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Currently starring on ABC's "Boston Legal", an actor with a taste for extremes, James Spader has forged a career built upon exploring the darker side of human nature. Spader appeared alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal in the critically-acclaimed film, Secretary, which won the 2002 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Originality. Spader was born on February 7, 1960, in Boston, Massachusetts. Spader, the son of teachers, dropped out of prep school in the 11th grade to pursue an acting career in New York. His feature film debut, in Endless Love (1981), was followed by turns in exploitation pictures such as Tuff Turf (1985) and The New Kids (1985), and TV work including a stint as Robert Mitchum's son in A Killer in the Family (1983). Spader's unctuous "charm" enlivened Pretty in Pink (1986), Mannequin, Baby Boom, Less Than Zero (delivering that film's best performance as a yuppie drug dealer), and Wall Street (all 1987). He starred in Jack's Back (1988, as a possible modern-day Jack the Ripper) and The Rachel Papers (1989), but he really hit his stride as the sexually troubled young man in sex, lies, and videotape (also 1989), for which he won the Best Actor award at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Spader's reputation cemented, he starred in Bad Influence (1990), playing a gullible young businessman opposite manipulative psycho Rob Lowe (in what would earlier have been a Spaderesque turn) and White Palace (also 1990), as a callow preppie who falls for earthy waitress Susan Sarandon. In other words, he was still playing yuppies, albeit sympathetic ones. True Colors (1991) saw him pitted against former friend and law-school classmate John Cusack, and in Storyville (1992) he played a young politician entwined in a web of deceit. Recent credits include Bob Roberts (also 1992, in a hilarious cameo as a newscaster), the oddball, existential The Music of Chance (1993), the werewolf saga Wolf (as another scummy yuppie), Stargate and Dream Lover (all 1994). Spader is a great fan of Charles Laughton, and has said he aspires to great roles like his in the years ahead.
His wife, Victoria , was the set decarator for '' Sex, Lies, and Videotape'', and they were married from 1987 but now they filed for divorce . James has two 2 children, Sebastian and Elijah.James Spader refuses to watch any of the movies he's appeared in.
"If I don't need the money, I don't work. I don't mind going to somebody and saying, 'Okay, this is how much money I need to pay my bills for the next six months. If you pay me that, I'll do the film'."
("Why did he accept the lead in 'Sex, Lies & Videotape'?"): "I took the film because I was interested in doing that part. Looking at work as stepping stones is something I don't have any time or energy for. It seems a shame to look at your work as some sort of means to an end, because the end is death, you know? The means is the flesh and blood, so you'd better enjoy it. F--- the end."
"If I don't need the money, I don't work. I'm going to spend time with my family and friends, and I'm going to travel and read and listen to music and try to learn a little bit more about how to be a human being, as opposed to learning how to be somebody else."
"Studio people are afraid of 'Crash.' It makes a statement about whoever releases the film. Miramax took a lot of flak for releasing Kids. The same will happen for whoever releases 'Crash.'"
"I have my own artistic sensibilities and Crash complements them. It is a provocative, challenging, disturbing film made for adults. It's not a skeleton in the closet for me."
(His sadomasochistic scenes in the new movie "Secretary"): "I did something in that scene that I'd never done in a film before but that's been the case with so many of my movies."
"You just want to work. I like playing character roles and I do not mind being a real son-of-a-bitch, or embarrassing myself. But as you go along you begin to realize that the work has a criterion and and as your choices get broader you start cutting out the things that are not worth the time. On the whole I have been lucky; I do not look back with a huge amount of distaste for the work I have done."
"Acting is a great way to make a living, especially when I consider what my alternatives were and probably still are. I mean, you are only making movies. It is a lot less pressure than being a surgeon; although it seemed like the only other thing that I was qualified for was manual labour."
James Spader is nominated again, this time for the People's Choice Award for Favorite Male TV Star.
James Spader wins Emmy Award for the Best Actor in Drama Series
James Spader's upset victory in the lead actor drama category was all the more surprising given the fact that the actor's foray into television seemed temporary at first. "Last year, I truly was under the impression that I was just visiting and I didn't know for how long," said Spader, who used to be known primarily for his film work, including "sex, lies, and videotape." "I'm not much of a planner, so I haven't planned for any of it. But I'm having a lot of fun."
James Spader Nominated for Golden Globe
Nominees for the 2005 Golden Globe Awards have been announced and both James Spader and William Shatner have been nominated for their work on Boston Legal. Spader, best known to SDJ readers as the original Daniel Jackson in the Stargate movie, has been nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Drama Series. Shatner has been nominated as Best Supporting Actor.
The awards ceremony will be held on January 16, 2005
James Spader is able to hide within a role, but not this time
To look at 37 year-old actor James Spader, with his soft demeanor and heavy-lidded eyes, you would never guess that he could play anyone other than a confused and/or sensitive young man caught in the middle of a moral dilemma or a bad situation. But though he has played such roles with elan, including his recent bizarre turn in the highly controversial Crash, he is probably better known to moviegoers for his convincing portrayal of creeps and back-stabbers, most notably in such films as Baby Boom, Wall Street, Wolf and Two Days in the Valley.
Spader's most recent film is Critical Care, which was the opening night feature at this year's Chicago International Film Festival, and opens theatrically this Friday. In Critical Care, written by Chicagoan Steven S. Schwartz (based on the novel by Richard Dooling), and directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, "Network), Spader plays Dr. Werner Ernst, a young and ambitious intensive care unit physician who dreams of wealth and fame in his field.
His path is detoured, however, when he falls for a beautiful young actress (Kyra Sedgwick), whose father is on life-support at Dr. Ernst's hospital. Pillow talk quickly turns into legal testimony, as Ernst finds himself caught between two sisters who are fighting for the right to decide whether or not to pull the plug on daddy, a decision that means $10 million to the victor. In the process of defending himself, Ernst slowly comes to remember why it was he became a doctor in the first place. I recently chatted with Spader, an incessant chain-smoker, in a downtown hotel room before he was whisked off to attend the Chicago Film Festival's opening night festivities.
Let's start with the film's highly stylized intensive care unit. It looks like it could be part of the space shuttle.
It was very intentionally done that way, for its nightmarish effect, suggesting that all humanity has been erased. It does look futuristic, but you still get the feeling that perhaps it is upon us.
It also gives a sense of doctors and nurses playing God.
it was purposely designed that way, shot that way and acted that way. the movie is put together in a way that suggests a parallel universe that maybe exists. and despite its black comedy, it certainly deals with issues that exist.
Sidney Lumet is a director who does a lot of rehearsing before shooting begins, probably owing to his background in theater.
Not to mention a rather hefty background in live television.
What did you learn about your character in the rehearsal process that didn't come out initially in the script?
I don't know. That's hard to put a finger on. I mean, I've done a lot of theater, so I had a sense of how to utilize the rehearsal period. But the serious issues that the film deals with--and that my character has to face in terms of his own humanity--are the sort of bigger issues of mortality that came along at just the right time in my life. Leading up to doing this film, I'd spent the last five years of my life in hospitals, whether it was visiting my parents or the birth of my children. So there was an awful lot percolating in my head about these issues that the film deals with, and the screenplay just spoke to those.
During those years, were you ever faced with anything as intense as a life or death decision?
My father was very sick for a long time. He died about two weeks before I started production on this film. He had been in and out of hospitals for quite a few years, but we chose not to have the latter part of his life exist in a hospital. We chose to keep him at home.
A key character in the film is Dr. Butz (played by Albert Brooks), who is the chairman emeritus of the critical care unit. Though he is in many ways a comic character, the issues he raises about critical-care insurance and long-term care have a certain validity.
I was pleased when Albert signed on, because I knew that his scenes would have that sort of dichotomy, serious issues that were treated with a certain amount of levity.
But were his arguments cogent, especially based on your own experiences?
The character of Butz in the film has the burden of presenting--in a blustery, tyrannical way--his skewed take on the medical health care system in America. He's a man who has become sour, but also has a tremendous sense of irony. The argument that I find most convincing is that we do try and protect ourselves against death. Very often in this country, if we're able to, we quite methodically and by design create our own future for ourselves.
Dr. Butz's speech about how he's going to go, with a big cigar in one hand and a drink in the other, without a lick of insurance, seems to me to be the moral center of the film.
I've seen death happen in many different ways. Sometimes it's been quick and forgiving. Other times it's been prolonged and unforgivable. Quick and forgiving would seem to be better, but by the same token, we do seem to prepare ourselves for the long haul.
Butz's point seems to be that we can't know. It's that "undiscovered country."
This country is different from a lot of other countries, where the elderly live out their lives still within the nest of the family. Here, the elderly tend to be dispatched, as opposed to being brought back into a fold that they themselves created.
Was Dr. Ernst a difficult part for you to play?
Yes, because a lot of the stuff I had to do required putting more of myself into the film than I usually do. In most films, I'm playing somebody very different from me, dealing with ideas and issues that are very different from the sort I deal with in my everyday life. Dr. Ernst isn't really like me, but the decisions he has to make are not dissimilar to those decisions I have had to make in my own life. Treading on familiar ground requires putting more of yourself into a role. Usually, I'm able to hide within a role. Here, I wasn't able to hide.
Is it more fun to hide?
Yeah, it is.
James Spader is a leading man today
James Spader is made uneasy when the talk turns to his personal go-go years. He purses his lips and casts a disapproving, prep-school look over the top of his horn-rims. He drops long pauses into the stream of patter that flows like water from his lips. Hesitantly, Spader says, "It was a strange period in my life. And I...I...indulged the strangeness to great lengths." Spader skirts the talk of past excess because that period has been superseded by a new, domesticated-model James Spader. At 30, he is a husband and a father now, a man of the land who just bought his first house-in the state where he grew up, Massachusetts-next door to his parents'. Spader's friends complain that he never goes out anymore, that he'd prefer that all his films be shot in his living room. It feels like a significant achievement to have coaxed him out to this bar south of Boston, not far from his home. The place is warm and wood-paneled in the tradition of an English club, with framed racehorse prints on the wall. But the luxe atmosphere is mocked by the silence in the nearly empty room. The place ought to be crowded with homeward-bound yuppies from the high-tech belt around Boston. Instead, the barkeeper leans over to confide, "Tonight is horrendous. Business stinks, to be honest with you. Everywhere."
The Massachusetts Miracle is over. The days of high-rolling, debt-financed expansion are done. Trump is on an allowance from his bankers, and Jack Kemp calls himself a bleeding-heart conservative. Caring is in, and greed is out. There was a time in James Spader's career when he portrayed the excesses of yuppie scum more regularly and with more bravado than did any other actor in the movies. In Baby Boom, he was a smarmy young exec who stole Diane Keaton's job. In Wall Street, he was a corporate lawyer who succumbed to insier trading. Even when he wasn't wearing a yellow tie, Spader managed, in Less Than Zero, to suggest the eerie parallels between a Machiavellian yuppie and a predatory coke dealer. His roled were a catalogue of the worst sins of the 1980's.
More or less coincidentally, Spader experiences his own years of excess during the mid-Eighties. "I think I was trying to test the limits of what can connote a good time," he says. "It manifested itself in self-destructiveness, or whatever." Then, hearing his words, he grows self-conscious. "I don't really want to go into this because I get sick of people traipsing out their tough times. Everybody goes through strange periods where they're experimenting in their dark corners. I guess I get sick of people talking about their olden days and then the reforming periods."
He lights a cigarette. Times change. People change. Like someone with a hangover after a decade-long party, the 1990s have begun in the slow lane. In his new movie, White Palace, Spader is playing another yuppie, an advertising man, but this time he's a yuppie chastened and made human. He falls for a waitress at a fast-food restaurent played by Susan Sarandon. At first, Spader's character is ashamed to be seen with his uneducated, must older girlfriend; he hides her from his friends and office mates. Then she shocks him by walking out. Desperate, he turns his back on his yup-scale world in order to win her back. With its successful executive and unlikely, lower-class Cinderella, the movie is similar in theme to this year's biggest hit, Pretty Woman.
After years of playing a steady stream of supporting characters, and following his insinuating, breakthrough performance as the sexually blocked Graham in Sex, Lies & Videotape, Spader has achieved a new profile for a new decade. "He's going to be perceived in a completely different way after this," says Sarandon. "I think he's really a leading man." On location in St. Louis for White Palace (adapted from the Glenn Savan novel), Spader was a thoroughly settled man. He came with his wife, Victoria, and their 1-year-old son, Sebastian. No wonder this paragon of domesticity fidgets at the mention of his bad old days. Yet Spader was never as corrupt as any of the rats he played. He's always been a combination of innocence and perversity. At one point, drinking heavily, he believed self-destruction was imminent and so attended some AA meetings. But according to a longtime friend, Gerry Harrington, a Hollywood talent mangaer, Spader was never a drunk. "If Jimmy goes out and drinks for three days in a row, he'll think that makes him an alcoholic, and then he goes two years without drinking," says Harrington. "He tends to glamorize and hyperbolize everything."
Spader's new house, which is on a body of water called Buzzards Bay, once belonged to his grandparents. Spaders have lived in the same small town for four or five generations. By all accounts, they are like a family out of a Cheever novel, a clan with many harmless Yankee eccentricities. On the Fourth of July, Spaders of all ages dress in funny costumes and march in a procession known as the Horribles Parade. "The stranger the better," says Jimmy. "But it's never really gotten strange enough for me."
He grew up during the school year on the campus of Brooks School, the Massachusetts boarding school where his father, Todd Spader, taught English. His mother, Jean, was also a teacher. Jimmy went to Phillips Academy, in Andover, one of the country's most prestigious prep schools, where he virtually ignored academic subjects in favor of the theater. During his first semester, he was cast in an absurdist one-act play by fellow student Peter Sellars, the future boy-wonder theater director. At the end of eleventh grade, Spader resolved to drop out and move to New York. "He was not like some big star at Andover," says his ex-classmate Christian Clemenson, who played Spader's brother in this year's Bad Influence. "But he was obsessed with being a professional actor." To Spader's friends, the move seemed rash and even dangerous. "I was scared for him," admits Clemenson, who followed Spader's progress through the lower depths. "One day I arrived at college and my roommates described this wild person from New York with long hair and fringed leather jacket who had sat in the bathtub waiting for me, drinking a six-pack. Of course I knew it was Spader."
Despite the family's academic tradition-Spader's two older sisters both became teachers-his parents backed their son's decision to drop out. "I think the wonderful thing about his parents is they really allow the children to become individuals and choose their own course," says actor Eric Stoltz, one of James' oldest friends in the business. "It's a very loving and supportive family. And loud. I was there at Christmas one time, and you have to fight for conversation time, and it has to be loud. Jimmy's the worst; he's always trying to upstage everyone." When he first came to New York, Spader took acting classes and worked a series of grunt jobs. He bused tables, was a messenger and shoveled manure at the Claremont Riding Academy. One day he went with his sister to a health club and ended up conning his way into a position as a yoga instuctor there. The extent of his training was to buy a book about yoga from a supermarket checkout stand. It was at the club that he met Victoria, his future wife, who taught the class that followed him. "I used to fall asleep in my class," Spader remembers. "I kept telling her I'd love to make her dinner sometime. We kept sort of meaning to see each other outside of work and just sort of get laid, you know?
One day she said, "You want to smoke a joint after work?" I said, 'Sure.' We went and did that and I walked her home. It got to be that every night I'd walk her home and we'd talk and sometimes smoke a joint or just wander the streets of New York. I'd stop off at a grocery store and make her dinner and clean up afterward and go home. And, um, then we started living together. We got laid somewhere in there, in the middle of all that." The two have a most un-Hollywood relationship. They have been together eleven years, through they only married in 1987. He seems devoted. He's been known to call her hourly when they're on opposite coasts. Those who know them say they are a union of complementary opposites: Victoria, who works as a Hollywood set decorator, is stable, quiet and down-to-earth, while Jimmy is prone to flights of fancy and can be maddeningly self-absorbed.
"Jimmy's got a huge heart, but when it comes to small things he can be completely unmovable and petty," says Gerry Harrington with a laugh. Once, Spader was on the phone to Victoria long-distance from Eric Stoltz's apartment, while Stoltz was downstairs with some friends anticipating a call that would let him know whether he'd been cast in Some Kind of Wonderful, a big break. As an experiment, Stoltz had the operator do an emergency interrupt claiming to have Stoltz's agent on the line; Spader refused to yield. Then Stoltz called with an emergency interrupt from Spader's agent-and Spader immediately took the call. Spader's friends howled with laughter. "You bastards!" he shouted.
Before there was a Jimmy Spader ensconced in domestic bliss, there was a guy who sought out live music in blues dumps from Greenwich Village to West Los Angeles; who dragged friends to a strip joint called the Seventh Veil, on Hollywood Boulevard; who, at the drop of a hat, would hop into his vintage Porsche and tear off on road trips lasting for weeks. Sometimes the trunk would contain items from his extensive collection of knives and crossbows. "One time we were in Flordia making a picture together," says Stoltz, "I remember a couple of us were extremely nervous because Jim was speeding, the music was blasting, and he was doing eighty-five in a fifty-five zone with a trunkful of weapons. He was like the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now-somehow he knows he'll never get hit by a bomb, so he never wasted the energy thinking about it. Meanwhile, all his friends were sweating up a storm." Though he was in several teen movies with such Brat Packers as Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey Jr., Spader never ran with them, never haunted Hollywood parties or clubs where young actors go to be recognized. "I think he kind of has an aversion to actors and actresses in general," says his friend Harley Peyton, who wrote the screenplay for Less Than Zero.
For years, Spader's social life revolved around a big colonial house on Hollywood Boulevard, where he rented an apartment when he was in L.A. The house was owned by director Damian Harris and his wife, Annabel. "One never knew exactly who else would be living there," says Stoltz, another tenant. "In this environment we formed a very tight group of friends." They'd make dinner together, talk all night or venture out to hear music, one of Spader's major pastimes. He has a record collection numbering about 1,000 albums. He professes to be a great blues afieronado, but his friends have their doubts. They say his taste is more in the album cover: He'll buy twenty records because he loves their covers, then throw them into a pile with the shrink-wrap still on. Once, after a blues show in Hollywood, Harrington recalls, "We were out in the parking lot and Jimmy was relieving himself against a car. A guy comes up and says, 'Hey, you, that's my car.' Jimmy turned around, still relieving himself, and the guy says, 'Wait, aren't you that guy from Pretty in Pink?' Jimmy says, "Why, yes I am.' The guy says, 'I know a great party that's going on.' So we drive up to this party. We got up to a great house in Beverly Hills and spent till six in the morning drinking and listening to music. Jimmy kept telling the host he needed better records, he only had Roxy Music and David Bowie. Then he started to get angry because the more he listened the more he liked it, and he was worried he was going to have to go out and buy all the David Bowie albums all the Roxy Music records. Then he started getting really depressed."
Spader's ventures into the night ended abruptly a little over a year ago, with the birth of his son. Sensing that things would change, he called Harley Peyton from the hospital after the delivery. "He was ecstatic and deliriously happy and clearly wanted to go out and talk a mile a minute and get things sorted out about being a family man," says Peyton. They ended up at the Seventh Veil, closing the place down at 2 A.M. Since then, Spader's life has turned inward. He dr ives a Volvo family wagon now, and rents a house in the Hollywood Hills surrounded by trees, which gives him the illusion of living in the country. He is cocooned. Along with his record collection, novels fill the house. The walls are covered with photographs; in the kitchen, pictures of his very close family; on big mirrored doors in the bedroom, scores of snapshots of friends. These days, this is as close as he gets to many of his friends. "It's like pulling teeth trying to get him to leave his house," says Stoltz. Harrington adds, "He'll go down the hill in the daytime sometimes, but usually you get these very feeble invitations, like 'Victoria and I are going for a walk tomorrow and we'd like you to come with us.' That's the shabbiest red carpet that's ever been rolled out for me. But that's the way it is these days."
Back in Massachusetts, Spader has issued another of his feeble invitations to go for a walk not far from his new house, along the Cape Cod Canal. The canal is a big ditch that seperated the Cape from the mainland. A paved path follows its bank, with a view of the fast green water and of the boats motoring between Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Spader, in an Oakland A's cap and a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt (one of a reportedly vast collection), sips from a huge take-out cup of iced coffee, which he calls his "vat o' coffee." "You know, when you choose to make your living as an actor, it's all fine and good to look at it as some kind of artistic endeavor," he says. "At its best, it is that. But the fact is, most of the actors out there don't earn $3 million a picture and can't afford to take two years off between films and look for the right thing. Most of us are tradesmen. Acting for me, is a passion, but it's also a job, and I've always approached it as such. I have a certain manual-laborist view of acting. There's no shame in taking a film because you need some money. No shame in taking a film because you have always wanted to visit China. I was thinking about this last night as I was driving home. I started to go back through the different films I've done, and the television movies I've done and I started to think about why I chose tham at that time. And I realized, every single film I've ever done I've taken because of the money. Every single one. I'm nost ashamed to say that."
This is not to say that Spader will take just anything, but if he's in financial straits, he'll say yes to a part he might ordinarily have passed on. In the cast of True Colors, due out this month, he liked the script and admired his costar, John Cusack. But that alone wouldn't have gotten him to the set. "Bottom line," he says, "I took True Colors because it enabled me to buy my grandparents' house. And that was more important to me. I didn't want to see a place that had all the ghosts that had disappear. I knew what I had to do, and that was go out and find a job. If I don't need the money, I don't work," he continues. "I'm going to spend time with my family and friends, and I'm going to travel and read and listen to music and try to learn a little bit more about how to be a human being, as op pose d to learning how to be somebody else."
Spader's hard-boiled attitude toward his work echoes that of such personal heroes as John Huston, Charles Laughton and especially Humphrey Bogart. Like Bogie, Spader affects a grand-scale romantic cynicism. He bites off words as he slowly forms his sentences, and he swallows his laughter as if chuckling over his own private jokes. With a flick of his Forties-style Zippo, he lights a cigarette, snapping the lid shut with a dissolute but elegant click. It's hard to know how much of this is a pose. On the one hand, Spader was obsessed enough with making it as an actor to drop out of prep school. On the other hand, he has fled Hollywood and New York to be near his family, in a corner of America where the last thing he's likely to be taken for is a movie star. Safe in the knowledge that he won't be recognized, he shouts a jaunty hello to all who come toward him along the canal. At a trailer park, he waves to an old man in a cap emblazoned with "WARREN CO. HOOK AND LADDER." "Wouldn't it be interesting to live in a trailer park?" Spader muses aloud. "That guy's probably been a fireman for forty years. I bet you could spend a couple of hours sitting there, cooking some steaks and drinking some beer with him."
Spader got his first feature film, Endless Love, while doing manual labor. He was working as a janitor at a rehearsal studio in Times Square, a would-be actor without an agent. One day his boss sneaked Spader's picture into a pile of others on the table of a casting agent using the studio, and Spader got a call to come right away to read. As it happened, his mother was in town; they'd been about to leave for a museum. "My mother was all dressed up in her wool suit and white gloves and ready to go to the Picasso exhibit," says Spader. "But instead we rode down to the studio on the subway. I took her with me. I was the only one to bring my mom." He was offered the small role of Brooke Shields's brother. "The next day after that I met Tom Cruise." Cruise was also making his film debut in a bit part. But whereas Cruise was soon to take off on a jet-fueled cocktail-shaking rider that would make him Hollywood's leading star, Spader's career spluttered. A different flight plan was filed for him. He didn't appear in another feature for four years. When he did begin to work steadily in movies, it was in a string of supporting roles. Despite Spader's common-man aspirations, casting agents picked up on his preppy breeding-his cool detachment, and air of privilege easily worn-and they frequently cast his as a yuppie from hell. He endured a succession of lesser roles while many of his contemporaries leapfrogged over him.
It's uncertain whether this situation truly frustrated Spader. Friends joke that, typically, he was too self-involved to measure his career against anyone else's. "Frankly, you had to drag him out to go and see a movie, even if his best friend was in it," says Stoltz. "You had to beg, 'Please, Jim, I'm in a movie and it's really good.' Eric, I just don't want to leave the house.' He'd much rather sit around and chat than sit through a movie." Spader worked hard to make his character roles memorable. Here he'd change a bit of dialogue, there he'd bring an intelligent detail to the part. Critics notived and wrote glowingly of him. "The character roles have always been the most intriguing to me," Spader says. "And those actors that have been able to turn those roles into a career and into the leads in films are the ones that hold my admiration and respect." Actors like Bogart, Cagney, Nicholson. Actors who weren't cast for their looks but for their ability to deeply inhabit a part, which comes only after years of marinating in life's juices. In the movies he's seen in the past year, Spader says he most would have liked to play "one of the three guys sitting again the wall in Do the Right Thing." Luis Mandoki, who directed Spader in White Palace, says, "He has the ability that great actors have that makes you feel there's a character living inside, that they're not just saying the lines and feeling the feelings of the moment, but there's a whole background, the way we all have."
Susan Sarandon says that before Spader came along, she'd despaired of finding a costar. "I read with every male actor between 22 and 27. All those people with two first names, everybody. They wanted someone very young, but it's very difficult to find somebody that young who approaches it as a character part, as an acting part. Most men in that age bracket are asked to be charming and sexy and have personality. They're not asked to get weird and complicated and have a sense of humor." Sarandon says the film will establish Spader as a leading man-"if the sex works." The two have some incredibly steamy scenes, including their first encounter, when Spader is sleeping on Sarandon's couch and she virtually attacks him. "It starts where most sex scenes end," says Sarandon. "She forces him to be aroused, she forces his to kiss her, she makes him ask for more." During filing of this scene, Spader, who has rarely been asked to do screen sex, handled the situation with aplomb. "I tink I was more uptight than he was," Sarandon recalls. "He was very protective, actually. It's so funny doing something like that. You kind of figure out where everything is, because everything's not where it really is, you know?" Previously, no studio had been willing to take a chance on Spader as a sympathetic leading man. It took a low-budget, independant film to prove how shortsighted the studios had been. After winning the best actor award at Cannnes, in 1989, for his role in Sex, Lies and Videotape, offers of good-guy roles came pouring in: for Bad Influence, with Rob Lowe, White Palace and True Colors, and others passed up.
It's a surprise to learn that Spader himself did not have high expectations for Sex, Lies and Videotape. He called one friend while on location in Baton Rouge to say he couldn't wait to bust out of town. To another friend, he said he was certain the film was a mistake. Some of this simply may have been Spader's way of protecting himself; he often bad-mouths his movies in private before they're released. This summer, when Spader was called to L.A. to reshoot the ending of White Palace, Christian Clemenson reported, "He's convinced they're doing reshoots for one reason and one reason only; He sucks." But director Mandoki says the film's ending was rewritten to condense three scenes into one and to punch up the emotions. Spader hadn't blown it at all. "Jimmy's perfectionist, which in one way is great because he challenges himself every day," says Mandoki. "And on the other hand, it makes life miserable sometimes. You feel you never live up to your own expectations. Things are so great for him right now in his life, except he can always find things to worry about," says Clemenson.
This is a different Jimmy Spader. Not the hard-boiled ordinary guy who says acting is like manual labor. Not the self-absorbed character who likes to tell his stories over everyone else's. "Jimmy's very egocentric, but he's also very charming," says Gerry Harrington. "The main thing about his is he's got a lot of anxiety, and a lot of fears that offset the ego, and that's what makes him vulnerable and really likable." It can take a while to get down to this layer of Spader's personality, the level of everyday human anxiety. Only after two or three hours of talking and walking along the canal, walking and talking, does he allow the conversation to come around to what for him is a fairly loaded subject: the pivotal place that Sex, Lies and Videotape occupies in his career. At first he says dismissively that he took it for the paycheck. Then he denies that his previous roles were so similar that he needed to break out of being typecast. "I never clumped any of those roles together," he says. "They all seemed to be very different people to me. I was never worried about getting typecast until I started doing publicity. It wasn't until journalists started saying to me, 'Well, so you've played all these similar roles,' and I started going, 'Geez, I thought I was telling different stories and doing different films here.' But maybe I wasn't."
Finally, Spader drops the defensiveness and admits, "a certain amount of what I'm saying is self-protection. Yes, I knew the role I was getting into in Sex, Lies and Videotape was certainly different from what I'd done in the past." And wasn't he eager to show he could play a sympathetic leading man? "To deny that would be lying. I did want to do something that was very different. But I guess the reason I'm fighting agreeing with this is that I did enjoy every one of those pictures. I wouldn't give them back for something else right now. With hindsight, you can say, right, after I did Sex, Lies and Videotape, all of a sudden things opened up in a way that hadn't happened before. But I didn't expect that. I took the film because I was interested in doing that part. Looking at work as stepping-stones is something I don't have any time or energy for. It seems a shame to look at your work as some sort of means to an end, because the end is death, you know? The means is the flesh and blood, so you'd better enjoy it." Does this new status as a leading man make him nervous? "I'm always nervous. I'm nervous when I wake up in the morning. I think you have to be sort of satisfied with a divine dissatisfaction. That's actually a quote, but I've forgotten who said it." His tone is honest and self-questioning, absent of any smugness. But at the same time, all the poking behind his tough exterior has make him uncomfortable. He grows more distant by the minute and feels the need to look for cover. Seated on the back of the bench, he follows a bright-red barge floating by. A boy on a bike stops to wave to the boat from the shore. The tug toots back. Spader contemplates the meaning of this gentle scene. Abruptly, he turns and announces, "I want to go home and see my son now."
Spader Speaks about simple things
I'm an actor, not a generational spokesman, but you notice certain things. There's a tremendous concentration on immediacy and impatience. Remember when you could eat mushrooms and be gone for eight or twelve hours? All of a sudden it's cocaine. "I don't have time to drop acid or even smoke a joint," people say. "Cocaine only takes half an hour." Then that's not quick enough, and it's "Let's smoke crack." Speed and efficiency rule. The lack of respect for age, time, experience, patience, history--it's really scary.
I'm right in the middle--thirty-one. I look around at my peers and realize the most of the people I admire and respect seem to be of the generation before mine. The late Sixties and early Seventies were the influences on my life--and I was all of ten years old. Most of my friends are in their late thirties. That's the chair I'm most comfortable in. Our generation is still trying desperately to find a way out of its shadow and scream at the top of its lungs--about something. We can't, because we've distanced ourselves from the world. We're more detatched, desensitized--less visceral and alive. I've played some of the worst of our generation. My attitude is, if I'm going to play him, I'm going to play his as the biggest ass of all time. One of my ways sensitizing myself is to get all the desensitized touches right. The more complex you make that, the more distance you can put between yourself and what you loathe.
What's achievement? Is it the quality of the means or the quality of the end? As far as I can tell, the end if just the resting place to more means. Say you get there. You still have to go home and wake up the next day. I see friends and relatives try to buy a house, raise a family, pay for insurance. Then I hear the labels and name-calling about all of that. The only thing that unifies us, maybe, is that everyone I know inherited some sort of strange anxiety. For me, it was eased be doing manual labor for five years after dropping out of boarding school. Someone else can storm the barricades, then relentlessly raise three children. The day-to-day struggle is the most heroic struggle anyone fights. Something won through a shortcut or a hole in the fabric is just not as heroic.
James Spader doesn't have big goals or dreams in his career
The sun beams down on the Californian coast, but inside the Spruce Goose Dome, at Long Beach, south of L.A., it's as dark as night. It's here, in this arena-sized venue that was formerly home to Howard Hughes' most eccentric failed project, the biggest plane ever made that made just one flight, that writer-director Roland Emmerich has built the massive sets for his $55 million sci-fi epic Stargate.
The brainchild of Emmerich and his co-writer/co-producer Dean Devlin, who first teamed up for 1992's Universal Soldier. Stargate is a sci-fi adventure about an ancient Egyptian relic that turns out to be a door to the other side of the universe. James Spader plays the Egyptologist who cracks the Stargate's access code and Kurt Russell is the leader of the military unit that takes a mind-bending million-light-year journey, only to find Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game's cross-dresser, as the evil, androgynous ruler of a desert planet who visited earth thousands of years ago, created civilization as we know it, and then headed for the stars. "It's and old fashioned adventure," says Devlin. "It's Lawrence of Arabia on another planet."
Which is one reason why this film is considered a big risk. Another is the "talent". Spader is best known for playing upper-crust cads and quirky types in John Hughes comedies and dramas like Sex, Lies & Videotape, while Russell, Tombstone aside, has spent most of the last few years doing truly forgettable flicks. Further upping the odds against Stargate is the fact that, with few exceptions, the sci-fi movie has been moribund for the best part of a decade. Things are not looking rosy...
October 1994, close to a year later, and everything has clicked into place. The movie is finished and is impressively loud and full of showy, digital imaging. Spader and Russell do a good job of not being overwhelmed by the effects. And Stargate's US distributors - who seemed decidedly optimistic when they predicted an opening weekend of $12 million - were more surprised than anybody when it made $16.7 million and, after five weeks, had racked up a hefty $62 million, trampling both Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein and Kevin Costner's The War in its wake.
Doing his part for the good ship Stargate, the enigmatic James Spader sits down for his bijou meeting-ette with Empire. It's not that Spader is difficult in conversation - in fact, he's affable and self-effacing - just that the 34-year-old actor is intensely private, and says so up front. "I'm not eager at all to present my life out there for public consumption," he states. "I like to do one or two films a year and then do what is absolutely obligatory in terms of promoting them. My life outside of films is vital to me."
Spader made his screen debut with a bit part in 1981's trashy Brook Shields vehicle Endless Love alongside another then - unknown, Tom Cruise. The two actors' careers instantly diverged, and it was four years before Spader found hiself co-starring with the fast-rising Young Hollywood clique know as the Brat Pack, in films such as Pretty in Pink, Mannequin and Less Than Zero. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Spader remained steadfastly out of the limelight. It may seem now prescient that he avoided close links to the likes of less-than-stellar Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy, to say nothing of Judd Nelson, but Spader was content with supporting roles in lieu of stardom. He managed to carve out a memorable niche for himself as a callow, coniving preppie, and casting directors were drawn to his WASPy good looks and laconic, lock-jaw delivery. Spader played his well-bred characters with more flair and charisma than most of his acting peers ever showed onscreen. But proficiency in character roles is the quickest route to typecasting, and Spader, as he matured, was only allowed to move laterally, from preppie to yuppie, in films like Wall Street and Baby Boom.
In 1988 he finally got hold of a sympathetic character, a doctor accused of murder in the neo-noirish B-thriller Jack's Back, but the fim died. The next year, however, Spder finally broke through to something approaching stardom with Steven Soderbergh's much-lauded Sex, Lies & Videotape, which won the actor both the Best Actor Award at Cannes and a new audience as Graham, the impotent sex-obsessed wanderer with a video camera. Spader couldn't have cared less.
"I'm not obsessed with work," he states. "I'm not much of a planner. Someone recently asked me, 'What are your dreams and goals for your career?' and I realized that my dreams and goals don't really have much to do the the career." Proof of this can be found in his film choices after Sex, Lies & Videotape, when he might have capitalized on his new high profile. Although he followed it with the romantic lead role opposite Susan Sarandon in the steamy, moderately successful White Palace, he's since shown up in decidely minor films such as Storyville, True Colors, Bad Influence and DreamLover. Last year he returned to the limelight with a supporting role opposite Jack Nicholson as a slick lawyer in the disappointing Wolf. Then in Philip Haas' off-beat The Music of Chance, Spader stretched out as a down-on-his-luck New York gambler caught in a nighmarish web of deceit, but the film was barely noticed by the public.
In the final analysis, says Spader, Sex, Lies & Videotape, far from being a turning point in his career, was something of a fluke. "You're sort of defined by the last picture that people saw," he insists. "Very often I make films that few people see. The Music of Chance was like that, and Sex, Lies & Videotape was a film I assumed was going to be like that. To be honest with you, compared with something like Jurassic Park, very few people did see that film." Spader chose Stargate the way he chooses his roles in most films, "Pretty much by whim." It's his first science fiction outing but, par for the course, he sees this as irrelevant. "I didn't have a great knowledge of this genre," he says. "The only demand I was putting on the picture was that my paycheck came in and that I had fun making it. It seemed like it would be rather light-hearted. And it was. I'm not a big fan of films that take themselves seriously."
It should come as no surprise that Spader was born into the world of wealth and privilege so many of his characters have inhabited: the old-guard Eastern Establishment. The twist is, he was always an outsider looking in. His parents, fourth generation New Englanders, were both teachers at a Massachusetts boarding school, so while he and his two sisters were able to attend some of the country's most elite instituitions, they were scholarship kids. Spader never felt the typical prep-school pressure to make it into the Ivy League, so he concentrated on acting, and at 16 dropped out of school altogether - a move supported by his parents.
"I don't think my father was much of a student either," he admits. "The fact is, I was miserable in the classroom." Spader drifted down to New Tok, with a vague idea of acting. "I don't know whether it was very clear at all that I was gonna do that as a living. I just knew that New York was a place where I could take improvization classes and I could be in a play." Far from being a time of ill-paying yet noble off-broadway acting triumphs, Spader's New York years were filled primarily with menial labor. "I drove a truck for a while for a meat packing plant," he says. "I shovelled manure at the Clarmont Riding Academy in New York. Mopped floors for a while. I uploaded railroad cars and trailers at a warehouse. I wasn't really qualified for anything else."
The fledging actor also managed to talk his way into a gig as a yoga instruactor, though he knew procious little about the discipline. Spader fell in love witha fellow yoga teacher called Victoria, and they've been together for nearly 15 years. They have two young sons, and it's his roles as husband and father, more than any career goals, that dictate his film choices. "I was offered a film this summer and I certainly needed a film this summer - need to pay my bills," he says. "But my family goes back East during the summer. I like to spend as much time with my boys as I can before they head off to school. So I turned down the film. If that means we have to be walking around on plywood in the bathrooms before I can put tiles down, or that our living room doesn't have any furniture except a ping-pong table, then fine. I'm willing to make that sacrifice because it's important to me. To take your career too seriously is a mistake."
Hard to do when your fee has just jumped to a million dollars a picture and you've been in some bloody good films... "I'm not trying to leave behind a legacy," he insists. "I'm not trying to leave my mark. I don't have any interest in that. My only legacy is that I would hope I can raise my sons to be fair, decent and humane." He pauses. "That doesn't have much to do with going off and jumping around in front of the camera..."
James Spader enjoys playing in the ''Stargate''
As Professor Daniel jackson, archaeologist and Egyptologist, actor James Spader unlocks the secrets of the StarGate and joins his fellow travelers from Earth in the most remarkable journey of their lives. As Spader describes his latest role, Jackson "is an outsider in terms of the academic community, somebody who really doesn't have a place in the profession that he has chosen. In his mind, he has a very clear direction, but the world gets in the way."
After the discovery of the StarGate, an ancient piece of technology which may unlock the mysteries of the origin of Egyptian civilization, Jackson's life is changed forever. "Suddenly, the academic questions that have been his obsession become very real." The StarGate open a door "to allow him to actually see and explore his dreams, as opposed to just imagining them." But, the actor notes, sometimes it isn't a good idea to find your heart's desire. "Well, Jackson not only finds it, but it's sitting right there in his lap--much bigger, grander and more complex than he ever imagined." Spader is noted for the depth of his character study, and his exploration into the Egyptologist is no exception. "He has spent his life studying centuries, entire cultures and civilizations," the actor explains. "The span of one lifetime is meaningless to him and I don't think even his own lifetime has much meaning for him. It's a tremendously freeing way of looking at his own life and the circumstances he finds himself in. He is quite fearless."
Reflects Spader, "It's very odd, because at the film's beginning, Colonel O'Neil is obviously a suicidal character. Daniel is not unlike him n that his life is unimportant to him." But Jackson's encounters on the far side of the StarGate--including Sha'uri, all the rest of the culture and even his fellow team members for Earth--all have a profound impact on the detached academician. "It sort of creeps up on him unknowingly," Spader notes. Nowhere is this more evident than at the festival at Nagada, where Jackson gets caught up in the activities and begins living in the world he has coldly examined for so long. "He discovers the value of one life and one lifetime--that they're as important as a century and a culture, because that culture is made up of thousands of single lifetime."
Egyptologist and linguist Stuart Tyson Smith, a consulatant on the filming of StarGate, provided invaluable insight to the actor in his preparation for the role of Daniel Jackson. Smith gave Spader more than technical advice on his character. "I looked for specific things about his life, he experience and his knowledge that I could put to practical use in the script," Spader says. "And Stuart was also our dialogue coach as we learned to speak and understand the ancient Egyptian language." What brings Spader, usually as character-driven dramantic actor in quiet films of everyday realism, to this science-fiction adventure? Tha actor credits director Roland Emmerich. "When I first read the script," Spader confesses, "it was unlike anything I had ever done or even considered doing."
Nevertheless, the actor decided to meet with Emmerich. "When I met Roland, I enjoyed him immensely. He's a tremendously exciting, vibrant and curious fellow. He was so excited about this project and quite childlike in his curiosity about this new world he was going to create. I decided that I wanted to go along on the rider. And I'm glad that I did." And according to Spader, what a ride it was. "From my very first day on the set, the scale of this picture was evident to me. We drove miles and miles into the desert on a road that was manufactured by the people who were making the film, to a base camp of sorts. It reminded me of a Roman campaign. It was just enormous--cranes, cameras, lights, technicians, beasts in costumes, and thosands of extras trailing out over two miles through the crests of these dunes. And all in 120-degree heat!"
The desert location made an impression on Spader: "Sand, sand, everywhere!" The heat was also a concern--but, as he quickly points out, "The people who were building the sets were out there when it was 140 degrees, and we were all complaining when it was only 120 degrees." Despite the extreme conditions--and the sand fleas--Spader enjoyed the StarGate experience. "This was the longest shoot I've ever worked on, but it didn't seem like it at all. Roland creates an environment that's tremendously conducive to the making of a film. He has a tremendously vital sense of humor and he uses that to get us through the day." Another enjoyable aspect of the StarGate shoot was Spader's co-star, Kurt Russell. "I had a lot of fun with Kurt. Listen, if you're going to be in the middle of the desert for a while, and plan to get out of there with your head intact, he's a good guy to do it with. He keeps laughing and he keeps arguing--and that's what I like to do."
Spader believes that the film will be as much fun for the audience as it was for him in making it. "StarGate is a great adventure that has a surprise every time you turn your head. Although it has a science fiction aspect, as otherworldly quality to it, the story is very grounded in humanity. That's ultimately what it is about. Even after you take this wild trip, way the hell out and then back again, when you sit and reflect, you realize that it does have relevance to you and your own place in the scheme of things."
James Spader's Sci-Fi movie ''Crash''
Based on the 1973 novel by British science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard, Crash is crudely put, about a group of Toronto residents who get of, quite literally, on car crashes. Spader plays James Ballard, a TV producer, who, along with his wife, played by Deborah Unger, is drawn into a subculture of crash survivors after he has a near-fatal collision with Dr. Helen Remington, played by Holly Hunter. Though there's no denying the brilliance of Cronenberg's uncompromising vision, Crash is, at times, damn creepy to watch. It's easy to see why the jury at Cannes had to come up with a special award to celebrate its "audacity."
"I don't know if I should get in a car with you after seeing Crash," I say as we arrive at Spader's Range Rover. "Oh, no," laughs Spader who's also soon to be seen as a hit man in the darkly comic ensemble piece Two Days in the Valley. "Things have slowed down quite a bit." When Spader asks if I've ever tried Hugo's, the West Hollywood eatery we decide on, I say that I interviewed John Leguizamo there for Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, the ask the actor if he's done drag. "Yeah," he laughs, then serves up the first of many surprises. "Interview magazine did a shoot where they did me hair like Joey Heartherton. I make a great Joey Heartherton."
Q: I saw a screening of Crash a few weeks ago. It was a packed house.
JAMES SPADER: Was it as divisive as the audience in Cannes? In Cannes, people were loving it and hating it.
Q:I don't remember anyone running out screaming.
J.S. No one fainted?
Q:No, but it was weird getting in a car afterward.
J,S.People have said that. I'm always surprised by that. It never affected me that way.
Q: It didn't affect your attitude about driving at all?
J.S. Well yes, in a couple of sort of boring, practical ways. I saw some crash-test footage during the film that showed crashes without airbags and also what happens if there is no headrest. Now I would never drive in a car unless I've got a headrest, and I would be reticent, at least with my kids, in a car if it didn't have airbags.
Q: What was your gut reaction when you first read the script? You obviously didn't go, "No way."
J.S. Not for a second. I didn't know what to make of it at first. It was very disturbing, very powerful, and yet intriguing. I spoke to David on the phone and I found myself getting more and more intrigued. By the end of our conversation, I said, "I really want to do this film."
Q: What did you handlers think of your decision?
J.S. I've always made my own decisions. I've been with the same people for a long time. If there's a dicey piece of material floating around it always comes my way, and they're used to that.
Q: What did your wife think of you making Crash?
J.S. You know, I'm making a film. My wife is a very cool, secure person.
Q: Have your parents seen it?
J.S. No. I don't thik it's their sort of film, but ultimately it's up to them if they want to see it or not. I don't really make films for my parents, but they're very generous in their appreciation.
Q: You get to have sex with everyone in the film.
J.S. That was a plus, certainly a deciding factor.
As unsettled and intrigued as I was by the film, I found it didn't really stay with me, and I think it's because there was no one on the screen that I related to. Nobody ever questioned what they were doing. It could just as well have been on Mars.
James Ballard purposely set a futuristic story in the present in his novel, and he said he felt the film sort of started where his book left off, and that's a place I have a feeling we may have reached in our lives. That feeling of enormous isolation and diconnection from ourselves, from people around us, from the world. A lot of the stuff that Ballard has played around with concerns man's reconciliation or conflict with the technology that he himself has created, and he chose the automobile for this.
Q: Have you ever been in a car crash?
J.S. Yeah, a few, but I've never been in a serious car crash when I was driving.
Q: Did you call on those experiences for the film?
J.S. Well I remembered the adrenaline. I thought David dealt with the crashes in a really interesting way in that they didn't evolve the way many crashes in films do, where they become this spectacle. In Crash, they're jarring and extremely uncomfortable and over before they even start, seemingly, and all you're left with is the aftermath, which is how they are.
Q: There's not a lot of dialogue in the film.
J.S. The language in the film is sex, that's the dialogue. The characters are pursuing ideas that are quite interior and in many ways self-serving, so they're not always articulated.
Q: The scene that I found the most erotic was the car-wash scene.
J.S. (Laughs) You're into pain and violence, then.
Q: I liked that it was going on under everyone's noses. That scene in the car wash where you're driving and you tilt the rear-view mirror to watch your wife have sex with another man reminded me a bit of the voyeurism of Sex, Lies & Videotape.
J.S. It's interesting that you say that. Ths lie that Graham in Sex, Lies & Videotape has been telling himself is the same as Ballard's lie in Crash, and this is, "If one is a voyeur in life, then they are not a participant." Except Ballard knows exactly what's going on. I wanted to be in Sex, Lies & Videotape because I loved the dichntomous relationship within Graham, between passivity and aggressiveness. I found him to be a tremendously aggressive character.
Q: Then there's one scene where you get it on with the gash in Rosanna Arquette's leg. It's strange because once you realize that the film might be going there, you think, Oh please don't, please don't...
J.S. Oh, yes we will. Oh, yes we will.
Q: ...but then you realize you kind of want him to. Kind of, you know that if the film doesn't go all the way, you'll be disappointed.
J.S. Aren't you just a little curious?
Q: I also appreciated that the film didn't back off from showing the character's sex scene with Elisas Koteas's character. Was that a first for you on film?
J.S. Yeah, I had never done a sex scene with a man before. (Shrugs) You know, it was a scene in the movie.
Q: I wasn't sure what to make of the ending.
J.S. The ending's rather hopeful, I think.
Q: It's as though your wife, who has been the least physically damaged, is trying to catch up.
J.S. Oh, she's on her way. (Laughs) She's trying her damnedest. That's the hopefulness.
Q: Your other new film is Two Days in the Valley. How did you get involved with that?
J.S. They sent me the script, and it was unlike anything I had read. I thought it was funny.
Q: The writer/director, John Herzfeld, what has he done before?
J.S. I don't know. Everyone I spoke to, I'd say, "Have you seen anything John has done?" and no one really had. Everybody jumped in with both feet because of the script. I had a ball.
Q: I really bought that you were evil in this film. Is there a secret to playing a convincing heavy?
J.S. I enjoy myself tremendously. I think that helps because it allows you to commit to what you're doing with a tremendous amount of convinction, which, I guess, comes across on film.
Q: I've read where you said that people on film sets love the bad guy. Why do you think that is?
J.S. Generally, the bad guy's only around when there's trouble. It's sort of his job to kick the butt of the movie. I know I enjoy it, too. Let someone else deal with the exposition.
Q: What was your first movie?
J.S. A film called Teammates. It might have been a soft-core porn film. I'm not sure. I never saw it. My credit was Drunk Guy. I got drunk at my birthday party and passed out in the cake.
Q: What did you think the first thime you saw yourself on the big screen?
J.S. It would have been Endless Love. My feeling probably was that I had to pee. That always happens. I must always be the guy that the director's going, "Oh God, they're walking out," and it's just me going to the bathroom.
Q: What was it like doing Pretty in Pink at the height of the Brat Pack era. Was it cliquey?
J.S. There was a sort of club, but I was pretty removed from that. I was a hired gun.
Q: Were you ever tempted by the whole young Hollywood party scene?
J.S. Not really. I've never felt a part of any sort of organized scene. I'm very close to my family and I've got some very, very close friends who I've known since high school.
Q: What were you like it school?
J.S. I was a miserable student, but I had a lot of fun. I spent my entire academic career, which only lasted until I was 17, goofing around.
Q: When did you get into acting?
J.S. I did it in junior high and grammar school and I just kept doing it. I remember in first grade the teacher put on a record of the poem, "Casey at the Bat," and I just remember playing along with the record. We'd put on plays when we were kids. I think it was a matter of economics because my parents were teachers, so we never had much allowance. So I would shamelessly drag my neighbors over and we'd play comboys and Indians and charge them a quarter to watch. It was like, "Tomorrow we're going to have a wonderful performance of Hide and Seek." It was a way to earn money, I mean, I used to set up a table in front of the house and sell anything that wasn't nailed down. My mother would buy groceries and I'd be charging a quarter of what she pais for them.
Q: How did you learn the facts of life?
J.S. I remember my dad talking about it and I can't remember how much I knew at that point. I was playing doctor with great commitment and regularity at an extremely early age.
Q: Were you performing major surgery or just sort of friendly check-ups?
J.S. Surgery--invasive surgery--at a very early age.
Q: Did you parents know what you were up to?
J.S. Yeah, because we were always quite open for business. We were a store-front family outfit.
Q: Who were your patients?
J.S. Anything I could get my hands on.
Q: Not the family dog.
Q: Were your sisters privy to your escapades?
J.S. I don't know. We lived in a cabin-like house during the summers, with knot holes, so there was a lot of peeking. Again, invite my friends over, charge money. My sister dressing in the next room was a great event.
Q: Was your first girlfriend early too?
J.S. Yeah. In first grade my world revolved around Jenny Bensely and Annie Vada. They were also two of my most active patients. They were hypochondriacs, and I was too.
Q: What's the worst job you ever had?
J.S. Acting. (Laughs) I worked at an amusement park manning the Whack the Cats game.
Q: What were the other carnies like?
J.S. Well, it wasn't Six Flags. To sum it up, there was a scary-looking guy who worked the Whirly-Gig ride next to my booth and every few days, I'd see him walking to the front office with his head down. I'd look over and he'd go, "Man, a kid fell off the Whirly-Gig."
Q: I understand you met your wife while teaching yoga. You don't seem like the yoga-teacher type.
J.S. I got away with murder. At that time I think I was shoveling crap at the Claremont Riding Academy and my sister decided to join a health club in New York, so I applied for a job there because it looked like there were a lot of hypochondriacs wandering around. So I went to the grocery store and got a book at the checkout stand on yoga. I'd turn the lights down and promptly go to sleep in the front of the class. I refined napping to its purest form when I became a lifeguard. It was like pools in health clubs in New York where it never gets deeper that about four feet, so if anyone starts to drown all you have to do is yell, "Stand up!"
Q: Did you and Susan Sarandon ever do it in the same room as the lamp?
J.S. No, it was the kitchen. We did it in the kitchen but they cut it out. They thought it was gratuitous. Gratuitous is a word that I think should be stricken from the English language. The doctor is always in.
Q: Would you like to make films your kids could see?
J.S. Yeah, but Disney doesn't call me very often.
Q: Do you have any reservations about raising your children here in L.A.?
J.S. Well, we spend summers back East. But I like living in the city, and they can play in the yard here. You have to create your own life here. It doesn't just exist for you. I think that's what makes people come here and say it's a vacuum. It's only a vacuum until you fill it.
Q: When you first started making decent money, what frivolous thing did you go out and buy?
J.S. A '68 Camaro convertible. I lived in New York, so it was really frivolous. I spent more on my parking garage that I did on my apartment. Cars have been an enormous part of my life.
Q: Then Crash must have been...
J.S. Made sense to me.
Q: What do you miss most about New York?
J.S. Walking, trash cans, pizza parlors.
Q: What do you miss the most about L.A. when you're there?
J.S. (Laughs) Driving.
James Spader loves playing bad guys
You may already know James Spader. You may remember his sneer from any number of trashy films. He was always the bad guy, always memorable: the yuppie scum in Baby Boom, the corporaoid lawyer in Wall Street, the dissolute preppy in Pretty in Pink, and the drug dealer Rip, in Less Than Zero. Taken together, Spader's roles form a chilling iconography of eighties self-loathing. "I love playing bad guys," says Spader, twenty-nine, who is actually quite a nice guy. "I really do."
Spader, like a young troll under a bridge, has waited and watched while the brat-packers of those films--Sheen, McCarthy, Downey, Hall--have crashed and burned. This fall, however, Spader comes--quite literally--into his own, as the onantic lead character in Sex, Lies and Videotape, the first feature film by Steven Soderbergh. Both the director and star have already been honored at Cannes--mass adulation and development deals to follow. Spader's Graham is a sharing-caring kinda guy, a sex symbol for the Michael Steadson crowd. The movie is about communicating and not communicating, about how people will do anything to avoid touching each other. "Then again, says Spader, it's a film." But with both Graham and the movie finally leaving the eighties behind, the film will make a chord with those suffering from an excess of brat-pack films.