|by Emma Quayle
In a film that features Sean Penn, Meg Ryan, Anna Paquin and Robin Wright, it seems a little strange that Kevin Spacey's name appears second on screen, just below that of Penn. Despite a career crammed with critical commendation, an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, and roles that have ranged from a nasty bug named Hopper to Seven's savage serial killer, Kevin Spacey is still supporting the star.
But here, of course, is where the irony lies. In his entire career, Spacey has remained an enigma. His role in a film is always well disguised. There is still a line between who Spacey is, and who he wants us to believe he could be. When you watch a movie just because it stars him, you will come out having spent two hours with Jack Vincennes, Verbal Kint, or even Hopper the caterpillar, while still knowing nothing more about the man himself.
Here, though, is a little bit. Born Kevin Matthew Fowler in South Jersey but raised in LA, Spacey led a somewhat exuberant youth. He was packed off to military school after an incident involving his sister's treehouse and some matches, and only escaped after hitting a classmate with a tyre (an act of self-defence, Spacey insists). At Chatsworth High School, and in search of tamer pursuits, he turned to the drama club, eventually appearing in a production of The Sound of Music with classmates Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham.
A two year stint at the New York drama school Julliard followed, but Spacey soon decided that acting for real was much more fun than just thinking about it. He made his Broadway debut in Joseph Papp's Henry IV, and after some off-stage work as an office boy, joined director Mike Nichols' theatre company. Most notably, he was involved with Nichols' stage production of his current film vehicle Hurlyburly. Spacey understudied for every role in the play, and eventually replaced Harvey Keitel as Mickey. He made enough of an impression on Nichols to win his first film roles, in the director's Heartburn (where he played a punk, alongside Meryl Streep) and Working Girl (making a few dodgy moves on Melanie Griffith).
Spacey grabbed some small parts in Rocket Gibraltar and Dad, but it was The Usual Suspects, in 1995, that won him the most acclaim. This, in turn, encouraged appreciation of his other early work: Glengarry Glen Ross, Consenting Adults, The Ref and Swimming With Sharks. A follow up effort, as Seven's serial killer, saw Spacey insist his name be left off the film's title sequence for fear it would tip viewers off. More recently, Spacey has released his directorial debut, the cold and claustrophobic hostage drama Albino Alligator. He equalled the efforts of Samuel L. Jackson as his unlikely ally in The Negotiator, and become the voice of Hopper for A Bug's Life.
But while these films utilise his versatility, it is Clint Eastwood's under appreciated Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that pays most respect to the Spacey style. His brilliant character acting even became the film's chief selling point. Despite some accusations of over-acting, Spacey certainly captured the character of real life accused murderer Jim Williams. While on the set, even Williams' sister had to look twice when Spacey walked by.
But it is LA Confidential, Curtis Hanson's tale of grimy goings on in 1950s LA that plays most effectively with Spacey's iconic status, and his habit of playing the bad guy. As Jack Vincennes, the LAPD glamour boy who sets up celebrity drug busts to get his picture in the paper, Spacey is the film's most clearly corrupt character. In the end, however, the film becomes a perfect metaphor for Spacey's appeal. It's not perennial bad guy Spacey who's the real bad boy. He leaves the ultimate show of evil to Babe's fatherly farmer James Cromwell. Once again, Kevin Spacey punishes those convinced that they can predict him. ---Emma Quayle
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originally posted: 05/08/99 09:10:04
last updated: 05/19/99 02:12:02