Actor as Explorer
Roles, Different Reasons
English Journal: Since James Spader first appeared on screen in 1981,
he has been in over 32 films. He was asked how he decided which roles
James Spader: It's always different deciding to take a film, for me.
Every film is very different. And the reasons for taking every film
are always very different. Sometimes the issues and ideas in the film
are so compelling to me that I want to be a part of that film. And
sometimes I just am interested in one specific character that I would
love to play, with sometimes a disregard for the rest of the film,
but I'm just fascinated by playing a certain person sometimes. And
sometimes it's the people that I would have the opportunity to work
with on a film that I just, I
people that I have admired and
respected for a long time, and I just want the opportunity to work
English Journal: He then recalled some of the films he had found most
James Spader: Sex, Lies and Videotape was a film I did many years
ago that satisfied so many different hungers at that time for me.
Another film was the film Crash, that I did. Another film was 2 Days
in the Valley, funny enough, mainly because the fact that I got to
work with, a wonderful group of people I wanted to work with, who
I had admired and respected for such a long time. Some of them were
friends, and I got to work on a role that was so exciting to me to
play. White Palace was also a film that I felt that way about, and
also the film Wolf. Both of those films had people involved with them,
the filmmakers and also the other actors and cinematographers and
production designers and screenwriters that I had admired for many,
into Someone Else's Skin
English Journal: Actors must rely on personal feelings or instinct
when constructing a part. This becomes quite challenging when playing
killers, however, as Spader explained about his role as a psychopath
in this new film, 2 Days in the Valley.
James Spader: I guess I would draw on the more psychotic aspects of
myself. So I think that if one is willing to, one is able to explore
nooks and crannies and hiding places within one's own personality
and one's own psyche, and discover the most wonderful and sometimes
frightening things. I think for any performance that any actor gives
in a film, there may be small pieces of that performance that are
available and alive in the real world, but ultimately I think films
are fantasy, and I don't think they really represent the real world.
And they jump from the imagination of other people; and therefore
an actor's job is to mind their own imagination, to put a life up
on the screen that is fantasy, and a dream, and is magic and a trick.
And so, I think ultimately, it's a matter of simply utilizing one's
imagination. That's the point of acting, I think, is to do something,
to jump into someone else's skin and play around in there for a couple
of months, and then jump out and go back to your own life.
English Journal: Actors who totally immerse themselves in their characters
sometimes find it difficult to get back into their own skin, but Mr.
Spader doesn't seem to have any trouble with that.
James Spader: The ritual that I perform to jump out of a character
is to change my clothes and take a shower. (laughter from audience)
And that seems to work all right.
English Journal: Spader also spoke at length about how audiences are
affected by the images projected on the screen, especially when the
images are violent.
James Spader: I think that's very hard to gauge. I think that human
beings are inherently violent, and so I think it's a very, very difficult
I think it's a very difficult thing to gauge. I think in films,
films are violent, but in best of films, violence,
I think, is utilized very often for a very specific reason, or should
be used for a very specific reason. And it's within the context of
the morality of that film and should be taken as such, and should
not be extracted and looked upon as an entity unto itself, isolated
in that fashion. That's dangerous to do with anything. But I certainly
am not at all bothered with the notion that there are certain films
that are for adults and there are certain films for children. And
there should be a dividing line. Just because certain films aren't
made for children. And if they happen to see them, some of those images
may be enormously disturbing to them. But I'm not so sure about the
correlation of the - then, whether that disturbance then manifests
in actual behavior or not.
Responsibility of Parents
English Journal: He then elaborated on the responsibility that actors
and directors should take when creating images that are projected
James Spader: I just, I'm not so sure that I agree with where the
responsibility lies. I think that 90 percent of who we are is based
on genetics and is based on the environment that we grew up in. And
I think the responsibility for our children is with us. But as an
adult, I want to have
I want there to be a freedom of expression,
and I see a value in a film like Crash, which is an enormously disturbing
film to a lot of people and deals with a lot of the issues that you're
talking about. It deals with violence, it deals with mortality, it
deals with sexuality - subjects that I think are
and the ways
those subjects are dealt with in that film are absolutely inappropriate
for anyone under the age of 17. But by the same token, for those people
who are able to ingest that and ponder the ideas and the thoughts
and issues that are put forth in that film, it does have a value.
But the part that I do agree with is that I do think that we have
to monitor the images that come into our heads. By the same token,
it's more pervasive than that. It has to do with our sense of ourselves
as well. And I would venture to say that maybe the people have to
take that responsibility for them(selves). I don't think that people
should be run by a society. I think a society should be run by people.
And therefore, I think the maturation and development of children
is the responsibility of parents.
English Journal: At the closing, he spoke of the kind of characters
he would still like to play on screen.
James Spader: I do know one thing that I have not played with that
is something that does interest me, and that is to play an alien in
a film. And I don't mean the sort of alien that
what I mean
is somebody who's stranded, and unlike - not like Stargate, which
was a science fiction film, but somebody who's stranded in a culture
that is not their own and is alone as an alien within that culture.
That's something that fascinates me, I guess maybe because I find
myself in those circumstances a lot, where I am in a place that's
unfamiliar to me and in many ways an enigma to me, and mysterious
because of that. And I'd like to explore that in a film.
Journal, Interview Kathy A. Sokol in 1997 and published September
1998 (Thank you, Sana)