TORONTO (Reuters) - There's a political message to "Casino Jack," a nuanced movie portrait of a disgraced Washington superlobbyist, but lead man Kevin Spacey says it's up to the American people to fix a broken system.
Spacey plays real-life lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is serving a six-year prison term for defrauding American Indian tribes, tax evasion and trading meals and gifts for political favors in a 2006 scandal often described as Washington's biggest since Watergate.
The double Oscar winner plays the role with a certain amount of sympathy, focusing on Abramoff's philanthropy as well as his belief that lobbyists could do no wrong.
"His greed wasn't self interest," Spacey told Reuters in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "Casino Jack" premiered.
"Is it just that he got caught up in the game of being the best, of making the most money in the culture of the lobbying industry? When you break it down, he wasn't doing anything that everyone else in Washington wasn't doing. He was doing it louder, better and making more money than everyone else."
Spacey said he spent seven hours talking with Abramoff in a U.S. federal prison before deciding how to play the role. He described his meeting and the research as "a journey of discovery."
"He was very helpful, and very generous and very funny and very charming," the actor said of jailed lobbyist.
The drama, full of lavish scenes of glass-walled offices in the K Street corridor where Washington's lobbyists are based, shows influence-peddling going to the very core of the U.S. political establishment.
Abramoff is portrayed as on good terms with then U.S. President George W. Bush, and proud of the way he helped him crush a challenge from Arizona senator John McCain. Other lobbyists work with other politicians, with money oiling the wheels of politics at every turn.
"Casino Jack," directed by George Hickenlooper, is the second movie about Abramoff this year. It opens in U.S. movie theaters in December.
The first was the documentary "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" by Alex Gibney, who also directed the 2010 documentary "Client 9" about the rise and fall of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Spacey said the Washington lobbying system where "you can buy politicians or get money for people by having a photo session in the White House" should be "cleaned up."
He added. "If it changes, it's not going to change because the politicians want to change it, it's going to change because the public wants to change it."
Editing by Jill Serjeant