"Zooming in on James Spader's Top Secret Debut"

Originally the story was supposed to introduce an important young actor named James Spader, who has had strong supporting roles in such recent hits as "Baby Boom" and "Wall Street," and is smashingly good in his fist starring role as twins in a very clever thriller called "Jack's Back."
But Spader, a 28-year old New York-based actor, agreed in a phone interview that his personal story could wait a paragraph or two, because there was a more pressing matter to be dealt with-namely the fate of "Jack's Back," which is receiving only scattershot release around the country, and opened Friday in Chicago.

"It's one of those cases where a small film company [nce known as Cinema Group and now called Pallisades Entertainment] already has made its profit through cable and video sales and doesn't have the desire to give the movie any kind of what might be a costly big push.

"The film cost only $1.5 million to make [less than one-tenth the industry average]. And it's a shame the way they're treating it because I think it's a good picture. It's the first film directed by Rowdy Harrington, who previously worked as an electrician on lots of other movies. Did you guess the killer?"
No. And no one I know who has seen it has.

But "Jack's Back" is more than a superior thriller. It might as well serve as an audition reel for Spader, showing him in both a light and a more
dark role, the kind that have earned him media acclaim and the nickname "Mr. Sneer."

In "Baby Boom," Spader plays the snotty Yuppie executive who takes over Diane Keaton's ad agency job. In "Wall Street" he's seen briefly but
memorably as the young lawyer who wrestles with giving Charlie Sheen insider trading information, Spader's most impressive performance last year, however, was his least-seen film of 1987, the Yuppie drug drama "Less than Zero," in which he plays a cunning dope dealer.

In most of his movies, Spader has played the rat: the rich kid who tries to keep Andrew McCarthy away from Molly Ringwald in "Pretty in Pink"; the jerk who almost prevents the same McCarthy from having a romance with a magical hunk of plaster in "Mannequin."

On the phone, Spader is soft-spoken, much the same as we see him at the beginning of "Jack's Back," as a bright young medical student at a clinic. When his character dies early on, we then see the more high strung Spader of his previous films-a nervous twin accused of murder.
"I think it's all tough," he answered when asked about the relative difficulty of playing straight guys versus weirdos. "The challenge is 'Jack's Back' is to make him someone you care about quickly, because he isn't going to be around for very long." This Spader does with a patient and
a quick-witted exchange with a cute colleague (Cynthia Gibb) who wants to date him.

Not much later, we meet Spader as the twin, a nervous time bomb. For his role in "Wall Street" Spader admits, his character's history didn't
get much of an airing in essentially two scenes. "He's a lawyer, and what I decided about lawyers is that they are very careful. Unlike Charlie Sheen's character who doesn't really know what he's getting into when he meets Gordon Gekko [Michael Douglas] my guy knows exactly what he's doing at all times. Why did he do it? Well I decided he just liked the danger of it. It's like the kid who steals candy."

In "Baby Boom" said Spader, who is married, played more of a traditional, single-minded young corporate shark. "The greatest part of the movie for me however," he said, "wasn't my character but playing a few scenes opposite Diane Keaton. She's the finest actress I've ever worked with. In fact, I was so in awe of her openness that it caused me to lose control of my character for a moment-the only time that's ever happened to me in a movie. I was doing these close-ups of her where I was off-camera reacting to her, and when she got angry at my character, I felt so sorry for her, Diane Keaton, that I actually became James Spader for a second, I was professionally ashamed of myself, but she's that good. And she's completely willing to talk about how to play a scene or anything to do with a movie. She's not the least but impressed with herself."
Spader comes to his thoughtful approach to acting naturally; he is the son of two New England teachers. He left prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in his junior year ("It was boring") and began studying and looking for work in New York.

His official biography and indeed, Spader himself, initially described his movie debut as playing Brooke Shield's older brother in "Endless Love." But maybe because it was 10 in the morning on a sleepy Saturday and Spader had just rolled out of bed, he decided to reveal his actual movie debut. "It was a non-union film that I made when I was 17 and had just come to New York. I did it for literally no pay; the catered lunch was fabulous, the best one I've ever had in any movie to this day."
He was stalling on describing or naming the movie.

"It was one of those really soft core sex films, like 'Cheerleaders.' Originally, the title was 'A Goal to Go,' but they changed it to 'Teammates'
as if that was going to make any difference. My character? He didn't have a name. He's listed in the credits as Drunk Guy. I get drunk at a birthday party and pass out into the birthday cake."

From drunk guy in a B-film to a leading role co-starring with himself in "Jack's Back"-James Spader has come a long way in the last decade, and his career is just taking off.

© by Gene Siskel for the Chicago Tribune 6/5/1998 Sec 13 Page 21 (Thank you, Susan)