Beyond All Expectations
BY TERRY KEEFE PHOTOGRAPHY LORENZO AGIUS GROOMING JANINE SCHNIEDER STYUST LINDA POWELL PRODUCTION NICK BULL /K2 ASSISTANTS ROBIN TURNER, LEO BESANT. GUY ISHERWOOD LOCATION RIVOLI BALLROOM DANCE HALL, LONDON
A lot has happened in the world of Kevin Spacey since he last graced our cover back in December of 2001. Spacey was already a two-time Oscar winner, which would certainly seem to have earned him a resting-on- his-laurels break. But he sounded determined to do exactly the opposite. Said Kevin, “I’ve become uncomfortable with how successful I’ve become. I don’t deserve it. So I keep working hard at it. I keep trying to find new things.” You might have thought he was just talking about trying some different types of roles, which he has certainly done. His newest film, Beyond the Sea, a musical biopic about the life of singer-actor Bobby Darin which Spacey also directs, reveals musical talents that most of his fans likely never knew he had. But during the past three years, Spacey also launched TriggerStreet.com, a virtual film festival online which has the sole purpose of helping undiscovered screenwriters and filmmakers break into the industry. And if that weren’t enough, he recently took on the job of Artistic Direc- tor of the historic Old Vic Theatre in London, determined to revitalize it to its former glory when the likes of Sir John Gielgud and Richard Burton trod its boards. This is not a guy who has any intention of slowing down. In fact, he seems to have taken on the philosophy that if he slows down for a minute, he’ll gather a year’s worth of rust. And that’s an attitude that Kevin Spacey would have shared with the man he plays in Beyond the Sea, Bobby Darin.
As long as I’m singing/Then the world’s all right and everything’s swingin’/Long as I’m singing my song -“As Long As I’m Singing, ” Bobby Darin
It’s been said that singing is what kept Bobby Darin alive. Rheumatic fever during childhood severely damaged his heart, and he wasn’t supposed to live past age fifteen. It would be at the age of 37 when he finally passed away following open heart surgery, but he packed enough accomplishments into those years for a few lifetimes: Hit records (“Splish Splash,” “Mack the Knife,” “Dream Lover,” and, of course, “Beyond the Sea,” amongst many others), Grammys, and an Oscar nomination in 1964 for Captain Newman, M.D.
Spacey infuses Beyond the Sea with the same “Gotta dance!” mindset that drove Darin every day. We meet Darin as a child when he was known as Walden Robert Cassotto (charmingly played by William Ullrich). In an effort to give Little Bobby something to think of other than illness, his mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn) introduces him to music. Not just singing, but the piano, drums, and guitar, as well. From there, Bobby is off and not only running, but literlly dancing down the street, with all of his neighbors dancing behind him in a scene straight out of a ‘505 Technicolor musical. Doesn’t sound like your usual musician biopic? It isn’t. Spacey has wisely chosen to break with reality on a number of occasions and add full-on musical numbers in which he not only proves his chops as a musical talent. but also adds a true sense of glee to a story which could have become fairly standard and dour. Of course, we also see Spacey perform many of Darin’s songs on night club stages in a realistic fashion, but it is in the more fantasy-based musical sequences where we really get a sense of how much joy Darin felt when he was performing. Who has time for a heart attack when your feet just have to move? The musical numbers are also a great story-telling device, just in terms of moving the plot along. The scene where Bobby courts his future bride, actress Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), by singing her “Beyond the Sea” in a charged musical montage, is infinitely more captivating than a dialogue-driven version of the same scene could ever be.
Spacey has been equally wise to surround himself with top acting talent. In addi- tion to Blethyn and Bosworth, the cast is rounded out by John Goodman as Bobby’s best-friend-turned-manager, Steve Blauner, Caroline Aaron as Bobby’s sister, Nina, and Bob Hoskins as Nina’s husband, Chartie. Aaron, in particular, deserves special recognition. as her part calls for a cathartic revelation at the end of the film which is extremely affecting. Those familiar with Darin’s life story can probably guess what that revelation is, but it would be unfair to reveal it here to everyone else. This is Spacey’s second time helming a feature, his first being 1996’s Albino Alligator, a relatively small-scale story of a robbery gone awry which Spacey himself did not appear in. This time around, not only has he taken on the challenging task of directing himself, but the scope of the film is also far grander.
There will be those who quibble that Spacey is too old to play Darin, particularly in the scenes when Darin is a younger man of 20. But as evidenced by the musical numbers, Beyond the Sea is never intended to be a note-for-note recreation of reality. What Spacey is playing is the essence of Darin, and towards that end, he succeeds on all counts, likely putting him on the short list for Oscar nominations once again this year. The actor-director certainly knew he’d be taking some heat by playing the lead and works a knowing answer to his critics into the dialogue during the part of the plot which revolves around a movie that Darin is making of his life. When someone mentions to him that he’s too old to play the part, Darin replies. “I was born to play this part!” By the end of the first song, you’d be hard pressed to argue. Few would have ever suspected that the man who played The Usual Suspects’ pretzel-legged Verbal Kint, alias Keyser Soze, was a deft song-and-dance man, but that’s what he is. Spacey sings all of the songs in the film himself, many of which he recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios with producer Phil Ramone. Much like the rest of the film, Spacey’s renditions of the Darin hits capture the singer’s essence without imitating him outright.
After Beyond the Sea, the next place you’ll be able to see Spacey perform will be onstage at the Old Vic Theatre in London, where he has recently begun his term as Artistic Director. The actor had his first experience with this legendary venue when he was just a child and attended a performance there with his parents. In 1998, he would return once again to the Old Vic, this time as an actor, electrifying audiences in the role of Hickey in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Today, the Old Vic is essentially his show. Spacey is ardently determined to return the Old Vic to its former glory as the crown jewel of London theaters, but he’s also clearly decided that this can’t happen without taking a few risks. For his first production as Artistic Director, the safe route would have been to choose a classic work by the likes of Shakespeare. Instead, Spacey picked “Cloaca,” by an unknown Dutch writer named Maria Goos, revolving around a group of 40-something friends who reunite. Spacey directed the play, although he chose not to appear in it. The critics have been pretty rough on the production, but the box office has been quite good, so it appears that he’s onto something. In the months to come, Spacey will take the stage again for two different productions. Also in the upcoming season, no less a stage luminarythan Sir Ian McKellen will be taking on the role of Window Twankey in “Aladdin.”
While he’s running an actual theater in London, Spacey is also running a virtual the- ater online. TriggerStreet.com was launched in November, 2002 by Spacey and business partner Dana Brunetti, as an offshoot of Spacey’s production company Trigger Street Productions. Said Spacey at the time, “I feel that if you have done well in whatever business you are in, it is your duty to send the elevator back down and try to help bring up the next generation of undiscovered talent.” As you can imagine, the line to get on that elevator became long very quickly. Anyone with a short film or screenplay can load their works up on TriggerStreet.com and have them critiqued, and also rated, by the community of 150,000 registered users, most of whom are also aspiring writers and filmrnakers. The most highly rated films and scripts move to the top of the site’s charts, where they have a good shot at getting noticed by the industry’s movers and shakers. Case in point, the top ten short film finalists were given a coveted screening at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. There is no charge to upload your material onto the site, but in order to have your work reviewed, you must first review the work of a few other members. Thus, only the most committed to the process have a shot at moving forward. For anyone who has ever applied to film festivals or screenwriting competitions, and paid the large fees required simply to have your project looked at, the TriggerStreet.com model is refreshing and, unfortunately, entirely unique. Meanwhile, Trigger Street Productions itself has a whole host of projects in the pipeline. Last spring, Paramount Classics released their production The United States of Leland, which Spacey also acted in. They got on board with two documentaries: Uncle Frank and America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero (narrated by Spacey). And they’ll next go into production on two features: Minis First Time (with Nikki Reed and Alec Baldwin) and 21, the story of a group of MIT students who learned how to count cards and took Vegas for millions.
It’s all a long way from the early part of Spacey’s career, when, despite stage tri- umphs, he was regarded as more of a supporting character-type in Hollywood. You might have caught him at the tail end of the ’80s as Mel Profitt on the television series “Wiseguy, ” or when he played a slimy businessman who tried to take advantage of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (1988). More notable work followed in Henry & June (1990) and “Darrow” (1991), where he played famed attorney Clarence Darrow. But it was 1992 when he really proved what he was capable of, more than holding his own with the likes of Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, and Alan Arkin in Glengarry Glen Ross. And then came 1995 and the triple-whammy of Swimming with Sharks, The Usual Suspects, and Se7en. To many moviegoers, it was like he had appeared out of nowhere, but they eagerly embraced him nonetheless. A run of successes followed including L.A. Confidential (1997), The Negotiator (1998), American Beauty (1999), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, The Shipping News (2001), and The Life of David Gale (2003). Spacey today is a movie star, but also one of the most respected actors in the world. That’s a rare club to be in. His fans include filmgoers who wouldn’t be caught dead at an art house, as well as people who won’t go anywhere else.
Kevin Spacey reached us by phone from London on an early Saturday evening. A touch of a British accent has started to seep into his famous voice, although that quickly dissipates as we talk.