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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 18:50 GMT
Kevin Spacey: The unusual suspect
Kevin Spacey
Spacey has become one of Hollywood's top actors
Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey has been appointed a director at London's Old Vic Theatre. BBC News Online looks at the career of one of the movie world's most intriguing leading men.

Kevin Spacey seems to have lived his Hollywood career on the old maxim less is more.

Good-natured but guarded in interviews, the two-time Oscar winner has preferred to let his acting do the talking.

In the last decade, Spacey has gone from a character actor fleshing out moody, seedy parts to a genuine star.

Along the way, the 43-year-old actor he has created some of recent cinema's most powerful characters.

He has starred as the he mysterious cripple Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, the boss from hell Buddy Ackerman in Swimming With Sharks and Lester Burnham, the put upon anti-hero of American Beauty.
Spacey became a star thanks to his role in The Usual Suspects

And he has been a high profile Hollywood success on the London stage, starring in The Iceman Cometh at the Old Vic and Almeida theatres.

All the while he has had to fend off intense media speculation about his sexuality.

Military school

Kevin Spacey was born Kevin Spacey Fowler in South Orange, New Jersey in 1959, the son of a secretary and a technical writer.

The youngest of three children, the young Kevin was sent to military academy after setting fire to his sister's tree house after the family settled in southern California.

He was expelled after attacking a fellow student and then enrolled in a California high school where he discovered drama.

Playing Captain Von Trapp in his school's production of The Sound of Music, Spacey then set his heart on an acting career.

He studied at the Juilliard School in New York but left to start acting in theatre before he won his diploma.

His theatre roles grew from bit parts to central roles. In 1986 he worked with legendary actor Jack Lemmon on a Broadway version of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The two would become good friends, and Spacey would later cite him as a major role model.

In 1988 he played the scheming Mel Profitt in the slick US TV drama Wiseguy.
Spacey in American Beauty
He won the best actor Oscar for his role in American Beauty

Film roles followed with his first big part as the snide office manager John Williamson in the film version of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross in 1992.

The film's centrepiece was Spacey's masterful sparring with the weary sales rep Shelley Levene, played by his old mentor Jack Lemmon.

Oscar

But one of his finest moments came as Verbal Kint, a crippled confidence trickster, in the 1995 noir thriller The Usual Suspects.

Spacey won a best supporting actor Oscar for the role, which created a media sensation with its surprise ending and its legend of a mysterious master criminal called Keyser Soze.

The same year he appeared - uncredited - as the chillingly unhinged John Doe in the serial killer film Seven, starring Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow.

A year later, he played a brutal studio executive in the under-rated Swimming With Sharks.

His later roles have seen him inhabit much less dark characters - but to no less acclaim.
Spacey in K-Pax
His recent films have included K-Pax

Spacey said he asked immediately for the lead part of Lester Burnham when he read the script for American Beauty.

Five years after toasting the mysterious Keyser Soze at his Usual Suspects Oscar acceptance speech, Spacey was on the dais again - this time for best actor.

His 2001 Oscar for Burnham, a man approaching middle age with little dignity, cemented his reputation as one of Hollywood's finest actors.

Old Vic supporter

While his follow ups - including The Shipping News and K-Pax - have not had quite the acclaim, Spacey's film career is assured.

He has not, however, forgotten his theatre roots, and has been a vocal supporter of The Old Vic for years.

His celebrity friends include former US president Bill Clinton.

And Spacey was recently in London to launch Triggerstreet, a website that offers exposure to undiscovered screen-writers and film-makers.

And despite openly denying he was gay in an interview with the American magazine She in 2000, he still has to encounter a media fixation on his sexuality.

He told London's Evening Standard in 1998: "It's not that I want to create some mystique by maintaining a silence about my personal life, it is just that the less you know about me, the easier it is to convince you that I am that character on screen."

See also:

05 Feb 03 | Entertainment
04 Feb 03 | Entertainment
26 Nov 02 | Entertainment
02 May 02 | Entertainment
12 Apr 02 | Entertainment
17 Mar 00 | Oscars 2000
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