Spacey makes a return trip to the City of Angels for his new flick 'Shrink,' however, to play Henry Carter, a pot-smoking celebrity psychiatrist who could probably use a few hundred hours of couch time himself. In an exclusive interview, Spacey dishes on playing pranks with George Clooney, reminisces about his big-screen debut and sounds off on all those pesky Internet death rumors. In the course of his 23-year film career, Kevin Spacey has blown audiences' minds ('The Usual Suspects'), embodied upper-middle-class malaise ('American Beauty') and given Brad Pitt a most unwelcome present ('Seven'). Oh yeah, and he's also won two Oscars (and never lost, for those keeping score at home). And through it all, he's managed to stay a grounded, straight-shooting guy who is so un-Hollywood that he lives in London.
Spacey makes a return trip to the City of Angels for his new flick 'Shrink,' however, to play Henry Carter, a pot-smoking celebrity psychiatrist who could probably use a few hundred hours of couch time himself. In an exclusive interview, Spacey dishes on playing pranks with George Clooney, reminisces about his big-screen debut and sounds off on all those pesky Internet death rumors. -- By Tom DiChiara
You play a depressed, self-medicating headshrinker to the stars in the movie. How did you prepare? Did you pick the brains of psychiatrists or smoke a few joints?
Well, I mean, I really didn't think that you were seeing him at his best, so it was more to me about the fact that he was not able to come to grips with what he was going though and was sort of trying to avoid any kind of real in-depth investigation of his own psyche. So I didn't really feel like I had to talk to any psychiatrists because we weren't going to see him at his best. I mean, half the time he was self-medicating while he was in sessions -- you know, so far worse off than any of his own patients. Very often I just find that what you need is in the material, what you need is in trying to develop the relationships. And, for me, one of the big reasons I did the movie was because of Keke Palmer and just that whole notion of two people being strung together who think they don't want anything to do with each other and then end up being the two people that actually can help each other.
The movie shows the narcissistic, insecure underbelly of Hollywood. Is that something you see on a pretty regular basis?
I have lived in London for the last seven-and-a-half years, so I don't see it. And even when I was sort of working or focusing on film even more, I was always a New Yorker. Yeah, I think it definitely exists, and I suspect that there is a level of narcissism that is maybe more prevalent in people's minds because they see it and representations of it all the time. But I also suspect that it exists in every other business, certainly in politics -- and probably the phone company [laughs].
You've now joined the ranks of Hannibal Lecter and Frasier Crane as on-screen psychiatrists who lug around their own serious baggage.
[Laughs] Are you ready for this? Funny you say 'Frasier,' because my dog in this movie 'Shrink' is the dog from 'Frasier' [laughs]. He was very cool. He's a great dog.
So that's how you got into character!
Absolutely! There's a certain continuity there [laughs].
What is it you think people enjoy so much about seeing psychiatrists who claim to be able to fix other people's problems when they can't even deal with their own?
I guess it's like anything. It's people wanting to be able to know that even people who think, like Carter does, that he's got it all figured out and that he's a great self-help writer and popular, doing all these talks show -- that, in fact, he's just like the rest of us: screwed up and trying to get through a day. I think maybe there's some need that we have when we go to the theater, when we go to a movie to go: "Wow! Maybe I'm not so bad off. Look at how screwed up these people are." [Laughs]
Is there something in particular that you look for in a character when you're deciding on a role?
No, because the thing about -- and this is certainly true in film and also true in theater -- is that you don't really know what the character is going to be until you're in it, you know, until you're working with the director and other actors. And so much of collaborating on something is how something comes to life. You know, it's not so much that I read something and think, "Oh, I know how to play this" or "Yeah, I'll do it like this." Because the truth is: Until you're on a set working with Robin Williams or working with Keke Palmer or you're working with Jonas Pate [the director], it doesn't come to life. So the criteria I guess really is more of a story-telling criteria and more of a: Does this director have a vision and do I believe in that vision? Do I see the movie the same way they do? Maybe I audition directors more than I do films or parts.
You just filmed 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' with George Clooney, who's renowned for his on-set pranks. Did he pull any on you?
No, I'm too clever for Clooney [laughs]. You know, he's getting old now. He doesn't trick me. No, no. In fact, we're like team pranksters, more than wanting to prank each other. We had our pranks, but I'm going to leave the good stories for George to tell on talk shows or he'll have no stories.
'Goats' revolves around a secret paranormal government project. What else can you reveal about the plot?
It's based on these guys that were in a special unit of the U.S. Army that were using kind of guru techniques and psychedelic drugs to determine whether they could actually stop the heart of a man. And they began by trying to stop the heart of a goat. And, apparently, on a number of occasions they actually were successful. They could also walk through walls and they could read people's thoughts. It was pretty bizarre ... but funny. It's funny. It's very funny.
Your first big-screen role was in 'Heartburn' as a thief on the subway. What do you remember about filming it?
I wouldn't call that a "big-screen role." [Laughs] It happened to be on a big screen, but it wasn't a "big-screen role." I remember how incredibly kind Mike Nichols was to have given me that role. I was the understudy in 'Hurlyburly,' which was a play he had directed on Broadway. That was how we were first introduced to each other. And also how incredibly cool it was to be on the set with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, who couldn't have been nicer to me. And I remember I started that movie on my birthday.
You've played a lot of very indelible characters in your career. Do you have a favorite?
I hope I haven't played it yet [laughs]. I don't know. Favorites are very hard to pinpoint because the experiences are very different from the final product. And probably, frankly, my favorite experiences have been in the theater because they're much more lasting in terms of the memory of doing them. You know, movies are about capturing moments, and plays are about understanding moments. So you can play them again and again. Yeah, no, I think it's probably for others to pick out the favorites.
There's been a recent spate of death rumors circulating on the Internet, and you just came out and called for people to stop. Why do you think people continue to propagate them?
Because some people are idiots! It's as simple as that.
Do you get nostalgic when you see plastic bags floating gracefully through the air?
[Laughs] I try not to miss the plastic-bag moments in life.