- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bobby Darin was a short, balding man with a bum ticker and an inflated sense of self.Kevin Spacey describes himself in similar terms, so it’s hardly coincidental the two-time Oscar-winning actor is staking his reputation on a biopic devoted to the late crooner.

We are who we worship, after all, and Mr. Spacey clearly has it bad for Mr. Darin.

Mr. Spacey came to town earlier this month to chat up “Beyond the Sea,” a film about the late singing icon famed for the double-Grammy winning “Mack the Knife.” Mr. Spacey not only plays the lead, he also directed, produced and co-wrote the picture.

If he served as key grip, too, he must have had this name stricken from the credits for humility’s sake.

The visit was purely promotional but it’s not all the actor had on his plate. He spent much of December crisscrossing the country performing Mr. Darin’s songs before live audiences.

“It’s just not out of my system,” Mr. Spacey admits, a guilty grin creasing a face he describes as “like an accountant’s.” “It is probably darn near the funnest thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Just don’t call it an impersonation tour.

“I’m not trying to be Bobby Darin. I’m me, celebrating his music,” he says.

It’s the kind of parsing a politician might use, but the people who count the most — Mr. Darin’s former manager, his son Dodd Darin and his ex-wife Sandra Dee gave Mr. Spacey and the project their blessing.

“Sandra Dee saw it two weeks ago and said she wouldn’t change a frame of it,” he says, beaming.

Smoking casually, his modest frame striking a pose right out of Rat Pack 101, Mr. Spacey says he bought the rights to Mr. Darin’s life story in 2000. Before that, the project had languished for more than a decade at Warner Bros., a delay which would later affect his own take on the material.

“I also bought the film’s reputation that it couldn’t be made,” he says. Film studios worried today’s audiences wouldn’t know Mr. Darin from any other pop stylist of yore

By the time Mr. Spacey secured overseas financing for the project, he was in his mid-40s. Mr. Darin died at 37 in 1973, after open heart surgery.

Critics launched a pre-emptive strike on the project, speculating that Mr. Spacey was too old to play the part.

Mr. Spacey ignored the dire warnings. Instead, he glibly addresses the issue in the film’s opening sequence.

“Sometimes the way to deal with things is to identify the elephant in the room, get on with it. They know I know it, too, so I’m not insane,” he explains.

Mr. Spacey sings every note in “Sea,” a decision that could have been calamitous had the director/star not possessed a pleasing, if limited voice.

He isn’t the first actor to take a stab at singing. (William Shatner comes to mind as the most egregious of the double threats.)

As it turned out, the songs weren’t a problem.

“What audiences don’t know is that I started out with musicals,” he says of his early days at the Julliard School.

Mr. Spacey made his professional debut with the New York Shakespeare Festival, then started a film career with small roles in “Working Girl” (1988) and “Henry & June” (1990). He earned a Tony Award for the 1990 production of “Lost in Yonkers” but captured mass attention with an electric pair of 1995 features. The thriller “Seven” let the actor play off his regular Joe looks to portray a manipulative monster; his role as the mysterious figure at the heart of “The Usual Suspects” earned him his first Oscar.

By the time he hefted the Best Actor statuette for 1999’s “American Beauty,” Mr. Spacey’s star couldn’t have shone any brighter.

You’re only as big as your last picture in Hollywood, though, and Mr. Spacey’s last few films humbled the gifted actor.

His recent five-year string of misses includes “K-Pax,” “The Shipping News” and “The Life of David Gale.”

“Beyond the Sea” may not stop the streak, but the actor literally swears he is not going to mind either way.

“I feel so liberated. I don’t give a [expletive] whether anyone attacks this film,” he says.

“When you’re an actor-for-hire, which I’ve been, I cannot even begin to describe how little you have to do with the movie. That’s the game and I accept it,” he says. “If the movie doesn’t work, there’s nobody to blame but me and I’ll take that over having no say in the music and the choices.”

Lately, Mr. Spacey is also taking on a bit of Mr. Darin’s animosity toward the critics.

“A lot of my admiration for Bobby stems from his insistence on never being pigeonholed. He said it’s not true you live once. You live a lot of times.”

Mr. Darin saw his career plunge when he abandoned his crooning for protest singing. He didn’t live long enough to enjoy a thorough comeback.

Besides, comebacks require commercial success, and Mr. Spacey’s a little down on that concept.

“If we base our assessment on what’s successful, then ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ is a failure,” he says of the 1992 film which featured crackling turns by Mr. Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemmon.

He softens when he considers his current career status, a celebrated actor who forever will be measured against the triumphant start of his film life.

“People tend to like people the way they discover them,” he says. “[Audiences] want me to be dark and manipulative. It’s not who I am. I’m more this than anything I’ve ever done.”



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