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Oscars 2000 Friday, 17 March, 2000, 10:16 GMT
Spacey's on a roll
Spacey considers the part of Lester a personal breakthrough
By BBC News Online's Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

American Beauty, that dark humorous look behind the sunny façade of American suburbia has frontrunner status at the Oscars.

Starring actor Kevin Spacey regards being cast in the lead role as Lester Burnham, the alienated father and husband, a real gift.

Even before his performance won him the Oscar for best actor, he felt indebted to the film's director. "I will always be grateful to my Santa Claus, Sam Mendes, for giving it to me," the actor said.

I wanted to start doing characters that are more vulnerable, much more emotionally affected by the things that happen to them, as opposed to being unaffected by things that they do to other people

Kevin Spacey on American Beauty
Spacey has already won a best supporting actor Oscar in 1995 for his breakthrough role as con man Verbal Kint in Brian Singer's The Usual Suspects.

That film marked a turning point in his career, proving beyond any doubt that he had a menacing onscreen charisma.

Lester Burnham, with his dark mordant humour, represents another pivotal moment in Spacey's career.

He says: "It gave me a chance as an actor to go to a place I hadn't been given a chance to go to in feature films," says Spacey.

Human portrait

Spacey in The Negotiator
He adds that the part of Lester got him "away from playing these dark and mysterious and manipulative characters that seem to be 10 steps ahead of everybody else.

"I wanted to start doing characters that are more vulnerable, much more emotionally affected by the things that happen to them, as opposed to being unaffected by things that they do to other people.

"I have never been given the opportunity to do as much comedy in a film, so I was very pleased that Sam Mendes wanted me to do it."

Spacey takes every opportunity he can to praise Mendes, and credits him with fostering an atmosphere on set that enabled a very human portrait of Burnham family dysfunctionality to emerge on screen.
Notable film credits
American Beauty
It's Tough to be a Bug (Hopper)
Bug's Life (Hopper)
LA Confidential
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Seven
The Usual Suspects
Glengarry Glen Ross
"Sam created an environment in which we were able to trust each other and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he would share stories of his own upbringing, of his own relationship with his parents."

Many critics see American Beauty as a cinematic treatise on the ills of American suburbia, but Spacey is reluctant to view it in these terms.

He says: "I think it's always dangerous to make blanket statements that this somehow reflects suburbia, I think that there are things going on in the subterranean levels of everyday life, in most people's lives. And whether you live in a metropolitan city or you live in suburbia, these things exist."

Future moves

American Beauty, which only cost $15m (£9.5m) to make - a modest sum by studio standards - will have an impact on Hollywood practice.

The film has already taken around $100m (£63.6m) in the US alone, and Spacey says as a result, because money is "often the thing that talks, maybe more movies like it will get made".
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
With John Cusack In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Spacey is enjoying a streak of good fortune. He's currently on location shooting a drama, Pay It Forward, alongside Helen Hunt and fellow Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment.

Among his future projects is a film based on the life of American pop singer Bobby Darin who died of congestive heart failure, at the age of 37 in 1973.

Spacey, who is 40, says: "I have to do it soon before I'm too old for the part."

See also:

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