TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Kevin Spacey has won Oscars for his roles as a father in mid-life crisis in “American Beauty” and a quick-thinking criminal in “The Usual Suspects.”
In his new movie “Casino Jack” he portrays corrupt government lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a role which earned him a Golden Globe nomination this week for best actor in a comedy.
“Casino Jack,” which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, looks at the “me-first” culture in Washington epitomized by Abramoff, who lobbied lawmakers on behalf of casinos and greased the palm of many an outstretched politician’s hand.
To prepare for his role Spacey spent hours talking with Abramoff in a U.S. federal prison where he was housed until his release this month. He spoke to Reuters about the movie, his impressions of Abramoff and his plans for the future.
Q: Abramoff comes across as quite a complicated character. How did you decide how to play him?
A: “I made the decision that I was not going to begin, really in earnest research, until after I met him. I didn’t want to walk into that room with a lot of opinions about him.
“He was very helpful, and very generous and very funny and very charming, and in some ways very different from what I thought he was going to be. I could completely see why he had been so successful at raising funds. Whatever room he was going to be in, he would have owned, absolutely.
“His greed wasn’t self interest. It is that he got caught up in the game of being the best, of making the most money in the culture of the lobbying industry? Because frankly when you break it down, he wasn’t doing anything that everyone else in Washington wasn’t doing. He was doing it louder, bigger, better and making more money than everyone else.”
Q: Is that sort of stuff still going on?
A: “Is the culture still happening? Yes, of course it is. Did they clean up Washington? No they didn’t ... Jack Abramoff became the poster boy, but who else is out there doing exactly the same kind of stuff because it hasn’t changed.
“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.”
Q: You’re other job is artistic director with the Old Vic Theater in London. Do you prefer theater or cinema?
A: “I’ve always preferred theater. I started out in it and never viewed it as a stepping stone to movies, but as viable and important part of my experience as films have been. Going to the Old Vic has been the most challenging and most satisfying job I’ve ever had. I really love the company and the people I work with, and I adore London.
“I will be spending time over this next year-and-a-half just doing film and TV because I know that in 2012, I am taking the entire year out to do Richard III with (director) Sam Mendes, which will tour the world and play in the Old Vic.”
Q: Tell me about your next movie, “Margin Call,” about the global financial meltdown.
A. “It was an interesting film, too, in which again you have events that happened and decisions that were made. There was a lot of vilifying. Every day you could read how horrible bankers were, and how terrible they were. Then, you go to meet them and you spend a little time with them, and you spend a little time on the (trading) floor watching what they do.
“And you have a script about a man who, in my case, is quite torn by what his company is asking him to do. He wasn’t the top CEO, the one making the decisions; he was the one being told what to do. Again, it’s a situation where you have these competing ideas and portrayals of figures, even though these were fictional figures based on the collapse of several banks...
“It was a wonderful cast, with Jeremy Irons and Demi Moore. It was shot in New York, and mostly at night. It’s a very taut 24 hours from the moment they realize that they are (lost) to the next afternoon, after they have sold off everything and it’s pretty much worthless. ‘
Q. What are the Oscar chances for “Casino Jack”?
A. “I don’t know. I have not heard enough, and I have no sense of how this film is perceived ... Who knows? Knock on wood.”