Part Two – Venice 2004
Venice: What is your first memory of Bobby Darin, whether in image or song?
Kevin Spacey: “Beyond the Sea” was the first song of his that I ever heard, and that was because my parents had a great record collection.
Was Bobby’s story something you always knew you wanted to tell, or was there something you learned about his story that really sparked the interest for you?
I didn’t know much about his story until was in my twenties. Then I read a few books that had been written about him and I was really struck by all those things I didn’t know. I thought it would be a really interesting story. Then I later learned that they were going to try to make a movie of his life, and I thought, “Well, that’s the part for me!” But it took a little more than 10 years to make that happen. Originally, the movie was at Warner Bros., for about 14 years in development. I had nothing to do with the project when it was at Warner Bros., but I eventually started doing movies for Warner Bros. in the mid-’90s and began a relationship with the people who had the rights. It took about five years to negotiate those rights out, which I finally got in the year 2000.
Did you develop the script a lot from that point on or did you shoot it pretty much as it was?
No, there was no script. There were a lot of drafts of scripts that I bought out of Warner Bros. But when I took on the project from Warner Bros., it became an entirely brand-new, from scratch, screenplay. And I’m waiting for the Writers Guild to make their determination as to who will end up with the writing credits. I wrote an enormous amount of it.
What was the biggest obstacle in getting Beyond the Sea off the ground?
Trying to raise the money.
Did it help when Chicago became a big hit?
It didn’t help. You’d think that it would have. But the view about Chicago was tha1 it was an anomaly. There is a resistance that I don’t quite understand to films that are both perceived as biopics, although that was not what I was setting out to do traditionally, and films that are driven by music. And it doesn’t matter how many times you cite All That Jazz, or Moulin Rouge! , or Fame, or Chicago, or any of the other films that are driven by music. There still is a resistance to it, and I think, at the end of the day, it’s a marketing resistance. It has to do with the fact that there is a prejudice in certain mind-sets that the only reason audiences would come to see a movie about somebody who actually lived is if they already know everything about that person’s life. And my argument was, “Well, if that’s true, then why do audiences come in droves to movies about fictional characters that they’ve never heard of?” So I kind of wanted to make this a movie that would be enjoyable to any audience, whether they had ever heard of Bobby Darin or not
And was that the impetus behind adding elements that are non-traditional to a biopic, such as the big musical numbers?
Yeah, and also the movie-within-the-movie concept. Because I didn’t want an audience to come in and feel like they had to pass a litmus test of predisposition in order to enjoy the film.
Did you spend any time with Sandra Dee while doing your research?
I have never met Ms. Dee. I have spoken to her, but I’ve never met her. My dealings were directly with Dodd Darin, who is their son, and Steve Blauner, who is the character that John Goodman plays in the movie. I have had every single ounce of support from the Darin family, and from Steve Blauner, that I could have ever hoped to have. Including what I think was the greatest gift the film received: before we went to record all of the numbers in the film, they went into Bobby’s archives and found all of his original arrangements and charts, and sent them to me. That’s what we laid down at Abbey Road.
What were their reactions to seeing the film?
Over the moon. They were exceedingly happy. And Dodd feels that maybe, because of the film, his father will finally get the recognition that was denied him because he died so young.
Had you always planned on singing the songs yourself?
To some degree, yeah. I used to do musicals a lot as a kid, so singing has always been a part of my life and has sort of been second nature to me. But it was always a question of, “Could I get the music right?” and “Could I get my voice to the place where it could reasonably facsimilate what Bobby did?” I would preface that by saying that I am nowhere near the singer that Bobby is. But I had a lot of help from people who worked with Bobby. With Phil Ramone. With Roger Kellaway. And, ultimately, with John Wilson and the orchestra that did the tracks. We’d been working on the music since 1999.
At what point in the rehearsal process did you feet you had finally nailed the singing?
I never actually did. There was a moment about three years ago when we went into Capitol Records and we laid down about 20 songs, just as rehearsal tracks. And I listen to those songs now and I just cringe. But it never got better than it did at Abbey Road. And I guess all that preparation toward the recording of the songs in the movie finally paid off. Phil Ramone says he knows the moments when I stopped trying to do an imitation of Bobby and sort of became “a Bobby,” but I can’t tell you when that was. I just know that it evolved and it was organic.
You make reference in the dialogue to the idea that some people will consider you too old to play Darin. Was that issue something which gave you pause and did you ever consider hiring another actor to play Bobby, with you participating as a director only?
Well, I actually didn’t want to direct it at first. I went after other directors and tried very hard to get someone else to direct it. But it turned out that, with people’s schedules, if I had gone with another director I couldn’t have made the movie for another year and a half. And I knew that if I didn’t make the movie this past year, I probably wouldn’t ever make it. In regards to the difference in my age versus Bobby’s, it was never that big an issue with me. It was becoming an issue in some journalistic circles, and I thought, “Well, maybe it’s better to identify the elephant in the room and get it over with. Let people realize that I know it too, but that I’m not setting out to tell a linear story here.” So, hopefully, it won’t matter. We’re warping time, and I hope people can just enjoy the movie and relax about that.
Did you study any of Bobby’s old films to get his mannerisms down, or was that something that didn’t concern you as much?
I was concerned with finding his energy and style and spirit. But didn’t want to be beholden to doing a kind of tiresome imitation. I did watch an enormous amount of his work and obviously listened to an enormous amount of his work, in order to try to capture his essence. That’s what I was going for.
The film is a balance of reality and and hyper-reality, such as the musical num- bers. You also acknowledge in the dialogue that things depicted in the film may not be exactly as they happened. But was there any place you really drew the line with that philosophy and said that a certain scene has to be played exactly as it really occurred?
No. I gave myself a lot of freedom in being able to have characters in places where they weren’t in real life. I just didn’t feel hampered by having to be exact, with the exception of the music being authentic, and wanting to tell the story of a romance, which I think was a very real romance, between Bobby and Sandy.
As depicted in the film, Bobby tried to become a folk singer with a political conscience late in his career, but the audiences wouldn’t accept him in that new role. A successful actor such as yourself can also become typecast. Was that part of his story something you related to particularly? I think Bobby, without question, faced the same dilemma that a lot of artists face, which is the conflict between professional expectations and personal freedom. He chose personal freedom, sometimes at the expense of his career. And I suppose that in the last five years, I’ve experienced a little bit of people not wanting me to do the things that I wanted to do. But you have to live for yourself. You can’t live for your critics.
Film audiences haven’t seen you singing and dancing until now. Many of your fans probably have no idea you can do this. Was there always a burning desire to show people that you could perform a musical as well as you obviously can?
I’ve always loved musicals. God knows I wish I could have done a musical between my days in the musical theater and now. But it just never came up. So, for me, it’s been worth the wait. I love the form, and again, in wanting to reinvent myself, it just seemed like the perfect time to do it.
Are there any other musicals you’re looking to tackle next, either onscreen or on stage?
[wryly] I’ve got a few up my sleeve.
Okay, I guess we’ll just have to wait and be surprised. But next you’re going to be doing a tour singing Bobby’s music.
We’re going to go out on the road. promoting the movie by celebrating the music of Bobby Darin. That’ll happen in December. We’re going to do 9-10 cities. I’m starting rehearsals for it in November.
Cool. How different was your mindset going into Beyond the Sea, as opposed to Albino Alligator? Did you feel a lot more confident as a director?
You know, by the time you get to the first day of shooting, you’d better feel relatively confident about what you’re about to do. In our case, we had 12 weeks of pre-production. I’d been dreaming about doing the movie for more than 10 years. I’d been working on it for five years. But it’s still quite nerve-wracking, and you still hope that you’re going to be able to succeed in directing the actors. And I was concerned that, because I’d be directing myself, that I’d be paying attention to the things that were important and that it wouldn’t become a vanity production.
Let’s talk about your job as Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre. You could have played it safe for your first production and done something very conventional. But you chose not to with “Cloaca.”
What I wanted to do in this first season was present work that was fresh, not that well known, or hadn’t been done in London for a long time, as well as work that I thought would be popular with the public. So the first play that we chose is by an unknown writer who has written a lovely play that we are incredibly proud to have presented. And despite the critical drubbing that we’ve taken, the box office is booming and people are coming into the theater in droves, exactly as we had hoped. So our objective is working.
What do you love most about the actual Old Vic Theatre, structurally or otherwise?
Well, it is just one of the great theaters in the world. Because of the shape of the theater, the design of the theater, it’s one of the easiest theaters for actors to play on. It’s been standing there since 1818. It has a remarkable history. And I’ve always wanted to run a theater my entire life. So these two dreams are coming true for me in the same year. I could die now. [laughs]
A Bobby Darin song could be playing in the background.
Let’s talk a bit about your production company, Trigger Street. Is it true that was the name of the street you grew up on?
No, I didn’t grow up on it. I lived near it, but one of my best friends did live on it. And we had always dreamed about building a theater on Trigger Street. We were going to call it the Trigger Street Theatre. So when it was time to name my company, I thought back to those days and Trigger Street was born.
Many successful actors and directors start their own production companies. What made you create one which also reaches into the community of struggling filmmakers to offer a helping hand?
Because I don’t know what the hell else I’m supposed to do with success…except share it.
How active are you on the website? Do you read a lot of the scripts and watch the shorts, or do you leave that up to the community members?
Well, the great thing about it is that it’s community-run, You know, we’re not making the choices. The community is. But I absolutely see a lot of the films. And certainly. our Top 10 films, I’ve seen all of them.
You’ve mentioned in the past that working with Jack Lemmon as a young actor on “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” changed your life. Could you expand on that a bit?
Without question, it was observing how Jack dealt with his success. How Jack dealt with other people. How Jack dedicated himself to the work. How he never let Hollywood glory go to his head. It was a great lesson for someone who was trying to climb his way up in the industry. I mean, he was just a great man. He was one of the funniest people I ever spent time with, and he was a generous person. He became something of a father figure to me, and I miss him.
On the set of Edison, you were recently reunited with Morgan Freeman, whom you appeared with in Se7en back in 1995. What was that experience like?
It was great. We had a blast. First of all, after Beyond the Sea, it was nice to be able to just show up and only have to know my lines. [laughs] But, also, I admire Morgan a lot, and we had a great time working together. And Justin Timberlake plays his first dramatic role in the movie, and he was very serious about it and focused and did a terrific job. We also had a very nice time with David Burke, who was my old writer from the ‘Wiseguy” days. He wrote the script and was also at the helm.
Your next acting gig will be a return to the theater.
At the Old Vic, I’ll be back up on stage doing a play called “National Anthems,” starting in February. Then we’re doing “The Philadelphia Story” right after that. in which I’ll be playing the Gary Grant role from the movie. So I’m doing two plays back-to-back. I’ll be a theater rat for a little while. But the stories of my quitting acting in movies are false.
Well, that’s good to hear.
I don’t know where they get this stuff. You know, I’ll say in a sentence that I’ve always preferred the theater over film, as an actor, because it’s more organic. And suddenly there’s a headline that says I’m quitting movies! So, go figure. At the moment, my dedication is to getting the Old Vic up and running, but I suspect I’ll find a movie to do after I’m done with this first season, which ends sometime in the spring.
One final question. Our “Inside the Actors Studio” moment. How do you want to be remembered as an actor?
That I did my best ~
Beyond the Sea opens in Los Angeles and New York on November 24th. It expands nationally on December 17th. The picture is being released by Lions Gate Films.
Tour dates are as follows: December 4th: Boston; December 6th: Los Angeles (The Wiltern); December 11th: Washington, DC; December 14th: New York; December 21st: Chicago; December 22nd: San Francisco; December 26th: Miami; December 27th: Las Vegas.
The dates above are not quite accurate as we all know. A big thanks to Joanne for scanning the article and pictures for us. http://www.venicemag.com/