WIZARD July 2006
PLAYING ONE OF OUR 100 GREATEST VILLAINS, LEX LUTHOR, THE OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR TALKS ABOUT REUNITING WITH BRYAN SINGER, A DARKER LUTHOR AND SOMETHING CALLED A ‘SUPERBUSTER’
Kevin Spacey freely admits that playing a villain doesn’t excite him anymore than playing heroic, melancholy or poignantly dramatic roles.
Sure he’s made a career of playing the maniacal (John Doe in “Se7en”), the criminally cunning (Verbal Kint in “The Usual Suspects”) and the deviant ( Mickey in “Hurlyburly”), but Spacey has a confession.
“It’s not more fun to play the bad guy,” says the 45-year-old actor, calling from London where he’s running the prestigious Old Vic theatre. “That’s a myth. I think people tend to say they like watching the villain characters, but it doesn’t mean they’re any more fun to play.”
In fact, when Spacey received the phone call asking if he’d be interested in playing the iconic villain Lex Luthor – Superman’s best-known foe for over 60 years – in this summer’s highly anticipated “Superman Returns” (June 30). It wasn’t the stature of the character, the chance to stretch beyond any barriers he’d encountered or even a massive payday that wooed the actor. No, it was simply four words: Bryan Singer is directing.
After Spacey won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in 1995’s “The Usual Suspects” – Singer’s breakout directing hit – the two remained friends and constantly tried to find new projects to work on together, but it wasn’t until “Superman Returns” that the right role and timing finally worked out.
“There have been a number of times we’ve attempted to try to find films to do together because we had such a remarkable experience on ‘Suspects,'” recalls Spacey. “For all intents and purposes, it launched both our careers. And I’ve always had an enormous affection for him.
“[When we reunited on ‘Superman Returns,’] it was like a day hadn’t gone by. Bryan is the same person that he was. I’m the same person that I was. I understand Bryan. I trust him so much that he can push me, shape me, and have me go in directions I might not go with a director I don’t feel as confident in. We had an absolutely great time.”
BY MIKE COTTON
WIZARD: Singer said he wrote the part of Lex Luthor specifically for you. Did that put additional pressure on you to take the gig?
SPACEY: No. In fact. the first experience I had with Bryan was identical in that they had written the role of Verbal Kint in “Usual Suspects” with me in mind. And I found that incredibly flattering. I didn’t find it put any undue pressure on me at all. It was the first time that had ever happened to me in my career. So I was very delighted when Bryan came to me a year ago and said, “I’m going to do the new Superman, and I can’t imagine doing it without you.” I was thrilled.
So, did the two of you sit down to discuss who Luthor was and how you both envisioned him?
The truth is I accepted the role without having read the script because it wasn’t ready. I trust Bryan implicitly. When you have the kind of confidence like I have in Bryan, you literally just show up and go in whatever direction he points you in. And you try to give him as many different colors as you can in terms of what he’s looking for and how he’s shaping it. You don’t get involved in the minutiae. You just do your job, and later on he shows you the movie. And in my experience, both on “Suspects” and on this, I was very, very happy with what I saw, and I think he’s done a remarkable job with the movie.
This wasn’t your first time being considered for the role of Luthor. You were on director Tim Burton’s list when he was going to make a Superman film.
Yeah, I met one afternoon with Burton when he was scheduled to do the film – of course, there was no script at that point. But he had an office at Warner Brothers, and I went in. He had some storyboards and some ideas. It was obviously a completely different idea than what this film is, but I was never offered that role and it never happened. So that was just one of those, “Hi. If I make this movie, that’d be great.” But it never came off.
Your portrayal of Luthor is much angrier than we’ve seen in the previous films. How would you compare him to the way Gene Hackman played him In the original film by Richard Donner?
I don’t know. There have been so many incarnations over the years, if you think about it, starting on the radio and then on television and the Donner movie, and we’ve had “Smallville.” I think both the role of Superman and of Luthor are those kinds of roles that continue to be reinterpreted, and I think audiences rather enjoy seeing different actors do it. How many times did different actors play Richard III or Hamlet? We don’t feel like any actor owns a particular role. But there’s no doubt that Hackman was fabulous, and I’d say that the main difference is that this is a much darker Luthor – he’s out for revenge. ” So although there’s still a lot of humor in it, I think this is just j a deeper and darker telling of this particular story that Bryan and the writers created.
What is Luthor’s view of Superman in this film?
It’s hard to answer that question in the context of this movie because I’d be revealing too much. But I can say that I think Lex Luthor has always been interested in property. It’s always been about land for Lex, and he wants his piece of the pie. And Superman to him represents a challenge, and Lex loves a challenge. I think he loves the fact that he may not have the brawn and the strength physically, but I do think he thinks he’s smarter than Superman, and can outwit him. He thinks he can beat him and bring him down to a fair playing ground to match each other on a more even keel. And that’s what Lex goes about trying to do.
What about shaving your head? Was that a pain? They had to trick Hackman into doing it…
I keep getting questions about whether having a bald head is a big deal, and it’s the easiest thing in the world. You just shave your head every day, and then they make it up so it looks good. And that’s it. Lex has been bald in every incarnation of the series, even when he first originated in the comic book. You kind of know going in you gotta shave your head. When I came back to do “The Philadelphia Story” [at The Old Vic], I had to wear a wig for six weeks while my hair grew back because you can’t play [lead character] C. K. Dexter Haven bald. It doesn’t quite work.
What was it like working with Brandon Routh? He was a virtual unknown before being cast as Superman…
I think Brandon is perfect for the part. I think he’s a smart guy. I think it’s truly the smartest thing that Bryan did, to cast an unknown. You have to have a suspension of disbelief in a movie like this, and I think if it had been a known actor, I’m not quite sure audiences would believe he could fly around in the red cape. But Brandon is perfect for the role. I think he does a terrific job. We had a lot of fun together – or as much as you can have when you’re playing adversaries.
When you’re playing adversaries, do you try to keep away from each other?
No, no. It’s a f***ing comic book for God’s sake. It’s not Othello.
We heard after you got on-set in Australia you started dragging a Superman doll behind your golf cart.
Yes, it’s very true. I had a Lex-mobile made, and we called it “the Superbuster.” It had Kryptonite racing stripes on the side, and I had a bullhorn. I drove around the lot declaring, “Superman must die! Superman must die!” And I was dragging a little Superman doll behind it. By the end of the shoot with the rain and everything, that little Superman looked pretty bad. Just trying to set the mood, set the tone.
What about the action figures? They’re going to be everywhere this summer and this is your first. How does that feel?
I’m just happy that it actually resembles me. There’d be nothing worse than to have an action figure where you thought, “Well, that doesn’t quite do it.” No, I mean…1ook, I’ve never done a film of this type, but that’s the great thing about going through life. It has a way of offering you opportunities you could have never imagined. And I’m only happy that in the circumstance of doing a movie like this that I was put in such fine hands as Bryan’s. I can quite honestly say that if he wasn’t directing the movie. I probably wouldn’t have done it. ~
WIZARD #177 – July 2006
Pages 80 – 83. Magazine cover photo, two small Lex Luthor photos on the index page. Article contains six Lex Luthor photos.