proves that images can be deceiving in “White Palace” and
has built a Hollywood career on playing handsome but nasty yuppies in
mainstream pictures like “Baby Boom”, “Pretty in Pink”
and “sex, lies & videotape”. In last spring's “Bad
Influence”, however, he graduated to playing the good guy, leaving
the nastiness to his co-star Rob Lowe. Now, in two upcoming releases,
“White Palace” and “True Colors”, Spader plays
perverse but ultimately good yuppies.
In “True Colors”, a Herbert Ross film about friendship,
betrayal and revenge, Spader is an idealistic law student whose ties
to fellow law school student John Cusack suffer because of the two men's
differing political ambitions. They also conflict over a woman, British
actress Imogen Stubbs, who plays the daughter of a senator (Richard
Widmark). Mandy Patinkin plays a corrupt businessman.
In “White Palace”, Spader plays a grief-stricken widower
who links up with Susan Sarandon, a hard-drinking, passionate hamburger
stand waitress. He is 27 and she is 43. But their one-night stand develops
into a love affair that puts his life back on track.
Spader is drawn to the unusual. Recalling the picture that turned his
career around – “sex, lies & videotape”, which
won him the Best Actor Award at least year's Cannes Film Festival -
he remembers, "My agent called and said, 'I have a piece of material
here that I think you'll respond to. Other agents aren't giving the
script to their clients because it's too provocative." I said,
'It sounds perfect for me.'”
During the course of his burgeoning film career, Spader has played some
very peculiar parts. "I'm not the person directors think of when
they think of straight romantic leads," he smirks.
In “Baby Boom”, Spader-the-oily-assistant was given an opportunity
to outmanoeuvre his boss Diane Keaton and took it. In “Less Than
Zero”, Spader-the-upmarket-drug-dealer supplied all his friends
and then threatened them when they couldn't pay. In “Wall Street”,
Spader-the-corporate-lawyer fed insider information to his stockbroker
buddy Charlie Sheen.
Yet screen images can be deceiving. In his own costume - black leather
jacket, faded jeans, purple T-shirt and black suede boots - Spader seems
to have more in common with James Dean than a business school graduate.
He doesn't have the smooth talk that comes with an MBA. That's not surprising,
since Spader is a high school dropout who, by his own account, would
be "working with my hands" if he weren't earning his living
as an actor. It needn't have been this way. He was born into a family
of educators, and the school he dropped out of was yuppie-making Phillips
Spader never wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a business executive or
any other occupation favoured by young urban professionals. "I've
been acting for as long as I can remember, and it's the only thing that
sustains me," he says. "I like taking my own clothes off and
putting on someone else's and running around in their world for a while.
It's nice to play characters I'd never even come close to in my life.
But what it comes down to is that I just like to act."
Although Spader is 30, his most memorable characters have been teenagers
or recent graduates. Maybe the reason he excels at under-age parts is
that he still sees the world in an unformed, adolescent way. '”I
know a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds out there who are more grown up than
I am," he admits. "I haven't found a shred of serenity yet."
Meanwhile, he is happiest when he's behind the wheel, driving around
the country - something he hasn't done for a while and which he sorely
misses. What's keeping him in Hollywood is his career.
"I find travelling to be a wonderful sedative for anxiety,"
he explains, taking a swig from a bottle of Evian water. “I've
been a bus driver. The money's not so good. I liked driving a truck,
but there was still that nagging acting thing that rears its ugly head
and says it's time to get back and act again."
That's why he quit school. "I knew what I wanted to do. I worked
during vacations and know I could earn a living. I was going to this
very high-pressured boarding school and I loved it. But then it started
to get destructive for me, so I left."
It boils down to stubbornness. Although he is polite and well-mannered,
Spader comes across as a very intense fellow. ' 'I've always been stubborn,"
he says. "Everyone in my family is stubborn. My wife is stubborn.
My cats and dogs are stubborn. And I'm particularly stubborn about my
"I'm not real good with authority figures," he adds. “I've
never felt really comfortable around highway patrolmen. I wouldn't do
well in jail."
He says his parents, who are educators, weren't upset when he left boarding
school. "They knew my educational process would continue, and that
was what was important to them." At 17, he went to New York to
study acting. It was the usual story - he supported himself with odd
jobs: loading railroad cars, waiting tables, shovelling out stables,
working in a meat-packing plant.
After a few seasons in summer stock plus some roles in Actors' Studio
productions, he got his first film break in “Endless Love”,
playing Brooke Shields' brother. But it was his role in the teen angst
film “Pretty in Pink” that prompted Hollywood to keep him
busy with prickly parts.
Right now, Spader's life and career are progressing just fine. He and
his wife Victoria had their first child, a son, a year ago. "It
makes me laugh that I'm doing the same thing I did when I was about
six," he says. "I'm still playing Robin Hood, although these
characters are more interesting Robin Hoods."
© By Nancy Mills, Marquee, September 1990 (Thank you, Anais!)