Spader: 'Wolf' done with dignity

James Spader does what he does best in "Wolf": He plays a sleazy yuppie oozing with false sympathy, fake charm and insincerity - a wolf in sheep's clothing.

But Spader knows that all eyes are on star Jack Nicholson, who plays a book editor bitten by a wolf and smitten with Michelle Pfeiffer.

Everybody's looking to see the animal that seems to be lurking just under Nicholson's surface to get a chance to take the lead.

And the point of "Wolf," says Spader, is an examination of the animal within.

"We all spend our lives doing everything we can to squelch that animal, and the notion that the animal will start winning over is an interesting one, and that's the point of this film."

But those who are waiting to see Nicholson in a hairy wolf suit will not see the typical wolf man monster when "Wolf" opens on Friday.

"I saw Jack Nicholson two days ago, and I had just seen the film for the first time, and I said to him that (director) Mike Nichols has pulled off a werewolf film with dignity," said Spader in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles.

"I think there was a very real attempt to try, with this film at least, to show, if it really happened, this might be how it would happen," he said.

"It's the idea that, when a full moon comes, a man doesn't necessarily metamorphose into an animal and ravage the countryside, but instead it starts to inform your whole life in small, very incremental ways."

In "Wolf," Nicholson doesn't just turn into a wolf; he first begins to take on the characteristics of a wolf - heightened senses of sight, sound and smell.

Interestingly enough, this gives him a leg up in business, and on his main adversary, played by Spader. Becoming a wolf actually makes him feel better, even while it's slowly taking over his human identity.

"I think that's one of the things that Jack's character in the film is struggling with," said Spader: "giving up what you've spent your life cultivating."

The more spiritual nature of the film notwithstanding, there's no hiding the fact that a lot of people just can't wait to see Jack Nicholson turn into a wolf.

One Hollywood wag, when told of Nicholson's casting, was heard to say, "Nicholson as a wolf; that's not much of a leap."

"I though there were several great leaps in the film," joked Spader, referring to another wolf attribute Nicholson acquires - jumping like an animal.

© Craig Kopp, Post movie writer, 16 June 1994, The Cincinnati Post (Thank you, Susan!)