INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN SPACEY
ORIGINALLY FEATURED in 1998-
by Andrew Goletz
Hollywoodís most versatile actors still fresh from his Oscar winning
performance in 1995ís The Usual Suspects and role as District Attorney
in A Time To Kill, sat down to talk with Gray Haven about his directorial
debut in Albino Alligator and more.
AG: Why did you choose this particular film as your first to direct?
KS: I had
been looking around for a couple of years and I had Ďthe bugí ever
since I was a little kid. Me and a bunch of friends in high school and
junior high would always go to these revival houses. There was one
theater, which is still around today, that we would go to on weekends or
even skip school to go to. Weíd see Peter Brooksí King Lear and Harold
and Maude and all these movies that were from another era and I just fell
in love with movie making and what other directors did. It was something
that always intrigued me. Around 1990, I started talking about how I
wanted to direct. I didnít know whether it would be a play or a movie,
and I wasnít sure how I would find it, but over the years I read a lot
of scripts and had a lot of opportunities to do other things. But there
was this one particular script that gave me so many compelling reasons to
take a shot at it.
AG: What was it that appealed to you?
KS: The basic premise
was unique and interesting. I liked the fact that it harkened back to an
early time in film when they used to do box dramas; these early Hitchcock
movies where everything was done on one set with these unbelievably long
takes. For me as a first time director, I didnít want to have to face
the logistical nightmare of 25 different locations or 30 locations. Since
85% of the film takes place in one room, I could shoot it in sequence.
AG: So the linear aspect was important?
KS: Iíve done a few
movies that used that process and I just canít tell you the value of
what that does for what you experience as an actor and from knowing where
you are and what youíre doing. Itís all cumulative in terms of how it
lays itself out. You shoot a scene in the middle of a movie and youíre
forced to do a lot of guesswork on how you might have felt during the
scene before. When shooting in a linear fashion, you take the guesswork
out and the feelings are more genuine. In this instance, you could
rehearse like it was a play. It helps the performances, but it would also
act as a bit of a safety net for me as a first time director. It was sort
of like on the job training since I didnít go to film school. My film
school has been making movies and hearing ideas and learning from the
visions that filmmakers had and then by seeing movies. I was able to learn
how they worked. I was very fortunate this first time to find a film that
had a lot of interesting characters and a great script. These were all
factors that helped me choose this for my first directing job.
AG: Are you tired now?
KS: No. Actually, Iím very energized by the whole experience. I think
that next to acting in the theater, this has been my most satisfying
AG: Do you have plans to do it again any time soon?
KS: I do, probably in
about a year or so. I think Iím going to test myself with a film with a
vaster scope. Maybe Iíll do 3 locations next time.
AG: Do you think there are any differences between
an actor directing and a pure director directing?
KS: Well I view the
world and artistic experience as an actor, but I donít look at it as an
actor who only sees a narrow scope of the character. I first and foremost
try and envision the world that the writer has created and try to honor
that world. Sometimes you go to a movie and see a performance by someone
and think, Ďwow, if everyone else was in the same movie with HIM, this
could have been really goodí. I always try and tell the whole story,
which I could always see, but now as I director I have a chance to shape
that world. For me, the relationship with the actors was paramount because
I wanted to create a common sensibility about the work and what I would be
needing from everyone in terms of performance. We shot the movie in 34
days, 24 of which were inside this bar we built. We shot in sequence, none
of the characters were peripheral. So for me, trying to create an ensemble
of actors who could have been responsive to one another and where we could
all have an open dialogue and work with each other, was very important. I
think as an actor, I was better able to relate to what the actors in the
film needed from my performance as a director.
AG: How important is it for a director to have
different takes to choose from?
KS: Very. What you
discover in the editing process is that if an actor delivers a line the
same way each and every time, youíre giving the director no choices in
the editing room. Thatís why I didnít have the actors come to dailies.
I didnít want anyone to come and see the work because itís easy to
fall in love with a moment and go, Ďoh thatís the oneí. Except in
the course of the movie, take 7 isnít the one you use because it
doesnít fit the mood of the overall story youíre trying to tell. If an
actor gives you different line readings, you have this great warehouse of
information and material to use.
AG: Do you think your work on films like The Usual
Suspects and Swimming With Sharks, where characterization is extremely
important, was an influence on picking Albino Alligator?
KS: Yeah. I donít see
how they couldnít have had some affect, but Iím not sure what it was.
I didnít consciously set out to do it, but Iíve always been attracted
to scripts that have characters going through some degree of change.
AG: What attracted you to LA Confidential?
KS: Itís a really fun
novel and Elroy is this sort of jazz writer. When you read him, he has his
own language. Heís the only guy I know who can use the word Ďdadioí
and make it sound really cool. I really like the story because it is very
interesting and I like that period: 1951, 52, 53. I had never played a cop
before, and this character I play starts out as a sort of questionable
character and he has a deal with the tabloids where he busts celebrities
and reports them to the tabloid. Elroy told me heís based on the cop who
busted Robert Mitchem for pot, which was a set up. What they do is bust
starts and my character is in cahoots with the editor of Hush-Hush
magazine (played by Danny DeVito). I was attracted to it because heís
not a dark or evil character and through the course of the film he decides
to do the right thing. To me, that was a transition as I move to playing
characters who are more entertaining, more available and arenít
manipulative or evil. Iíve done as much as I can for those roles.
AG: Any new projects on the horizon?
KS: No. Iím working on
writing a script for a film I want to direct, and maybe find some parts
that ask what I want to bring to the table. Iím in no hurry. Albino has
occupied my time for the last several year and Iíve just sort of snuck
these other films in.
AG: Any desire to direct yourself in a feature?
KS: I didnít this time
because I didnít think I was right for any of the parts and I didnít
know what it would entitle. I talked to other first timers who directed
themselves and even if they didnít say it to my face, I get the sense
that they wish they hadnít. Maybe next time, if I feel Iím absolutely
right for the role. If I think 25 other people are appropriate, then I
donít see what I can do for it.
AG: Was your character in Swimming With Sharks based on a real
Absolutely. He was based on a couple of people, actually. Who are these
people? I donít know. I hear all of these names thrown around, but
Iíve never met the people I supposedly based the characters on. I mean,
Iíve met them since, but not until after Iíve completed the role. It
was written on the page for me. It was a hilarious and interesting
character. A lot of the stories were compilations of assistants in these
bull sessions after work, talking about their horrendous bosses.
Ultimately, I did the movie because it was an interesting examination of
ambition and what people are capable of; and what theyíre willing to do
to get what they want. We had a screening of the film in Washington DC and
all of these Senatorís aides were coming out of the film saying, ĎYou
donít understand. This is MY life.í Itís not just the movie world.
This stuff happens everywhere. There are people who are just mean spirited
and put others through these hazing rituals to prove themselves.
AG: What is your favorite role?
KS: There are two of
them, as a matter of fact: One that everybody has seen and one that I
donít think anyone has seen. Certainly theater roles are close to me.
The chance to go back and get another whack at it every night has a
tremendous appeal. My character in The Usual Suspects is my favorite film
role. At the end of the movie, you want to replay the entire thing. But
even without itís shock twists, the character of Verbal is a really meek
and vulnerable character. That attracted me. It was nice to do a quieter
and less hermetically sealed character, unlike Swimming With Sharks where
youíre just defending your position. I didnít go to the dailies with
this film. I just trusted the director, Bryan Singer, implicitly as he
guided me through it.
AG: And the lesser known role?
KS: Iím particularly
pleased with a film I did for American Playhouse on the life of Clarence
Darrow. He was the father of the legal profession in the United States,
and a great man. He had a lot of ideas that I agreed with. To run with
that philosophy of his was moving to me. I was proud of the part.
AG: And finally, howís the reaction to Albino Alligator been?
positive. Iíve had great response to it in the festivals in France and
Toronto. Itís a film that asks a good deal of patience from an audience,
and Iíve been encouraged during the past few years by seeing films like
Dead Man Walking and Leaving Las Vegas; films that ask for patience and
audience involvement doing really well. What Iíve realized in the past
few months is that the audience is there, and we also want to appeal to
people who are interested in a good ride.