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Superman Returns - Kevin Spacey interview

Superman Returns

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KEVIN Spacey talks about stepping into the shoes of Lex Luthor in Superman Returns as well as how appearing in such a massive blockbuster might benefit the Old Vic.

Q. How formidable a task was it to step into the shoes of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor?
A. Like Bryan Singer, I have great affection for the [Richard] Donner film and the performances in it. I felt Hackman was great. But Bryan said that while he wanted to retain certain characteristics of Lex Luthor that included being funny, silly and having a bickering relationship with the Kitty character, he also wanted to introduce a new element. That was to create a Lex Luthor that was actually really scary and dangerous. He wanted to create a formidable nemesis to Superman so that when Superman is at his most vulnerable the audience might actually think that Lex is going to win. I also come from a philosophy in the theatre where no actor really owns a part – we just borrow them for periods of time. We’ve all seen countless Hamlets and Richard IIIs, so I think when you have that philosophy about things it feels less like your stepping into someone’s shoes and more that you’re trying to create your own pair.

Q. Since becoming involved with the Old Vic [in London] you’ve become quite picky with your film roles. What was it about a summer blockbuster that could have legs to go for two or three films that made you want to come back?
A. The easy answer is Bryan Singer. I had a remarkable experience 11 years ago and we have a great relationship. He’s one of the finest directors I’ve ever worked with so when he called and said that he was going to take over the franchise I thought it was a great choice for him. I thought that the movie had been put in very safe hands and I thought it would be a lot of fun. I was then enormously grateful that both he and the studio were able to work out a shooting schedule that allowed me to go down to Sydney and shoot consecutively for six weeks and then come back to the Old Vic. As long as I’m able to find roles that I think are interesting and directors that I want to work with that fit around the existing schedule at the Old Vic, then I’ll be happy to keep making movies.

Q. How big a choice was it to leave the Old Vic for those six weeks because it meant having to leave a production, didn’t it?
A. I had to decide whether I could leave The Philadelphia Story, which was an ensemble play. But I wasn’t the star and at the end of the day I thought it would provide benefits for the Old Vic because I’m about to be introduced to a whole generation of kids who’ve never probably seen the movies that I’ve been in. Maybe they are kids who have never been to a play. So just as all those kids came out to see Gandalf [Sir Ian McKellen] when he did the pantomime for us, maybe all those kids will want to come out and see Lex Luthor. And that’s fine.

Q. You always seem to have such fun playing the bad guy roles. What is it about them that appeals to you so much?
A. I suspect it just probably looks like I’m having more fun because the parameters of a role like Lex Luthor are so wide and you can, in a sense, get away with being large and theatrical. I think the balance you try to strike is achieving that and yet still investing it with some sense that it’s a bit more real. This was an enormously fun experience as well as a great opportunity for Bryan and I to be able to work together again for the first time in 11 years. To be able to report that he’s the same director now as he was then is a pleasure. I think he has proved, as he did with the X-Men films, that you can do a big tent-pole movie with a larger budget than we were afforded on The Usual Suspects and still have it be about character and relationships. Bryan and I worked every day on the set to find the right level and the right way to say a line.

Q. How did you avoid turning Lex into a caricature?
A. That’s literally all up to Bryan. I’m lucky because I trust him and we’ve worked together before, so there’s kind of a shorthand language with each other. I know what he means when he says something and it was just a balancing act every day. We’d approach a scene and ask whether it was too over the top, too much, and try it bigger and then much smaller. Ultimately, I just tried to give Bryan as many choices in editing so that he could strike that balance. Bryan quite clearly has an affection for Richard Donner’s films and wanted this one to feel like a continuation of that stylistically, but at the same time have it sort of mature in 2006 and have the characters have a bit more depth. I think, in my case, it was putting myself in the hands of Bryan and letting him shape me because he does that so well.

Q. Which part of your own personality did you bring into Lex Luthor?
A. I hope just my sense of fun. When you’re playing a character like that you can be fun and diabolical. The aspects of the character that I find to be the funnest are the switches, the quickness of how he can do something very funny and then, on a dime, switch. That’s just the joy of playing a character that’s quick-witted and thinks fast.

Q. Given that you didn’t physically get to work with Marlon Brando in this film what was it like working with Marlon Brando?
A. Well, it didn’t really hit me until I saw the movie for the first time at the premiere in Los Angeles, because I wanted to wait until it was all finished. When the credits came up and I saw my name and then Marlon Brando’s name and I thought that was pretty cool. I’d waited my whole life to work with Brando.

Q. How do you see Brandon Routh coping with his sudden rise to fame? Did you have any advice for him in that respect?
A. Nobody can prepare you for what Brandon’s about to experience. The truth is, it’s different for everyone because their circumstances are different and the way that people perceive them is different. How they respond to it is different. But I think Brandon is about as prepared for it as any young actor could be. He is Clark Kent. It’s why Bryan cast him. There’s a lot of that total Mid-Western, completely sincere guy. I think he’s going to do fine. He’s certainly had enough time to imagine what it’s going to be like. There’s no school for it, you just have to learn to ride the wave however it comes.

Q. Are you an actor who can pick and choose his roles? Or do you still have to fight for some?
A. It would not be accurate to say that I get offered all of the best parts. There’s parts that get offered to 10 actors before they think of me. If you read a script that you think is wonderful, you always go on a pursuit to meet the director and convince them that maybe you’re a good choice for it. There’s always a struggle in terms of trying to find good stuff because the truth is, there isn’t that much. If you’re lucky to do one movie or two movies a year that are of real great quality, then that’s great. But not all of them are really, really great.

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