AN accomplished actor whose range comfortably straddles the genres, James Spader had been working in movies for eight years and was becoming typecast as a malevolent yuppie when he took the leading role in a low budget independent production which became one of the most unexpected hits of the decade. The film was sex, lies & videotape, and it was written and directed by the then unknown Steven Soderbergh. Spader sensitively played the drama's complex pivotal character the introverted and impotent Graham who voyeuristically videotapes women talking about their sex lives and plays back the tapes for his sexual arousal.

The buzz started at the Sundance Film Festival at Park City, Utah in January of 1989, and continued at Cannes four months later when one of the official entries was withdrawn at short notice, the Cannes organisers upgraded Soderbergh's film from one of the sidebar sections into the official competition. On the closing night of the festival, jury chairman Wim Wenders announced that sex, lies & videotape had scored a double in the awards, taking the Palme d'Or for best film and best actor for James Spader.

"I missed all of that," says Spader. "I was at the dentist back home in the States while that awards ceremony was going on in Cannes. The film was shown early in the festival and I was there for only two or three days. The awards did a tremendous amount for the film. It's not always the case that a film which is embraced at Cannes is going to do well commercially. The film's title had the most profound effect. It's like it's become part of the lexicon."

Spader is quiet spoken throughout our interview until the subject of typecasting comes up. Having made a notable impression as a snide upper
class high school student in the 1986 Pretty in Pink, Spader was cast as a nasty yuppie again in Less Than Zero, Baby Boon and Wall Street. While Spader accepts this as fact, he is firmly defensive on the subject.

"I understand about typecasting," he says, raising his voice. "It happens because people are spending so much money on a movie that it makes them more confident if the actor or director or whoever is doing something you know they've done before and you know they can do it. It happens all the time. So the burden is on us actors to try and struggle it.

Sometimes we can afford to wait for a while for something very different to come along and sometimes we can't because you've got to pay the f-ing bills you know. Also, people like to really get a handle on things. It's the nature of the world the world is in such f-ing chaos that people want to feel they have control over something. And people have grouped together some of my roles as if they're all the same even though I was a high school student in Pretty in Pink, a corporate lawyer in Wall Street and a drug dealer and a pimp in Less Than Zero. Anyhow, I love playing bad guys."

James Spader was born in Boston on February 7th, 1960, the son of teacher parents and he trained in theatre at the Michael Chekov Studio in New York. His stage work included Equus, The Lion in Winter and A Streetcar Named Desire before he made his first film appearance in the 1981 Teammates "I was credited as Drunk Guy. All I had to do was get drunk at a birthday party and pass out on the cake. I think the film played in a couple of drive ins somewhere" followed by a supporting role (as Brooke Shields's brother) in Franco Zeffirelli's teen sex yarn, Endless Love, which also introduced Tom Cruise to cinema.

"I don't think I ever consciously set out to be an actor," Spader says. "It was more like something I always did, ever since I was a kid when I was always making believe and pretending." The more intimate the role, the more difficult it is for him to do, he says, citing Luis Mandoki's White Palace, a sensuous love story involving an affluent 27 year old widower played by Spader and a 44 year old waitress played by Susan Sarandon.

Susan and I became great friends and I would love to work with her again," says Spader. "But it was a very difficult film to do love stories are very hard to do because they're so intimate that you have to put a tremendous amount of yourself forward. I find it easier to play roles that are very different from me in my life like The Music Of Chance, which was a breeze. It took a lot more practical preparation work, like thinking it out, coming up with the dialect and getting the look right, but that's sort of manual labour for an actor. In the end, playing a character like that or playing comedy is much easier for me. You aren't playing with cathartic or intimate things."

After his exuberant portrayal of a gambler in The Music Of Chance, in which he was almost unrecognisable with dark black hair and a moustache, Spader played the villain with great relish in Wolf and a sweet natured, childlike Egyptologist in the science fiction blockbuster Stargate before coming to Ireland last year to star in Irish director Ronan O'Leary's Driftwood. The film, which has yet to surface, features Spader with the French actress Anne Brochet and the Irish actor Barry McGovern, and it was filmed at Ardmore Studios and on the Aran Islands.

"I HAD been looking for something to do for a while and hadn't found anything I really wanted," Spader explains. "I was drawn to Driftwood
because it was so different from the last thing I had done, which was Stargate. It was a huge, expensive thing with tons of people, so I thought it would be fun to so something so completely different something very contained and small with just two people in it for most of the time. Also, I'd travelled extensively in Europe, but I'd never been to Ireland, so I thought that would be interesting."

He describes his character in Driftwood as "restless, a prisoner with a pretty woman who wants nothing more to do than to love him and take care of him, and they're in such a remote place what I liked about the script is that my character doesn't have a clue what's going on most of the time." He describes Ronan O'Leary as "very frenetic and with a tremendous amount of energy he's a wonderful eccentric and I'm always drawn towards that".

Returning from Ireland to the US, Spader reverted to a villainous role, wearing severe Jarvis Cockeresque spectacles to play a particularly cold
blooded and sadistic hitman in John Herzfeld's intricately structured and very entertaining 2 Days in the Valley, where he is joined in a fine
ensemble cast by Eric Stoltz, Danny Aiello, Teri Hatcher, Paul Mazursky, Glenne Headly, Marsha Mason and Jeff Daniels.

"A very interesting screen play with all this interweaving of different stories that truly inter connect," says Spader. "Each of the interwoven
stories is absolutely equal there isn't a lead story surrounded by subordinate stones. And it's a very interesting cast, so many very different
actors." He describes his character, Lee as the only role he felt appropriate for himself. "Lee is in the business of finality. He's fascinated by the expiration of time as it relates to life." He says that the antagonism between Lee and his lover (played by Chalize Theron) is "something they both feed off tremendously they get all wrapped up in the excitement, the humour and the eroticism of their relationship."

Most recently and controversially Spader starred in David Cronenberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, Crash, in which the eroticism
operates from the thesis that being in, or witnessing, a car accident is sexually arousing. Hissed and booed at its Cannes press screening in May, Crash was booed again at the Cannes awards ceremony, when it took a runner up jury prize. Cronenberg's film opens on three consecutive sex scenes in an aircraft hanger, the camera room of a TV studio and the balcony of an apartment building before one of the participants, an advertising executive played by James Spader and named James Ballard, takes to the expressway in his car.

Swerving across the road and driving against the oncoming one way traffic, he causes a crash which kills the other driver. Soon he's back in his car, kissing the dead driver's wife (Holly Hunter) and after another near crash, having sex with her. The consequences involve multiple sexual groupings among them gay and lesbian sex, voyeurism of a backseat coupling in a car wash, rough sex and scar fetishism in which the other participants are Ballard's wife (Deborah Unger), an accident victim (Rosanna Arquette) in calliper splints, and a heavily scarred renegade scientist (Elias Koteas).

The sex scenes are interspersed or overlap with a great deal of dangerous driving, the morbid close up photographing of the aftermath of a horrific collision and the gross restaging of James Dean's car death for an avid audience who are promised a recreation of the crash that decapitated Jayne Mansfield as the next attraction.

Crash, the coldest and most clinical film to date from David Cronenberg and the most extreme and disturbing will be screened at next month's London Film Festival, but it has yet to find a distributor in Britain and Ireland.

In Cannes, Cronenberg said that when it came to casting the film, the script ruled out actors who wouldn't have the guts to do what he asked from them.

James Spader had no hesitation about accepting Cronenberg's offer to star in Crash. "When I read the script, I understood and was also stymied, scared and confused by it," he says. "The extremeness of it was exciting to me. I don't think it's ever a danger to do something that's different, unique and challenging for oneself and also for the audience. I made up my mind to do it immediately. I've admired David Cronenberg's films for years. He's one of a handful of directors who make wonderful films which are indelibly marked by a personal vision."

Whether Irish audiences see this particular personal vision of Cronenberg's remains to be seen. Five months after its world premiere at Cannes, Crash has only, been released in France and in Cronenberg's native Canada. The film's content, and its reception at Cannes, scared off many and even though it will have a single screening at next month's London Film Festival, it has yet to be acquired for distribution in Britain and Ireland. And whenever if ever it is picked up for distribution, there's still the matter of censorship. "It's a film by grown ups for grown ups," insists James Spader.

19 October 1996, Irish Times (Thank you, Susan!)