James Spader - 'Secretary' to attorney, thesp gives 'Practice' new life

After the cast of ABC's "The Practice" was downsized in a budget-crunching attempt to keep the series afloat, James Spader was hired to breathe new life into the old favorite.

Some undoubtedly viewed the shakeup as a desperate move or even a death knell. The series did end, but on a high note -- complete with a spinoff for Spader's character, Alan Shore.

Perhaps best known for roles in bigscreen pics "Secretary" and "sex, lies, and videotape," Spader had no preconceptions of what he was getting into with series work, and he finds that uncertainty refreshing.

"The difference between working on a television series, as opposed to the film work I've done -- which I have loved and will continue to love -- is when I do a film I know what the story is. I know what the beginning and the end is," Spader says.

"I got very excited about the idea that I was committing such a significant amount of time to something when I really only knew exactly what I'd be saying and where I'd be walking for the first eight days."

One thing Spader hadn't considered was how the schedule might effect him. "The longest I'd ever acted, in a row, was four months." And four months into "The Practice" he hit a creative wall.

"I didn't get sick of doing the show, I didn't get sick of playing this character," he insists. "After four months, I got sick of acting. I was having trouble getting going again, and, lo and behold, all of the sudden there was Thanksgiving!"

Spader says television offers something film doesn't: the chance to fully explore a character in wider variety of situations. "That's a real pleasure because there have been a couple of characters I've played in films where I felt it would be nice to see that guy show up someplace else and see what he's like in a whole different world.

"And this one, Shore, I love playing him. It's so much fun to see him dealing with all the different things happening in his life."

Shore's one of TV's most complex characters. Smarmy yet charming, he's a lawyer who can do the wrong things for the right reasons. Spader views him as a man with a strong value system (just not the same values anyone else has), a loyal friend and someone who believes a defense attorney should defend his clients at any cost.

"He's a very strange sort," Spader says. "He's a child who's all dressed up as an adult. He's very cultured, sophisticated, well educated and very debauched. In some ways he's jaded and yet he's very childlike. He doesn't have a governor, and he doesn't censor himself. He's very forthright.

"He's honest to a fault -- and what I mean by that is he's honest when he's lying. He's very honest with the truth, or the lack thereof, in his life. Really, he's quite blatant when he's being deceptive."

Those contradictions keep the role interesting. "He takes up a lot of time, a lot of thought and a lot of discussion. But he's a lot of fun," Spader says.


Best part about working in TV:
"I have no idea what the story is from week to week, and I love that."

Hardest part about working in TV: "Suddenly realizing I was going to be doing this thing for the lion's share of the year. But you know what? That was the fun of it -- trying to do this for the long haul."

Favorite scene this season: "There are a lot of them. Favorites of anything are very hard because as soon as I utter it I think of a different favorite and regret giving credit to the first one."

Favorite TV shows: Japanese version of "The Iron Chef," "The Office" and "Mr. Bean." "If I'm going to watch something, it better either be a documentary on a subject I'm curious about, or it better be something that makes me laugh."

© By PAULA HENDRICKSON, Daily Variety, June 10, 2004 (Thank you, Anais!)