A Spanking Good Role
Leading Man: Like the movie 'Secretary,' James Spader himself defies expectation - By Devin Gordon

Oct. 7 issue - So James Spader is starring in a weird, kinky sex movie? You don't say. What a stretch.

THE 42-YEAR-OLD ACTOR has made a career out of carnal deviance, most famously in 1989's "sex, lies and videotape" and most notoriously in the 1996 cars-and-copulation fantasy "Crash." In "Secretary" (review) the fetish du jour is S&M, but the office romance in question is so unexpectedly sweet it feels unlike anything Spader has done before. "The two of them seemed so innocent to me," says the actor. "[Grey] is really struggling away at life to no avail. And I just liked seeing someone taken so by surprise by love."

Like the movie, Spader himself defies expectation. On screen, he's usually playing Yuppie scum. In life, he's more like a soccer dad. Spader is intensely private and so far out of the Hollywood loop he lives in Massachusetts. It has been years since his name was on everyone's-or anyone's-lips, partly because he's landed himself in some terrible movies like the sci-fi dud "Supernova," but also because he works only when he needs to. "I like making films," he says, "but ultimately, I just wasn't willing to give up my life to it." He speaks fondly, and protectively, about "my two boys," Sebastian, 13, and Elijah, 10, who are still waiting for their father to make a movie they can actually go see. "I guess I'm a firm believer in the separation of church and state," he says, laughing. "I've often thought I might like to do a film they'd enjoy, but then I end up choosing something for my own selfish reasons." That's OK. In 10 years, they can rent the video, watch Spader deliver loving whacks to Maggie Gyllenhaal's rump, smile proudly and say, "That's our dad."

© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.