Yuppie roles breed success for 'sex' star James Spader

NEW YORK In "sex, lies, and videotape," the hit film to be shown over cable systems at 11 tonight on Showtime and 10 p.m. Friday on the Movie Channel, James Spader plays a yuppie who beats impotence by dabbling with voyeurism.

In "Bad Influence" Spader plays a yuppie who beats wimpiness by dabbling in a dark double life of drugs and violence.

And in "White Palace," opening Friday at six movie theaters in the Chicago area, Spader plays a yuppie who beats the grief of widowerhood by indulging in a steamy affair with burger-joint waitress Susan Sarandon.

All are great roles in intriguing movies, but three yuppies in a row does raise the specter of typecasting. Is the hot young actor worried about
getting in a rut?

"It's such a broad thing," said Spader, whose accessories - shiny wingtips, black-rimmed glasses, half-empty bottles of Evian water - did little to contradict the yuppie image. "It's like saying, `So! You're playing another white guy!'

"I guess if I played an airline pilot and lived in a major city in some nice apartment, and in his off-hours he would throw on a sweater and go to a restaurant where they had decent food, you'd probably say, `You know, gee, you're playing another yuppie.' If I played a mercenary and he happened to be a successful mercenary, and when he was not off fighting his battles he pulled some noodles out of the closet, I think you'd be saying, `You're playing another yuppie.'

"One role that people mention as a yuppie part is in `Less Than Zero.' This guy makes his living dealing cocaine in underground clubs in Los Angeles and pimping young boys in seedy motels, and he happens to make a great living at it: yuppie!"

Spader laughed. "I'm making mockery of your question," he added."I don't mean to do that, but it is a very hard thing for me to answer because my perceptions of my career are so different from what the press or the public perceptions are. `Yuppie' is such a broad term. I'm amazed by what a broad term it is. . . .

"There seems to be something that is inherent in all the roles that you're discussing. . . . Every single one of those characters is very successful at whatever it is that they do. If you're a success, then I guess you're a yuppie. If that is what a yuppie is, then, yeah, I've played a succession of them."

The yuppie element is more pronounced in "White Palace" because the film is more of a critique of that way of life.

Based on the novel by Glenn Savan, it's the story of Max Baron, a prim and proper young man whose life remains neat and orderly, if thoroughly empty, after his wife is killed in a traffic accident.

When he steps into a greasy burger joint named the White Palace, his life is about to be transformed.

Serving him is a waitress played by Susan Sarandon. She's uneducated, slovenly, lower-class, 20 years older and a sexual dynamo. Max, who has been celibate for the two years since his wife's death, is intrigued.

The results are clashes of class and culture, and some of the hottest love scenes in recent cinema.

"The thing that I like about it is that Max seems to have all the trappings of privilege," said Spader, who comes from a blue-blood Massachusetts family. "Coming from a working-class background, he has worked very diligently at adopting all of these trappings. And then it's juxtaposed with this woman who has none of them.

"She has not had a good education. And yet she is so much more successful in her life. That's what I found intriguing - that he could surround himself with all the accoutrements of a happy and satisfied and serene man, and he is very disturbed by it."

Also disturbing are the raw animal appetites he confronts in Sarandon's greasy-spoon waitress. The sparks fly in the pair's clinches - especially
one early morning encounter in which she virtually rapes Max. These scenes have inevitably given rise to rumors of off-screen romance. Spader dismissed these suggestions tersely.

"Lying in bed with Susan wasn't hard," he said. "What happened between the two of us? We went to work in the morning and for 14 hours a day, we fell in love with each other. That's what we had to do."

Little indication of their on-screen body chemistry was evident in their first rehearsal, Spader said.

"It was a complete washout," he said. "We read the script from the first scene where they meet. And I walk in the door and Susan was 8 1/2 months pregnant and huge. She's like coming over and sort of adjusting herself." Spader laughed as he imitated a vastly pregnant woman coming on to a guy. "I mean just every line was a joke. . . . And my wife was eight months pregnant at the time. And so, though the audition was a complete washout, one high point was that we could talk about breastfeeding and stuff."

With a wife, a year-old daughter and a new home next door to his parents' house in Massachusetts, Spader seems to be moving from the yuppie lifestyle to something more traditional and middle-class. He still sports the Evian and wingtips, but he seems to be embracing a sensibilty with more substance. But one aspect of yuppiedom he isn't about to abandon is success - not the appearance, but the hard-earned reality.

"I'm not there yet," he said. "I see a lot of actors out there who do extremely well at the box office, and they're still doing s- - - - - movies,
so I don't know. I worked very hard trying not to surround myself with things that are going to be false to me. Or if I find myself in a situation
that is false to me, I try to get out of it."

But the situations Spader has been in lately, false or not, have never been as bad as those he endured in his struggle for success.

"The toughest one I never mention, because it was just so dismally boring," he said. "It was the only time I worked in a retail environment - a record store. It was just brutal.

"The owner was a coke freak, so all of his profits went into cocaine and none of it went into stock. So, we had no records. I think we had three customers a day. Every time we would get a customer - someone just walking down the street would come in for a tape or a record - we never had it. So, it was just disappointment on everyone's face."

Was there anything in his retail experience he could apply to future roles?

"Hmmm," said Spader. After a pause, he added: "No."

© Peter Keough, 16 October 1990 (Thank you, Susan!)