Over my dead body!” But I managed to convince them of my sincerity and my respect for Bobby, and now they are overjoyed about this movie. That means more to me than anything.

Q: That’s really you singing all those songs? There are no overdubs or lip-synchs?

A: It’s all me. I took it seriously and really worked at it, getting the right musicians and with the help of (producer) Phil Ramone. It was important to get it right.

Q: You’re planning a fall concert tour with a 19-piece band backing you as you sing Darin’s songbook. Will Toronto be one of the stops?

A: I sure hope so. I’d love to include Toronto. But we want to make sure people want to hear us. I’d hate to go anywhere and not fill the house. And we’d have to get the right venue. Do you know of any good venues here?

Q: How about Massey Hall? It has great acoustics.

A: I’ll have to look into that.

September 14, 2004
The Toronto Star