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American Paradox

Kevin Spacey continues to seek offbeat roles that test the limits of his talent.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 1)

Spacey appears to work hard to maintain that approachability, gladly spending 30 minutes or more signing notebooks and T-shirts, video boxes and photographs. He shakes hands, questions individuals on their majors and career aspirations, poses for snapshots, makes quips and jokes, and generally engages in light conversation with a couple hundred people who want to say they've conversed with Kevin.

Not bad for a guy who, five minutes earlier, was knee-deep in the somber roll of David Gale, a university professor and an activist opposed to capital punishment who finds himself convicted of murder and sentenced to death row.

But then shifting rolls and refining and redefining characters are perhaps what the 42-year-old Spacey does best. Few do it better.

Case in point: Consider the role of Verbal Kint, the character in 1995's The Usual Suspects that served as the mid-career launching pad for Spacey, catapulting the actor into the viewing mainstream of studio executives and moviegoers and earning the little known character actor his first Oscar.

It was a role in which Spacey's Kint blossomed from a gimpy, wimpy, second-class con man into the elusive master criminal Keyser Soze. It was a role that called for an actor to play an actor and as Kint morphed into Soze, Spacey morphed into stardom.

The Usual Suspects was followed later that year by Seven, the thriller that pitted Spacey's brilliant and twisted murdering John Doe against lawmen Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt.

Spacey had an opportunity to work with Freeman again that year in Outbreak, in which, alongside Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, he played an infectious-disease specialist with a cynical viewpoint who always had a slightly sarcastic comeback.

Those character traits -- adroit sarcasm, a certain level of arrogance, and a dry delivery -- proved to be a sort of typecasting for Spacey as he moved into rolls that included the officious district attorney in A Time to Kill, the cool and collected Southern gentleman murderer in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and the smarmy, too-slick-for-words movie executive in Hurlyburly.

Spacey's never played a dummy or a dreamer on film. His roles in L.A. Confidential and The Negotiator, his Academy Award-winning role in American Beauty, and his subsequent roles in Pay It Forward and the recent K-PAX only continued the run of movies that showcased his ability for deadpan delivery and smart wisecracks.

Spacey's latest film, The Shipping News, expected to open Christmas Day, shows the actor portraying yet another troubled man, albeit one who is, as Spacey puts it, "a man of absolutely no confidence. Life keeps happening to him. It's a reactive life [and] this character doesn't have an ironic, cynical, greedy bone in his body."

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