KEVIN SPACEY

Q & A by Mark Walters

You may want to read the review of BEYOND THE SEA before you read this.  If so CLICK HERE.

 When BEYOND THE SEA is released in theaters, there will be many people out there that learn for the very first time who Bobby Darin was.  Kevin Spacey has crafted a film that is very personal and important to him, and was only able to do so through years of patience and careful planning.  Some folks will never know just what all went into getting this film made, but Kevin knows.  It was truly a labor of love.  Spacey recently came through Dallas to promote the new film, and held a Q & A after it was over.  Here are some of the things he had to say about his experiences.

How this all came to be.

KEVIN: It has been quite a journey.  I just gotta blame my mother.  It all started because my mother was a huge Bobby Darin fan.  I grew up in a house where Bobby Darin records were playing all the time, along with the great Sinatra.  My dad had a 78 collection, so I sort of grew up with the big bands, you know that brassy sound.  The truth is by the time I was 10 or 11 I was standing in the living room singing into a hairbrush to Bobby Darin records.  Then in my 20's a couple of books came out about Bobby Darin, I didn't know anything about him, except that he was a great performer.  And I was really stunned by what he had overcome and how much he had accomplished in such a brief life, and even briefer 15 year career.  I thought it would make a great movie, and my mother thought I should play this part.  This is the one movie my mother wanted me to be in more than any movie, ever.  And I'll talk a little bit more about that later.  Then I heard they were going to make a movie about Bobby Darin's life, and this was way back in the 1980's.  I was a New York stage actor, and I really hadn't done any film or television at that point.  And although I threw my hat into the ring, because I thought this is the part for me, those studio executives didn't think that this unknown obscure theater actor should play the part.  So my hat was tossed right back.  And for reasons I'm not even sure of, they never made that movie.  It was in development at Warner Brothers for about 15 years, and it never got made.  Went through a lot of different screenwriters, and Barry Levinson was going to direct it, but it never happened, and I'm eternally grateful to all of them for not making that movie.  I just tracked the project from the late 80's until about 1996 after I started to get a profile on film.  I ended up doing a bunch of movies for Warner Brothers... L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, and THE NEGOTIATOR were all Warner Brothers pictures.  So I ended up starting a relationship with the executives who all held the keys to the kingdom.  It took five years to get the rights out of Warner Brothers, and I finally got the rights in the year 2000.  So I've been in actuality working on the film since the year 2000.

On his resemblance to Bobby Darin, and singing all the songs himself.

KEVIN: Well I'm taller than he was.  We have nearly the same hair, so I thank my makeup and hair people for supplying me with such remarkable wigs.  I've been singing my whole life.  What a lot of people don't know is that I started out doing musicals.  From 13 until I was about 22 I did DAMN YANKEES, WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY, DAMES AT SEA, THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  And I love musicals, I love doing them, I love the form.  I grew up loving the great MGM musicals.  As you can see I pay a little homage to them in this film.  But once I started working professionally I just never found a opportunity to do a musical.  I've sung every now and then at a couple benefits and things.  The challenge here was to try to get the music right, because I had made the decision that I actually wanted to sing the performance rather than lip-sync.  Which isn't to say there aren't great performances from actors... we've got RAY now with Jamie Foxx doing a great performance, and he's lip-syncing Ray Charles.  But I just grew up knowing that was Fred Astaire and that was Gene Kelly and that was Jimmy Cagney, and they were really singing it.  If I could get my voice close, and trust me if you haven't seen Bobby Darin... this is my moment where I get to misquote Sandra Benson, "I knew Bobby Darin, and you're no Bobby Darin."  I can tell you this was a man in a league all his own, and what I wanted to do most was to both honor his talent, but at the same time feel like I was not doing some slavish imitation of him.  So it was about trying to capture his style and his essence and his phrasing and his energy, so that maybe people would think they were hearing Bobby.  But quite frankly there's a whole bunch of numbers Bobby did that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  Because the purity of his voice, the vocal range, was quite extraordinary.  I started working musically back in 1999 with a man named Roger Calloway, who is a really remarkable Jazz artist in his own right.  You may know him without knowing you know him, because he wrote the theme song to ALL IN THE FAMILY, which he likes to call "The gift that just keeps giving."  And Roger as it turns out is one of Bobby Darin's musical conductors and arrangers, and went on the road with Bobby, and they did the 'I think' brilliant 1967 album of DR. DOOLITTLE, which we use one song from.  Fabulous Places is from that album.  We started working together just plowing through Roger's catalog back in 1999.  And we worked for years, about two years before I brought on Phil Ramone who is our music producer.  He is sort of a legendary music producer, did all of Simon & Garfunkel's albums, worked with Bobby, worked with Sinatra, and is just a genius in the studio.  And he took me into the recording studio about four years ago, we went to Capitol Records in Hollywood.  We went into the studio where Bobby Darin layed down all his records.  And I learned what it was like to try working in front of a microphone, working with a band.  And I listen to those tracks now, they were not the tracks in the movie, it was just for rehearsal... to learn.  I listen to that stuff now and I just cringe, cause it just wasn't good.  But that's where I was at the time.  But he just took us to a whole other level.  We just continued to work and continued to work and continued to work.  Anywhere I was, no matter what movie I was doing or what I was up to, I always had these tracks, without my vocals as well as with my vocals.  So no matter what movie I was doing I was staying up late in hotel rooms, and singing and keeping my neighbors awake.  I apologize for that.

On choosing which songs to use in the film.

KEVIN: I think that was the hardest decision in making the film.  This was a guy who recorded over 325 songs in his career.  And that was the hardest choice, which ones to put in.  In fact some of my favorite Bobby Darin songs aren't in the movie.  But they didn't work dramatically.  I was always trying to make sure that the music I chose was advancing the storytelling, and it was moving the narrative forward, even if it was underscore, rather than stopping the movie and having a concert.  So example If I Was a Carpenter, which is one of my favorite Bobby Darin songs, isn't in the film, but it is on the soundtrack.  Because we layed it down, cause it's one of my favorites.  I gotta tell you about this orchestra.  It's a British band.  What may come as a surprise to those who haven't heard about the movie at all yet is that I couldn't raise the money to make this movie in the United States.  Every single studio said "Thank you, but no."  I had to go to Europe, so this became a U.K. and German co-production.  And the surprise factor of that is that this entire film was shot in Berlin.  Now it may look like a beautiful sunny Italian day when we're singing Beyond the Sea, but I can tell you for a fact is was the most miserable coldest day in Berlin in January you could ever imagine.  But that is a testament to the incredible craftsmen and women, both the U.K. crew and the German crew, who convincingly made this film look like Beverly Hills, the Bronx, Italy, and New York.

On the unusual personality portrayed onscreen.

KEVIN: I never wanted to set up and tell a conventional biopic.  I was more interested in using Bobby Darin's life, and around that creating almost a fantasy.  Because I wanted more than anything to make a celebration of this man's talent, and his ability to entertain.  And I wanted people to walk out of the theater feeling uplifted, because in this film Bobby Darin doesn't die.  And I think the conception was not to tell a plodding linear greatest hits, but something that broke all the rules.  And it was great fun to work on.

On what kind of support he got from Sandra Dee.

KEVIN: Well let me tell you about my relationship with the family, cause it took a journey.  About five and a half years ago I think it was I read an article in a newspaper that Steve Blauner, who is the character that John Goodman plays, was quoted in a newspaper saying "OVER MY DEAD BODY ANYBODY BUT BOBBY DARIN IS GONNA SING IN THAT MOVIE!"  Because the family was initially against my singing, and I understood that.  First of all they hadn't met me, and second of all they didn't know if I could sing, and third they're interest and rightly so is to protect Bobby's legacy.  And I had also made a conscious decision when I got the rights in 2000 that I wasn't going to approach the family... until the movie was real, until I knew I had the money.  Because I knew people that knew them, and I had enough sense to realize that they had gone through 15 years of ups and downs about this other project about Bobby's life that never got made.  I didn't want to put them through another second of dashed hope.  Because this isn't just a widget or another project for them, this is about the man that they loved.  So it wasn't until 2003 that I actually reached out to the family, when we knew that the movie was actually going to happen.  So I then reached out to Steve Blauner because, although Bobby is gone, Steve Blauner is still managing Bobby Darin.  All the music rights to use the music Bobby wrote, I negotiated with Steve Blauner.  And they don't call him "Boom Boom" for nothing.  In fact the very first meeting I had with Steve, we met in a restaurant together, and it was a restaurant that doesn't have a lunch.  So I took him to this place and they agreed to have this lunch day so it would just be him and me.  He walked into this restaurant, and he's a big guy.  He's not as big as John, but he's big.  And he sort of towered over me, and I was in this little booth.  And the first words out of his mouth, he didn't sit down, he didn't say hello, he didn't say anything but this - "Alright I'm just gonna say it and get it out of the way." - and I said "Okay, what?" - and he said - "I don't you think you should sing it, I don't think you should direct it, and you're too old to play it!"

How did he win him over?

KEVIN: I said "Sit down Steve, have a drink.  We'll get over that."  We sat that first day six and a half hours together.  And I think it was the first time that he was able to hear from me, not in the abstract, but to hear from me and from my heart how much I wanted to honor him, and how much it meant to me that the music had to be right.  If it wasn't right it didn't matter what else was.  And we had this incredible afternoon.  I think for the first time he saw my passion behind the film.  And then he called Dodd, and I met Dodd there, who is Bobby and Sandy's son.  And now a day doesn't go by where I don't speak to Dodd or e-mail him and Steve.  In fact the three of us just taped a Larry King yesterday.  And it was just a remarkable show to able to sit with them and talk about this film and what it means to them.  And once they got behind the film, they got behind it a way that I don't think the movie could've been made the way it was made without them.  First of all the remarkable amount of stuff that they shared with me, and the personal things that they actually gave me.  And probably the greatest gift we got, the most practical gift we got, before we went into the recording studio a year ago, Dodd and Steve spent two weekends going into Bobby's archive, and they located all of his original arrangements and charts.  And they sent them to me, and that's what we layed down at Abbey Road, note for note exactly what Bobby had layed down, except for those parts that we expanded for the dance sequences.  That was like a treasure trove.  It was remarkable.  If it sounds accurate to the original recording, it's was because we were doing what Bobby did.  And the final point is about Sandra Dee, because Sandra Dee really allowed Dodd to be the person that negotiated through this whole thing.  She saw the movie last week, and she called me after, and she said she wouldn't change a frame.  She's incredibly happy and pleased, and she couldn't believe the movie finally got made after all these years.  I don't know how this movie is going to do.  You never know how a movie is going to do.  And I don't know how the critics are going to react, some have been good about it, some have not been good.  But as far as I'm concerned, I faced the biggest critics I could ever face, and I'm very proud of what we did.

MARK: This seems like a very genuine and very sincere portrayal.  Aside from the family, did you meet with any opposition or criticism from within the Hollywood community for trying to take on a project that you were so heavily involved in from start to finish?

KEVIN: The opposition starts not just with this film.  When I was trying to raise the money in 2000, and I was trying to get the studios behind this film, and then in 2001 and 2002.  You wouldn't know it this year, because suddenly we're in a year where biopics have suddenly arisen out of nowhere.  But in 2002 and back, these films were persona non grata.  Nobody was making them.  Secondarily you add to that films that are driven by music, and if there's two things that terrify studios more I don't know what they are, and I have both.

MARK: Right!

KEVIN: On top of which, to be quite honest, after AMERICAN BEAUTY I did a series of films which (A) didn't do as well at the box office, and (B) that I took some kind of critical lambasting for.  Because I was going into areas that were not what people expected, which frankly I think is the job that you're supposed to take on.  There was almost an attitude of "How dare you try these new things!"  So because Hollywood is a land where you're only as good as the last thing you did, or because people measure success by money, there was also reluctance.  Because at that point there wasn't a script, and there wasn't a director.  I didn't intend on directing the film.  I spent two and a half years trying to find a director.  And I got close to a couple, but they're schedules were such that they couldn't make the movie until this year.  And I knew I had to get the movie done before this year.  It's a very funny philosophy or opposition that I would hear, and this is the philosophy... I don't know whether you'll cotton to it or not.  They'd say "Well it's a terrific script and it's a great story, and the music is great... um... but who has ever heard of Bobby Darin?"  Now, honestly, a lot of these executives are 15.

MARK: Heh-heh.

KEVIN: So there is some merit to that.  But I would say alright, but why did that matter?  And there argument would be "Well the only reason people go to movies about famous people is if they already know who they are."  And I would say, okay, under that scenario, you're telling me that you would've read another script, and said "Well it's a terrific story, it's a great character, but who has ever heard of Forrest Gump?"  Why is it that argument never works for fictional characters?  Audiences go to movies about characters they've never heard of every single day of the year.  So it's a marketing issue.  And I'm going to make a movie where it doesn't matter if you know who Bobby Darin is or not.  If you know who he is when you come into the theater, great.  If you don't know who he is you'll find out who he was by the end of the movie, and that's how you sell it.  And I think that's what terrifies them, they don't know how to market these films.  So I just never gave up.

MARK: How do they feel about it now that they've seen the finished product?

KEVIN: The delightful thing is now I've been screening the movie for the last month and a half, we had the world premiere up in Toronto, so it's starting to be seen.  And I'm getting an awful lot of calls from those people that said no saying "God-dammit!"  It was great.  And you know in a weird way I'm also very grateful to them, because it is because of all that opposition that led me finding the concept of how to tell the movie.  Because the whole movie within a movie concept actually occurred in about March of 2002 after I had gone through about a year and a half of just people slamming the door.  Politely, but just saying no.  And then one day yet another major top studio that I had done a great pitch with, and I played these tracks we'd done and I was really excited... and they passed.  And I remember banging on the table where I was writing and saying "What the fuck would Bobby Darin do if he was directing this goddamn movie?!"  And then I thought "Wait a minute."  Because I was always trying to find a way into telling a story that was... a device that would give me a home base, that would allow me to warp time, that would allow me to not tell a linear story.  The idea literally came from my frustration.  So I'm grateful to those guys in a strange way.

Any sleepless nights over being not only the actor but the director?

KEVIN: As I said before I didn't intend on directing the film, I didn't intend on having a hand in the writing of it, those things just fell to me.  But my biggest worry is would I be able to sleep.  Because when you're directing, you can't turn your mind off.  You're always thinking about what you shot the day before, or what's coming up the next day, did you do it right, did you get it.  We had a remarkable production crew and a great cast.  They not only did they're jobs and did them beautifully, and brought to the table their best work, but they stuck by us.  Because though I thought I raised the money when I said I did, we lost all the money a few weeks before we started shooting.  We were supposed to start this movie in July of 2003, and we lost the financing.  We went through four and a half very, very waffling months.  This entire cast and crew stuck by us, for four and a half months while we re-financed this entire film.  I never lost faith that the movie was going to happen, but believe me everyone's agents and managers were on the phone with them saying "This movie is not happening, get out of Berlin.  They're all lying to you, they don't have the money."  Because people were getting offered other jobs.  And through July, August, September, and October, everybody stayed with us.  Nobody took another job.  That loyalty and dedication filled me with such confidence, because every single person picked up my dream and then made it their own.  I slept like a baby because of them.  I was so motivated to do a good job because I didn't want to disappoint that group, and I didn't want to disappoint the legions of Darin fans and his family, that I slept better than I ever thought... the four or five hours that I slept, because that bastard director that I worked with... he not only made me shoot all day long, but then I had to go to dance rehearsal at 9:00 at night after shooting cause I was learning all those dances as we went along.  I'll never work with that sonuvabitch again!

On whether or not there were cuts made to the final film.

KEVIN: Some films about a person's life choose a period in their life... a slice in their life.  When you're telling someone's entire journey, which is in a sense what we were attempting to do here, there's so much you can't tell.  So the first part of that process is deciding what goes in the screenplay, what you leave out, what you decide not to tell.  Really the hardest part is the stuff you have to cut.  It was probably the performances that I had to cut.  I cut about five or six performances out of the movie that just ultimately made the movie too long.  I spent five months learning the drums, and my drum solo had to go.  But I had to be diligent and I had to be tough because it made the Copa sequence too long.  But that's the great thing about DVDs now, see there can be a special section on the DVD.  There were things about Bobby's life that I chose not to tell.  There were things that I warped that didn't quite happen that way.  For example Bobby had long played the Copa before he met Sandy, but I wanted him to have someone to sing to.  And I wanted him to be able to share that with her, because it was part of their blossoming.  They got divorced, but at the end of the day I wanted to make a romance.  Not just a romance about them, but the period, the music, and this kind of filmmaking.  So there's all kinds of things you have to make decisions about, but I never felt hampered by having to do a completely accurate account.  Everything that happens in the movie did happen, except... alright little Bobby's right, he didn't go dancing down the street like that.  Alright.  But it's all a way to find an expression of what I think was one of the last great all-around entertainers that we ever had, who has in this revival of the last 10 years been largely forgotten of the sort of Rat Pack guys.  You see these kids that win Pop Idol, and they go out and do their first album.  What do they sing?  They sing Bobby Darin.  Rod Stewart has a whole new career singing the American songbook.  Bobby Darin was really one of the originals, and in my opinion legendary.  The whole effort, the reason of the love and energy and dedication we put behind this movie, is to hope we could turn the spotlight back onto Bobby Darin.

On whether he prefers acting or directing.

KEVIN: You know I'm reading as people are writing about the film now.  I'm reading that they're calling it a vanity project.  And I don't think they mean that as a complement.  Or they're calling it a one-man show, which is frankly just easy because I took on so many responsibilities.  The truth is this was nothing but a collaborative experience.  And that's just sort of a cheap shot, and I understand it because we live in a world of relatively meager journalism.  So I understand why they take those shots, but the truth is that's such a disservice to the experience we all had on this film.  I really love directing, and I love directing more than anything else because you get to set your own pace.  A lot of times when you're just an actor for hire, you're sitting around going "What the hell is taking so long?  Why aren't we shooting?  What are we doing?"  And we just moved like a bat out of hell, because, because we lost our money.  We had this really remarkably long pre-production period.  We got to think about everything before we shot it.  By the time we got to the set we knew what we wanted and how we wanted to shoot.  So we didn't waste anybody's time.  We worked really fast.

On directing other actors while directing himself.

KEVIN: It's all about trust.  If you can gain the trust of every actor... and every actor is different.  Every actor comes from a different school of thought, every actor has been trained differently, every actor has had different experiences on movies, and alot of them have been burned by directors who didn't think they knew what they were doing.  It's about trust.  If you can gain their trust, then they'll go anywhere for you.  They'll go through fires for you.  And they'll do outrageous things that even they question.  I think because I'm an actor, they innately know I get it.  I understand, I know what the process is, I know what's going on.  So there's already a built-in trust that begins.  And with respect to production crew, it's not enough just to have an idea or vision in your head, you have to be able to describe it for each member of the department, so they can bring to the table their best work.  And it's about communicating and knowing what you're looking for, and knowing what you want.

On Bobby Darin's legacy after this film.

KEVIN: Well Dodd Derin said yesterday that he feels that because of this movie, that long after we're gone, that Bobby Darin will live forever because of this film.  And that's the greatest thing I could've ever hoped for.

 

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