Nice & Sleazy: James Spader is the guy you love to hate in three current movies

JAMES SPADER has the face of an angelic choirboy, but his movie characters almost always have the devil in them.

The 27-year old character actor was an evil store executive in "Mannequin" and a manipulative high school student who tried to keep Andrew McCarthy away from Molly Ringwald in "Pretty in Pink." Now in a trio of new movies this fall, Spader has all but cornered the market on sleazy yuppie villains.

In "Baby Boom" Spader appears as a success-crazed, slippery account exec, who steals Diane Keaton's job. As Rip, the smooth-talking pimp and drug dealer who caters to Beverly Hills rich kids in "Less Than Zero," Spader is evil incarnate. And in "Wall Street" (opening at area theaters tomorrow) Spader is a corporate lawyer mired in the world of insider trading.

"I like to play bad guys," says the serious minded Spader. "And I think it's an interesting choice to cast someone who from the first moment you see them has all the earmarks of being scary characters. I like dichotomies like that. It makes my work more interesting."

Offscreen, Spader has always veered away from the yuppie track. At 17, he dropped out of Phillips Academy to head for NY and the uncertain world of the acting profession.

"The only college I went to was the college of manual labor," says Spader laughing. "I worked in a meat packing plant, I drove a six-wheel refrigeration truck, and I shoveled manure at the Claremont Riding Academy."

For his "Baby Boom" role, Spader read everything he could find on management consultants. "Then I formed my characterization by thinking of him as a guy who'd spent all these years working extremely hard in boarding school and in college and in his training program, working his way up to the starting gate. Then he gets his first job, and-bingo!-he's taken off like a shot. He works, breathes and sleeps his job."

To research his "Wall Street" part, Spader hung out at the New York office of a corporate lawyer friend observing and "grilling him, with questions," he says.

He also read reams of material on real-life lawyers who were involved in insider trading. Spader believes that his own character's willingness to get entangled in that sticky business was motivated by "an intrigue with the mischievous and the naughty, and to have a secret."

IS SPADER CONCERNED about being typecast as a yuppie bad boy? "Not at all. I've got another movie coming out soon, a thriller called 'Jack's Back.' I play identical twins, and neither of them are yuppies or bad guys. In fact, one of them is a manager of a shoe store."

© Victoria Balfour for NY Daily News 11/10/1987 (Thank you, Susan!)