Bluntly Speaking | Kevin Spacey
an emily blunt interview

 

 

 

It's no secret over here at Blunt Review that I adore Kevin Spacey. It's not just because he's the epitome of handsome. No. It's not just his delightful wit and charm. No. It's simply; because as the man circles his 10th anniversary as a "movie star" he's parlayed that success vehicle down a street (a TriggerStreet) to pull over and help with other people's success. Handsome, talented and giving.

He and business partner Dana Brunetti, have nursed TriggerStreet.com into a community-driven working machine for upcoming film makers. And for the theater starved sort, Kevin in the role of Artistic Director, is helping to bring London's Old Vic back to the cheers of larger live crowds - and sparing the old girl from the wrecking ball - one assumes…

And even with his new film, Beyond the Sea, Kevin's tried to do "something." It is a personal film he's developed and nurtured on Mr. Bobby Darin. Oh, sure we converted Darin fans think of Bobby as the greatest. But too often after dancing about to the blasting stereo in my humble abode and being informed, folks will say to me, "Oh, the little Mack the Knife guy?" Cringe. Darin was much much more than that. And oddly it's Kevin's international fame that's finally giving Darin a huge spotlight all the retro-swingin' lovin cats seem to forget this remarkable talent. Well, no more.

Kevin danced in all smiles with his Irish eyes beaming. He's fit as a Stradivarius and couldn't be more handsome in his ensemble of LL Bean-frocks; it was simply and sexy, a crisp black shirt covered with a dark beige suede shirt/jacket atop loose jeans…focus woman....focus....

Emily: When did this love of Bobby Darin start for you?

Kevin: My mother [to whom the film is dedicated]. My mother was in love with Bobby Darin. She thought he was the greatest thing that ever walked the face of the earth, and I grew up in a house where Bobby Darin was playing all the time, as well as Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. My dad had a 78 collection, which I now have, that was pristine, so I grew up listening to big bands, that brassy sound, and by the time I was 15 my mother had thoroughly converted me. Then it was when I was in my early twenties that a couple of books came out about Bobby's life, and I didn't know anything about him. I just knew him as a performer and I might have seen a couple of things of him on television. But by that point's he'd passed away. But getting a hold of his story, and learning what he had overcome, and learning how much he'd crammed into a 15 year career, in a very short life.

Emily: You were very driven. Do you think if Bobby had not been given the knowledge of a possible short life span that he would have pushed himself as hard as he did?

Kevin: Probably not. It's interesting to me, here's a guy who finds out he's got this condition, he could have chosen an easier life, he pushed himself and did things that were detrimental to himself like smoking, he had a heart condition. I wanted to depict all that, I just thought it was remarkable, not make a big comment out of it. I think to myself, that was what - when he heard that he wasn't going to live to 15, I think that planted a chip on his shoulder on one side, which was a kind of fear that's driven but on the other side there was a bigger chip, which was 'Alright, you're going to test me? Then I'm going to test you.'

Emily: And the film's progression?

Kevin: Then I heard they were making a movie, or trying to make a movie at Warner Brothers, this is now the late '80s. I thought, 'This is the part for me. I'm born to play this part. I've got to play this part.' Unfortunately, they didn't think so. In all fairness, I hadn't done any movies and so I was slugging my way through and trying to get in film and television, I began to work in film and television and every single year, at least three times a year, my manager would call over to Warner Brothers and say, 'Hey, what's happening with that Bobby Darin movie? You guys ever going to make it? Kevin really wants to do it.' Well, then in '95 I started to emerge in film, and then fortuitously I did a series of films for Warner Brothers, L.A. Confidential, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Negotiator were all Warner Brothers Pictures, so I then began my own relationship with the executives there, in particular Alan Horn who runs the studio. I just basically begged him for about four years, because studios don't like to give up their titles even if they don't make the movies, and he finally cleared all roadblocks, and the end of '99 I got the rights in 2000. So I've really only had something to do with the movie for the last four years, but I started working on the music in '99, hoping that maybe I'd get the rights.

Emily: I personally feel Darin is a hangman's game of Dean Martin - one of Bobby's favorites - But I may be alone in my theory. Your film shows the "Sign Legend" - Do you think that how he really took the name Darin, from that resturant sign?

Kevin: Actually there are two stories, and I chose the one that I thought was the more interesting visually. There's another story that he told at some other point, and other people have told, that he went through a phone book and went like that (not looking, points down). But I like this one, which is another story he told, and that other people told, and I thought it was really funny. And we loved building the mandarin sign.

EMILY: It would be fun to have in the living room. So, how hard was it for you as a director and the star to jump in and out of character.

Kevin: It's just part of my character, I'm able to compartmentalize very well and do that, (snaps fingers) and I'm out of it, in it. But it was also interesting, in fact there were a couple of actors that at one point in shooting, very early in the - it takes awhile for actors to start to feel safe and trusting, you ask them to go places that are either wildly comic, and they are not quite sure who they're playing yet, and I remember Greta, when we were shooting a scene like the first or second night, and it was freezing cold and we were outside in Berlin, like "What are we doing here!" Then she said - after we did a take, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' and I said, 'What?' She goes, 'I just became very self-conscious. I suddenly realized that you were the director. And I said, 'And?' And she said, 'I suddenly saw you looking at me as the director and not me as Bobby.' And I said, 'Greta, Bobby is the director.' And she went, 'Oh,' literally, and then just completely relaxed. And it was an interesting dynamic, because I'd created that concept, it was less hard for everyone else, and even less hard for me to be able to go back and forth. And I really loved the experience, but that's also because I wasn't out there alone, I had a production team on this film that stood by me when we lost our financing. We were supposed to start shooting in July, and the money fell out, and I was building sets and I'd cast the movie for the most part, and we didn't start shooting until November. And there were these four and a half, almost five months, where nobody was sure if the movie was happening. I was sure the movie was happening, I never lost faith; this movie was going to happen even if I had to rob a bank. But it was tough because agents were saying, 'This movie's never going to happen. They're all bullshitting you. They don't have the money. I've got a studio offer.' And this is not just cast but production people. Every single actor and production person stayed with us, and that dedication and that loyalty is what got me out of bed every day, because I didn't want to disappoint those people.

Emily: You sing the songs but you did lip-sync in the film. Was it hard?

Kevin: I did some of the stuff live, the first Mack is live. [Lip-syncing] is not hard for me at all. I've always been very good at looping. I won't leave a looping stage until it's exact, until I know that that's going to look at least like I actually said that. Plus I'd been working on the music for so long, and we recorded the tracks in September, before we knew if we had a movie, so I paid for all those sessions because we had no money, but I knew I had to get those tracks down. It was too huge an operation, we had 73 musicians and there were all these charts, it was huge. So I had about a month and a half with all those tracks before we started shooting. Plus I'd known the music so well, and I knew Bobby's arrangements so well that they were in me. Plus we kept singing, even when we would do a performance then Peter Cincotti, who's a great jazz artist, we'd play all these songs that we know, just for all the extras, we couldn't stop

Emily: Okay you have this "knack" for impersonations, but you didn't do that with Bobby - how did you manage not to make it a caricature performance?

Kevin: I've watched a lot of films that are biopics and sometimes I feel like it's watching wax museum performance, because you can saddle yourself as a performer with having to be so much like somebody that it actually doesn't make you explode out, it hampers you. Although I have a good ear, and I love doing impressions and that's all fun for comedy and stuff, but I always felt that if I was going to do the singing, if I was going to do this performance, it had to come from me. If I could find Bobby's essence, and God knows I've watched enough of his performances and listened to enough of his records to the point where I've driven all of my friends completely out of the room, I thought maybe that stuff's going to percolate and it will be in me. I never wanted to be on that set thinking, 'Oh, Bobby didn't do his hands like that,' or 'Oh, he didn't exactly do it that way,' I just never wanted to be standing outside of myself and being that nitpicky and anal about it. I wanted to enjoy it. And Phil Ramone actually talks about the period of time from '99 to 2001, I started working with Roger Calloway (sp) just on the music, just learning a lot of Bobby's catalog, just trying to get behind the way he got around songs. Then we went into the recording studio with Phil Ramone and we laid down all these tracks at Capitol Records, which aren't the tracks in the movie, these were just rehearsal tracks so that wherever I went - because I was taking acting jobs, they weren't where my heart was, but I was taking acting jobs, and so wherever I was I was listening to these tracks and singing in hotel rooms and keeping people awake at night. And then we went onto a soundstage, because I was doing a bunch of pictures for Universal, and so I got a soundstage at Universal and we created a nightclub there with mirrors and a big huge computer screen, and I could punch up any performance of Bobby's. We had everything on these towers. It was great, every Dick Clark show, every Ed Sullivan, every television program he ever was on we had, all of it cataloged, because I got so much material out of Warner Brothers…

Emily: Here's my address should you wanna send me a little Christmas gift of that collection!

Kevin: [laughter] Hey now…I got all Warner's scripts, all the documentation and all the interviews they did with everybody. So I didn't have to do that over again, I had it all. And Phil says there was a time between that period when we were at Universal, and by the time we got into pre-production where he said, 'You stopped trying to do an impression of Bobby Darin.' Now I don't know when that was, because I was inside of it, but he says, 'There was a moment when your instincts as a performer kicked in, when you started using your own voice but it was Bobby, but it was a version of Bobby.' I'm awfully glad that happened, I don't know when it happened, but I'm awfully glad that happened because if it didn't come from me, then it just would have been hollow. And then why not use the original tracks? We chose not to because we wanted to do a lot of things musically, we could have never expanded into those dance sequences if we had been tied to those original tracks. And this is just a personal preference, this doesn't say that there aren't a lot of wonderful performances, we've got one with Jamie Foxx this year, where there's an actor lip-syncing. But I just go back to the days, I grew up watching Fred Astaire sing, and Gene Kelly sing, and James Cagney sing, it was only later that Audrey Hepburn didn't sing, so you go back to those and there's just something so exciting about knowing that person is doing it. And I knew it was a risk, but the most interesting and challenging things are right on the edge. And yeah it was brassy, but so was Bobby.

Emily: Kate Bosworth actually looks like Sandra Dee circa 1963. Can you talk a little about casting Kate?

Kevin: Easy, I mean it was easy. I was always fascinated over the last couple of years as I was reading all these tabloid articles about me and Sandra Dee being in a big feud, about me wanting to cast Drew Barrymore, nothing against Miss Barrymore, but I didn't have any intention of casting Drew or anyone else who was very well known. I always knew I wanted a relative unknown to play the role. It wasn't until I met Kate at a dinner, and I never saw her work, I didn't see any of her films before I met her, I saw them after I cast her, my casting director here said, 'You've got to meet Kate Bosworth.' So I went to this dinner, I walked in, and she's a smart girl and she dressed as the role. So she was sitting across this area of this restaurant, sitting on a bench waiting for me, and I just saw her from across the room, about 20 feet, her blond hair was across (indicates her forehead) and she was wearing a little sweater and a little print dress, and I just went, 'Oh my God.' I literally heard Summer Place in my head. And we sat down and we had this dinner, and she was funny, she was intelligent, she wasn't wrapped up in herself, she's an east coast girl. I knew in about 15 minutes. And one of the reasons I did know was because even though Kate's quite young she has a very mature face, and I knew on film, on screen, that face could age. I had to get somebody, there a lot of girls who can be young and beautiful and America's sweetheart, but to get where I needed this character to get, to deal with the issues of alcoholism without doing it over the top, to watch how difficult that marriage was, I knew I needed an actress who could get there, and she got there.

Emily: Let's be blunt - what are your expectations for the film's success?

Kevin [straight-faced] It's going to be the biggest film that's ever been released in the history of motion pictures.

Emily: Expected nothing less dear - you're slipping…This took years to complete, so much work and effort- and it is so personal. So, Having come this far do you want critical acclaim, big box office, what would validate it?

Kevin: [laughter] It's already validated, because I faced the biggest critics I could have ever faced, Steve Blauner, Dodd Darin and Sandra Dee. After that, everything's icing on the cake. I made the movie because I wanted to make the movie, and I made the movie I wanted to make. If it's successful, if it brings me success, if it brings all kinds of attention great, because you know why, maybe that will turn the spotlight back onto Bobby Darin, and that's the whole reason I did it. I'm going out on a concert tour because I want to absolutely reach the widest possible audience I can.

Emily: Bravo.

Kevin: Hey, I made the movie PG-13, so that I could reach the widest possible audience I can, because he's largely been forgotten, and he was, without question, one of the greatest entertainers we ever had, and because he died young, and because he changed, because he didn't always be the Bobby Darin they wanted him to be, I think that had a detrimental effect on his legacy.

Emily: The film's not so linear - can you talk about the film's structure and how you decided to make it a relationship between the older Bobby, and the younger Bobby?

Kevin: Well that particular relationship came out of something that Bobby Darin had said a number of times in his life, and it struck me as kind of a revealing comment, that then out of that this relationship was born in the movie. Bobby Darin said he always felt like two different people, that Waldon Robert Cassotto spent half his life trying to become Bobby Darin, and Bobby Darin spent the rest of his life trying to get back to Waldon Robert Cassotto. And I thought there's something about the way Bobby viewed Waldon Robert Cassotto, when he found out what he found out about his sister, he did move up to Big Sur, he did take off his toupe, he did give everything away, and he lived in a trailer, and he went to the public library and he registered as Waldon Robert Cassotto. But I also think that he felt very lost, that Waldon Robert Cassotto didn't even exist. That he had built his life on this idea that he was Sam Cassotto's son, that was his name, that's who he was, and then he invented this guy, Bobby Darin. Except what happened was, Waldon Robert Cassotto didn't exist, and this guy was nobody, and he literally for awhile didn't know who the hell he was. Now, it's interesting that the same thing happened to Jack Nicholson, but Nicholson had a completely, entirely, different response to it. Jack's response was (doing Jack impression) 'By the time I found out I was a fully formed man and those two women did a fine job.' But Bobby went off the rails, and I think it took him awhile to put it back together. That's sort of what I try to do in the last dance sequence, is you have all of these representative Bobby's, all these dancers, and that they all become one, finally he's sort of figured out how to put it together. And I think he was standing at the brink of a whole new revival of his career.

Emily: I'm getting choked up. [Thought not spoken: hug me...make me feel better you handsome man...]

Kevin: And he'd done this remarkable television show that was really his last performance that he taped, he done this television series called The Bobby Darin Amusement Hour, which got cancelled that year. So he knew it was the last show, and he said to the network, 'I don't want to do what I've been doing,' because it was a Sonny and Cher kind of thing, where they had acts and skits and guest stars, and Bobby said, 'I don't want to do that. This is the last show, I want to put my definitive nightclub act on film now.' Well, they didn't want it, and in fact they never aired it. It's an unbelievable show, it's eight months before he died, and you wouldn't know he had a hangnail. That's how unbelievable he was, no matter how sick he was, and I know how sick he was that night, because I've talked to Blauner about it. He had signed the biggest contract in the history of Las Vegas to play the MGM Grand, much the way that Elton John now plays where he plays, doing multiple shows, bigger than Elvis, bigger than Sinatra. I think he was just standing on this brink of something happening, but he died. But for me Bobby Darin didn't die, so he doesn't die in my movie.

Emily: Are you doing the concert tour as "Bobby Darin" or just the songs?

Kevin: No, it's me but it's me singing Bobby and talking about Bobby and talking a little bit about the movie, but I will be dressed as Bobby, I'm pulling out some of the costumes from the movie.

Emily: What would you hope Bobby Darin would say today if he saw the movie?

Kevin: Boy you've got balls! [laughter] Bobby wasn't a guy that looked back, so I'm not sure it's a movie necessarily that he would have been proud of, but it was a way in for me to try to do the movie in an unconventional way and in a way that I thought would be more entertaining by having him direct it, sort of using the movie world. I hope he'd be pleased, he'd probably have a few notes on my singing, but then he should, because he's the master. You know, I've tried to get close to him, but nobody gets that close, not to that man.

Emily: Thanks. My mom jokes I rushed out of the womb for a Bobby Darin Holiday appearance - As I got older I was pissed when I knew he was smoking with his condition - robbing us of himself in a way did you feel the same way?

Kevin: Yeah, and there were things that he did later in his life when he went to the dentist and he didn't take his medication and he got blood poisoning and that led to more complication, and that ultimately led to the second heart operation, none of which I was terribly interested in depicting, because it just was boring medical blah blah. It's always angering when people don't take care of themselves, but he sure packed in a lot in a little bit of time and made a big impact. Maybe now a whole new generation will go, 'Oh yeah, that's that guy from - oh yeah, he did that song too?'

Emily: Did you feel like you were running out of time, because you only had so much time that you could have gotten this film made.

Kevin: Oh yeah, a few more years and I would have been too old for this part. [he winks]

End

Kevin's created something really special here. It's very close to his heart - and the film shines for it.