Movies Spader sheds evil guise for decent role

Despite playing Yuppie scum and wimpy victims in most of his films to date, James Spader would like the world to see him for what he really is: "a decent family man." In his new film, "Stargate," he plays a space-traveling Egyptologist who concludes his journey in space by giving up everything for love.

Off-camera, Spader, 34, organizes his time around his wife, Victoria, and their two young sons. "My life outside of work is so satisfying to me that I'm quite full," he said. "If I don't work for awhile, that's OK by me."

"Stargate," a $40 million sci-fi adventure about the origins of civilization on Earth, gave Spader a rare opportunity to escape his usual genre, intense relationship pictures, for what he describes as "an enormous adventure" in the Arizona desert.

Spader stars opposite Kurt Russell, a square-jawed military man with a secret death wish who oversees a government project investigating ancient Egypt's connection with outer space. Spader's job in the project is to read the hieroglyphics on a mysterious artifact recovered from the Great Pyramids of Giza. He identifies it as a "StarGate," a door to another world, and helps figure out how to make it work.

When the military decides to send a team through the door, Spader goes along so he can help the men get back to Earth. "He's very child-like and has a tremendously heightened curiosity and imagination," said Spader. "He accepts what comes and has a healthy disregard for danger. Eventually he learns the value of a single life."

Since he made his screen debut as Brooke Shields' brother in "Endless Love" 13 years ago, Spader has alternated between playing nasty in "Wolf," "Baby Boom," "Wall Street," "Less Than Zero," "Mannequin" and "Pretty in Pink" and vaguely heroic in "Dream Lover," "Storyville," "White Palace," "Bad Influence" and "True Colors." His 1989 performance in the much-praised "sex, lies and videotape" stepped him up to leading man status and allowed him to pursue his home-centered lifestyle.

"With raising children I believe in quantity of time as opposed to quality of time," Spader said.

The Spaders split their time between their homes in Los Angeles and Massachusetts, not far from where Spader grew up on a prep school campus. His parents are teachers. "Our lives don't come close to being influenced by Hollywood," he said. "My friends are mostly people I knew in high school. (He went to Phillips Andover Academy before dropping out at 17 to pursue acting in New York.) I'm very close to my family.

Spader's dark blond hair, soft-featured face, careful diction and intellectual mien give him credibility as a leading man, but he has tended to resist such traditional casting. "Leading men are often adrift in film. They're prodded back and forth between the walls of the film by supporting players.

"I relish characters that have a certain conviction or comedy about them. `Wolf' (in which he portrayed Jack Nicholson's slimy colleague) was very easy and tremendously gleeful to play. I don't like playing characters that are adrift.

He considers his leading-man role in "Stargate" as "having my cake and eating it too." He said, "In my own way, I'm prodding and causing a lot of trouble in the film. But I'm not adrift at all. I'm the one champing at the bit to move forward."

© Nancy Mills, 28 October 1994, Boston Herald (Thank you, Susan!)