SPADES FOR SPADER: New adventure fantasy will pay off for actor


You don't get the impression from James Spader that he's in it for the money. Take his 1989 triumph in Sex, Lies And Videotape. When he first accepted the project, friends dragged him over the coals "for making a small film for no money." Spader's response at the time: "What are you talking about? I got paid my fee on that film."

Still, the 34-year-old actor admits now that Sex Lies And Videotape "was a very inexpensive film" and that "the amount of money I made from it was not very much.

"But," he adds, "I DID get paid. And I was able to my pay my bills for the next six months until I did the next one."

Further, Spader's career also got a big boost when he was named best actor by the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in that film. So he's happy.Spader avoids being specific about his earning power these days, but admits his tendency is to accept a project because he likes it rather than because of how much he'll be paid. It's an open secret in Hollywood that his earnings for the upcoming Stargate (opening Friday) in no way approach the salary negotiated by co-star Kurt Russell. (The latter reportedly was in the neighborhood of $ 7 million.)

But the irony of Stargate, a cleverly executed adventure fantasy, is that it's really Spader's film. Russell, as the brooding career soldier who heads a top-secret mission through the frontiers of time and space, may be on board to give the MGM release "star" insurance. But he's secondary to Spader, who dominates proceedings as the brilliant young Egyptologist who unlocks the door to another world and transports the mission to an alien planet a million light years away.

Director Roland Emmerich says Spader was the right choice for a number of reasons.

"We were looking for an actor capable of giving people the impression of being a very intelligent person without making too much out of it," says Emmerich. "We also wanted the guy to be quirky and lovable."

But Spader, last seen sprouting fangs in the role of Jack Nicholson's opportunistic colleague in Wolf, was at first hesitant.

"I'd first read the script when it was a very rough draft, and quite frankly it was rather awful. It was a plot narrative designed for the studio so that everyone there would be very clear about the story, without tremendous regard for characters and development."

But then he met Emmerich."Roland had this child-like enthusiasm. He was excited and enthralled and tremendously curious about this adventure he was about to embark on. . . . I decided I wanted to go along for the ride."

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate with Emmerich, says the screenplay eventually went through 47 drafts. He says the film's aim is to pay homage to two genres -- such '60s epics as Spartacus and El Cid -- "which nobody in Hollywood wants to make any more" -- and older styles of science fiction such as the Mars novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs or the Flash Gordon stories.

In Stargate, the secret of the Great Pyramids of Giza is linked to a mysterious planet in the outer universe. Spader is the maverick Egyptologist who unravels the riddle of a bizarre artifact unearthed by archeologists at Giza: he identifies it as a "Stargate" -- a portal to another world and possibly the means of discovering the origins of civilization on earth.

It is his expertise that pushes Russell and his reconnaissance team through this doorway into another planetary world ruled by the fanatical Ra, played by Jaye Davidson of Crying Game fame.

So does this mean that with Wolf and now Stargate, Spader is abandoning his taste for the offbeat in favor of more commercial projects? Not necessarily, he replies; it's mere happenstance that he's done two big studio releases in a row.

© JAMIE PORTMAN, SOUTHAM NEWS for Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), October 26, 1994, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION (Thank you, Susan)