Kevin Spacey has a quiet word over dinner

The name of the Rose
Currently wowing audiences Stateside, American Beauty is the film that dares to take off its rose-tinted glasses and look the USA straight in the eye. Its star Kevin Spacey is riding high on the success of the movie but, he tells Film Review, he’d much rather be treading the boards…
TEXT JAMES MOTTRAM

From Film Review February 2000

They say life begins at 40. For actor Kevin Spacey, who clocked that age last year, his upwardly-mobile career suggests he’s got a head-start. Over in London to promote American Beauty, a film that’s already united crowds and critics in the States (having taken in excess of $50 million) while affording Spacey the finest role of his 13-year screen career, it becomes evident that he’s an actor only just scaling towards the peak of his powers.

Dressed in a dapper navy suit, his appearance is as beguiling as his finely-crafted performances. He remains both affable and open, as serious as he is comical. Offering wry smiles throughout, one suspects he might just be perfecting one more performance for an audience’s benefit, but it’s an intriguing one all the same.

American Beauty sees Spacey play middle-aged suburbanite Lester Burnham. With a wife and daughter who view him as a loser, Lester becomes the worm that turns, as events urge him to reassess his life. Soon enough, he’s smoking pot and working out in his garage to the sound of Jimi Hendrix. Directed by British Wunderkind Sam Mendes, already celebrated for his Broadway production of The Blue Room with Nicole Kidman, American Beauty first attracted Spacey because of Mendes’ attachment to the project.

“For me, knowing Sam was going to direct it, made me read the script with anticipation. He’d turned down a bunch of movies and I was very curious what he held out for. We had our first meeting in the Old Vic (theatre) bar, and I knew within 35 seconds that Sam and I were absolutely on the same ‘page’.”

Denying the film is simply an indictment of the US, Spacey sees its observations of the American Dream gone sour in a more universal light. “I think the film doesn’t have any answers, but it tries to examine what’s going on at the subterranial level of most people’s lives,” he says. “[It’s saying] don’t miss the relationship that you might have with something that you think is mundane, or a person that you perceive as uninteresting, or not beautiful or trendy or dressed right – all those ideas of what’s valuable. To me this whole movie hinged on perception. Every single character in the film perceives themselves and others in a way that may or may not be true. In many cases, people are completely wrong about their perceptions of others.”

An actor who guards his privacy with care, Spacey is of the opinion that the less we know about him, the better his performances will be. What is recorded remains scant, to say the least. Born in New Jersey, but raised in several Southern Californian suburbs (“in a neighbourhood not unlike Lester’s”), Spacey was the youngest of three children, and a ‘terror’ to boot.

“I communicated very well with my parents when I was growing up. But I remember a period of time when I was really mad with my mother. I was furious. I didn’t talk to her for a long time, like a month. Kids and parents go through this period, and maybe it’s this cliché that it’s always in the teenage years, but there is this time: you’re beginning to define yourself and explore your sexuality, and maybe parents and kids do go south for a little while. In some cases they don’t come back. I came back to my parents and my parents came back to me...”

Image copyright: UIP. Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

Get the full interview with Kevin Spacey
in the February 2000 issue of Film Review

American Beauty • Film of the Month Review here

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