By Chris Lee

It's not hard to believe that James Spader is one sinister patrician bastard. With his crisp diction and blonde good looks, his vast reservoirs of New England angst and yuppie frustration, the actor seems most himself playing well-heeled bad guys and upper crust sex fiends. In films such as White Palace, Crash and sex, lies and videotape, Spader's characters pack their sentences with five syllable words and screw like wildebeests in heat. They are the kind of guys who cheat on their taxes, guys who may or may not keep handguns under the seats of their Porsches.

Breezing into a brasserie in Manhattan's Meatpacking District wearing a linen suit and straw Panama hat, Spader appears every inch the louche expatriate in an obscure banana republic. Over lunch, he relates that for his latest movie, Secretary, the decision to play a charismatic oddball capable of cartoonish sexual torture and degradation in the name of lust was a no-brainer. "I have a sense for violence, and I have a sense for ruthlessness, and I have a sense for viciousness, "says Spader matter of factly. "And I certainly understand the relationship between pain and eroticism. I have a very strong point of reference for that. "

In the highly stylized and sexy Secretary, which hits theaters this fall, Spader plays a lawyer with a quietly bizarre taste for bondage and dominance. The object of his affection, Maggie Gyllenhaal, is a burgeoning sado-masochist who attempts to land her true love by staging a hunger strike.

"Obviously, James connects with characters that are edgier, wilder and fiercer in their feelings, "says Secretary's director, Steven Shainberg. "Some of that comes from his intelligence. Some of it comes from his imagination. And some comes from his simple desire to take risks and not be safe. "

Underscoring the point, the film marks Spader's third go-round-after Crash and sex, lies-clocking on-screen masturbation minutes. For his risks, the 42-year-old continues to narrowly avoid mainstream stardom, but is rewarded with an unrivaled understanding of cinematic wanking. "I'm sort of fucking the steering wheel in one scene, "Spader explains of Crash. "The methods are all different but certainly masturabatory-if the definition of masturbation is sex alone. "

The actor initally passed on Secretary, however, because he"couldn't afford to do it. "A vereran of some 40-odd movies over 20 years, he admits certain career choices were born out of financial necessity-and that he might not have paid to see many of the films in which he has appeared. "Your criteria for what you want to work on is quite different from what you want to spend nine bucks to go see, "he says. "I may participate in a movie to satisfy a certain curiosity. But I may not be interested in exploring it as an audience member. "

In the end, of course, the visceral thrill of embodying another morally represhensible preppie sex freak won out. "I'm not much good at good, clean fun-and I'm not sure what to do with it, "says Spader. "It's just a matter of taste. I like it a lot dirtier. "

© 2002 GEAR magazine (Thank you, Gloria)