"Actor James Spader"

One way to get to know James Spader is to get behind the wheel with him. The 27-year-old actor, who is in three new films - Baby Boom, Wall Street, and Less Than Zero - would rather spend his time driving around America than doing almost anything else. "Five, six months at a time, I'm gone, man" says the intense New Englander. "I may be delinquent about my career, but being famous means zilch to me."

The son of an English teacher at a Massachusetts prep school, Spader grew up on campus, surrounded by the scions of old Eastern Seaboard families. He skipped college to drive a truck for a meatpacking company and work as a busboy and a manual laborer - all the wihile attempting to launch an acting career. One month after landing in New York in 1977, though, Spader found a job recording voice-overs, then did summer stock (in productions ranging from Equus to A Streetcar Named Desire). "Everybody tries to talk you out of acting," says Spader. "But once I decide I'm going to do something, I just found out what price tags I have to pay, and I pay them".

Though Spader understands what he calls "the bargaining chips of a career, "he'd rather talk about the best routes out of Los Angeles than into it. In fact, an interview with Spader is likely to turn into a sort of guided tour of his favorite spots in America. Discoursing on the sights, he suddenly says, "Oh, I'm not talking about my movies at all, am I" Well, no. "Okiay, let's go. First, Baby Boom. I must have had the right suit on the day I read for the movie. I play Diane Keaton's assistant at the office; I'm part of her New Youk life. It's not a romantic role. It has to do with the cutthroat, competitive world of business."

Spader goes on to reveal something of an actor's method. "I see my brother-in-law, who's a businessman, come home at night," he says. "I see the fatigue. That helped me figure out the character. What you do when you get home has a lot to say about what you do all day long."
Baby Boom was released in October. At Christmas there's Oliver Stone's much-awaited Wall Street. This time, Spader says, "I'm a corporate lawyer." Again the actor looked to real life. "I've had friends in law school, and you just don't ever see'em" he says. You might speak on a weekend, but even then they're working to earn their spots. But it's the lawyers who wind up with self assurance." And the movie lawyer? His face lights up thinking about the challenge. "He gets into insider trading, but pulls out when things get too hot. The buck stops at the lawyer's desk. Lawyers know what the consequences are. That's fun to play."

And Less Than Zero? Did Spader connect with the ennui of the Bret Easton Ellis novel? "Next question, "he says swiftly. "Let's just say I connect with the movie, with its world. I play someone who's into selling drugs and pimping and who handles it like a businessman. On the surface, the society the movie depicts is all bright yellows, oranges, and reds. But underneath it's gray and black and cancerous."
Wrapping up the nonstop work, Spader is more than happy to get back on the road in his vintage Porsche convertible. "I covered a lot of Europe as a child, so America interests me now. I intend to get in the car and just drive."

Already the mental road-maps are out. But not to worry: Hollywood isn't going to lose sight of Jim Spader.

© By Paul Rosenfield for Premiere November 1987 (Thank you, Susan/nigelsmum)