Beyond the Sea: An Interview with Kevin Spacey
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By Julian Roman
You blow this film away with your singing and dancing. A lot of audiences are going to be very surprised seeing Kevin Spacey, the king of drama and Oscar winner, shaking a leg on the screen. Is that one of the reasons you wanted to do this film?
Kevin Spacey: The reason I wanted to do this film was because I loved Bobby Darin and I feel that, in a lot of ways, because he died so young and he was so diverse, that his legacy has been dissipated. He is not as well known as if he would have lived a long life and done one thing really well - which in some cases made you famous. He didn't. He kept reinventing himself and sometimes to the detriment of his outward career. I just don't think he deserves to be the forgotten one of all those guys that you talk about in the Rat Pack and now we got Rod Stewart doing America's songbook. Then all these kids that win Pop Idol, they go out and do their first album and what are they doing? They're doing Bobby's music. They're doing Sinatra's music because they want to prove they can sing. So that's the initial impulse. On top of that, I used to do musicals as a kid. By the time I was 20, did a lot of musicals. But then I just never found the time or chance or opportunity or no one hired me. I auditioned. I've done "Gypsys" and "Damn Yankees" and "West Side Story" and "The Boyfriend." I did all these musicals so it's certainly been worth the wait for me. And also I guess because I love doing things where you get the chance to try something you've never done. Sometimes they don't like it when you try things you've never done. But this is so much in me. And as much as I want to try to get as close to Bobby Darin as I could, I'm no Bobby Darin. He was in a league of his own. And to anyone that has never seen his work, they should go out and get "Mack is Back" and "aces Back to Back" it's just remarkable to watch him, then realize how sick he was while he was doing this tuff. It was incredible what he overcame and how he just gave an audience everything he had. Here's a guy that knew at 12 years old he wasn't going to live long. He could have picked an easier life. He could have not smoked. But he just pushed himself to the edge every time. And the edge is an interesting place to exist. So for me, this is definitely one of these experiences where I'm walking the edge because it could go the other way. And I'm happy I've done a version of Bobby Darin, but the reality is that nobody hits that close.
Kate Bosworth knew nothing about Bobby Darin when she joined the cast. Did you have to give everyone a primer on Bobby Darin before filming?
Kevin Spacey: I played them the music, but I didn't want to make this movie for the company or for an audience where you have to pass a litmus test on Bobby Darin's past in order to enjoy it. If you walked into this film and you knew who Bobby Darin was, great. If you don't know who he was, great. It doesn't matter any more than who knew who Forrest Gump was when you walked into that movie. It's an interesting thing. It was one of the things that was hardest about raising the money and why it ultimately had to go to Europe. I would hear this constantly from executives: "it was a great story and the music is terrific and I'm sure you'll do good in it, but who has ever heard of Bobby Darin?" And I would ask why that mattered. And they would go, "Because people want to go to movies about famous people that they know who they are because if you look at the industry of biopics..." and I would say that logic didn't make any sense to me because if that logic works for nonfictional characters then that logic should work for fictional characters. People then wouldn't go to movies about people they've never heard of. So I think it's actually a marketing problem. You don't know how to market a movie like this. And I'll tell you how to market a move like this: It's the music, stupid! It starts with the music and it ends with the music. Even if you go to a foreign country and you ask someone who is Bobby Darin and they look at you strangely, sing four bars of "Splish Splash" and they go "oohh." So the hope always was to treat Bobby like a fictional character. Yes I'm using factual information but I'm also changing a lot of stuff. I don't address a lot of things in the movie because I want to make a fantasy. I want to make entertainment, so there's things that you move around.
Talk about casting Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee. Were you a fan of her previous films?
Kevin Spacey: I didn't know her work. My US casting director, when we were in a discussion of who might play the role, said you've got to meet Kate Bosworth.
So she was recommended. How did she eventually win the part?
Kevin Spacey: Because when I met her at dinner she looked like her to me. There was an essence. I actually saw her across the room and it was the first time I saw her. She didn't see me but I saw her across the room and it was like I heard the theme from "Summer Place" in my head. She was very smart. She dressed for the part and she looked like Sandra Dee. Then we had this dinner and I knew very quickly in the course of this dinner that she had all of those qualities of innocence that I knew were required. She was very funny and I knew I wanted the movie to be funny. There are scenes when they go at each other, but it's comedy. She also had something that almost no other actress had that I met, and that is she had a very mature face even though she's quite young. And that was critical because she had to age in the film and grow.
Were you worried about the age difference between yourself and Kate?
Kevin Spacey: There were a number of things I read about "how dare I play this role being older than Bobby Darin." I never thought that was going to be a big issue because I knew I wasn't setting out to tell a linear story where I was going to start playing Bobby Darin at 17. That's why I decided to address it right head on in the movie because sometimes the best thing to do is just identify the elephant in the room and hope people relax, get over it and enjoy the film. I'm happy to hear that's what's been happening. Age issues were not that big to me and because she had a mature face, I didn't think it was going to look like the "American Beauty" scenario - which is a different scenario. You don't want that scenario.
This is essentially a dream project for you. Did you find yourself being overly critical or wanting to get it perfect every single time?
Kevin Spacey: Well when your hearts in something it is different than when it's just a job or a bridge to something else. I also had an incredible group of people around me. What people don't know, is that when I got to financing initially in February 2003 and we were going to start shooting in July, I lost the money in June. So suddenly all these people I hired building sets, everything stopped. And we had to refinance the film. And that took nearly five months. So we didn't start shooting until November. Everybody stuck with us and nobody else took jobs, much against the better judgments of their agents. We went in to record the music at Abbey Road and I had to pay for all of that because we had no financing. I didn't even know if any of those tracks would have a movie to go on. I never lost faith and this company never lost faith, and every one of them stood by me and every one of them made this movie. I didn't make this movie. We made this movie. They were my eyes and ears. My production designer was about six seconds from becoming a director himself. I can't tell you what that meant to me and how that spirit energized me and put me in the zone and kept me there. So yes I was critical, but you don't stand on the stage saying he didn't move his hands that way. I never wanted to be self conscious. At a certain point, it had to come from me or why do it. I didn't want to direct this movie. I went out to other directors and tried up until the end of 2002 to get someone to jump on board. And the two that wanted to do it couldn't until 2004. I knew if I don't make this movie in 2003 I'll never make it. So I figured, if I was up against the way and it was either going to get made if I direct it or it's not going to get made, it's an easy choice.
Do you recognize a lot of yourself in Bobby Darin?
Kevin Spacey: His drive, his ambition, his determination to, as he would always say, "It's not true that you only live once. You can live a lot of time if you know how." We tend to live in a world that likes to pigeon hole. We tend to live in a world that says that's what you do or that's what you are. And Bobby wasn't like that. You walk into a record store and Bobby's not in one section, he's in nine sections. He kept trying new things. He kept inventing himself. He never settled for what came easy. I don't want to either. And it's interesting when you come under criticism for trying new things. How there is a sense of how dare you try that. Who do you think you are? And I think well, isn't that what actors are supposed to do? Aren't we supposed to not just play ourselves and show up and show our best qualities in every movie and play the same part over and over. Isn't that the job? To take on challenges and test your talents and push yourself? I mean, what the hell would I get out of bed for if I didn't do that? So I definitely recognize a lot of qualities in Bobby that I have. The huge difference between him and me is that I'm not living on borrowed time. But what would it be like to know that? That every year you live is a miracle and somehow you survived. He started to know in '67, '68, '69 that things in his heart were getting worse. He probably wouldn't live that much longer, and I think that had a lot to do with the decisions he made, how he became involved politically and what kind of songs he started writing. Now I think I understand more than I ever did before the dilemma he faced and the dilemma that a lot of artists face is that between professional expectations and personal freedom. You got to go with your heart.
Did you think of infusing more political content into the film because of the last year's events?
Kevin Spacey: No. I didn't set out to make this movie to be overtly political. But if people see parallels, then they're there to be drawn. But I did remark that I wanted to deal with that section of his life without question "The Simple Song of Freedom" was always going to be a song in the film because A) I love it and B) I think it's a great number. But when we went to war, I thought, wow, this suddenly has relevance. I also have gotten the comments that people appreciate I didn't make it overtly political or try to use a current situation we're facing in the world as a way to make some current statements for people to find.
Are you worried that Beyond the Sea is being released after "Ray" and what comparisons will be drawn?
Kevin Spacey: No. I was very happy "Ray" got made. They face the same dilemmas that I faced about a biopic. I'm delighted they made it. I'm also happy "Beyond the Sea" is not opening in a vacuum, because my film is not conventional. Maybe "De-Lovely" and now "Ray" which has done incredibly well and I'm incredibly happy our trailer is running in front of it, that maybe the ground will be more fertile. If it was the only biopic would audiences be ready for it? Ray Charles and Bobby Darin loved each other. They did an album. I have to tell you, the night we had our world premiere in Toronto, I heard that Jamie Fox was having a party. So I went to this party thinking I'd be in this VIP room and say hi and it would be calm and nice. I walk into this huge venue. There's 900 people screaming at Jamie Foxx Standing on a piano rapping. He catches my eye and pulls me up on the piano, and that night, Bobby Darin and Ray Charles got back together and sang "Splish Splash" in front of 900 people.
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