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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 3)

Spacey had a few mishaps during those teen years, including the infamous burning down of his sister's tree house, which resulted in a stint at a juvenile military academy (where, ironically, the young Spacey won a leadership award one week and an expulsion the next). Nevertheless, he landed adroitly on his feet, this time on stage.

While performing in a high school production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons for the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California, Spacey was spotted and recruited for the drama department at Chatsworth High School.

Located in the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles, the school was close enough to his father's current work assignment to permit Spacey to enroll. Spacey found himself part of a drama troupe that included other professionals-to-be Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham.

Even in high school, Spacey stood out as the ordinary-looking student whose talent and demeanor was anything but ordinary. Working part-time selling shoes at a nearby mall, he served customers while doing dead-on imitations of Johnny Carson and Jack Lemmon.

His obsession with theater and performing was, he says, absolute.

"I never, ever want to lose touch with when I was fourteen or fifteen years old and I was dreaming about building a theater and I was dreaming about doing plays and writing things with friends and watching them perform," says Spacey. "I never went through a period where I thought, 'Oh, I'll do something else,' or 'Maybe this isn't right.' Never."

At Kilmer's urging, Spacey moved to New York at age nineteen to attend the Julliard School of Performing Arts where both actors snagged bit parts in Shakespeare in the Park productions with the legendary Joseph Papp. Soon after, Spacey became one of Papp's assistants, handing out assignments and earning the money necessary to make ends meet until Papp, unbeknownst to Spacey, came to a nighttime performance that Spacey was in and promptly fired him the next day.

Papp, the story goes, insisted that Spacey devote himself to performing full-time and, partly because he now had no other choice, Spacey did. He says it was also a time to grow up.

"I had a teacher at Julliard that was incredible, who I presumed didn't care for me because she was so tough on me, and I said that one day in sort of heated anger about some confrontation that we had. She said to me, 'You big idiot!' She said, 'Don't you realize that I'm hard on you because I think and I know that you're the most talented student in this class and the laziest.'"

"And I was, like [Spacey puts on a dumbfounded face] 'whoa!' I think people drop seeds, and sometimes it took a while for those seeds to grow [and] for me to realize that, 'Oh, you mean I really have to work? I have to work at this?!' So, umm, I went to work."

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