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Kevin Spacey: A Regular Guy

By Michael Scrutchin

On October 9, 1999, when Kevin Spacey came through Houston, Texas promoting American Beauty, one brave fan asked him the question we were all dying to hear the answer to. "What kind of milk do you drink?" she asked. "Like regular, skim milk, or what?"

"I'm a regular guy," he replied.

After the promotional screening of American Beauty, Kevin Spacey (who had just turned 40 over the summer) walked onto the floor wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, and a baseball cap, looking just like any other guy you might see on the street. He was so laid back and cool that you almost forgot he was a movie star. Still, he answered everyone's questions honestly, and he gave a few insights into his role as Lester Burnham, a suburban family man who goes through a shocking midlife crisis in one of the best films of 1999.

When asked about what kind of roles he looks for, Spacey said, "I look for things that are new and fresh and different. I'm particularly fond of this role because for me it's just a step forward. It gave me a chance to go in a whole lot of different areas, do more comedy than I've ever done in a film before."

With each role, Spacey hopes to accomplish something unique. He says that when he reads a script that he thinks "is an incredible idea, or is beautiful, my goal is hopefully you will have the same feeling that I had when I first read it. I want the moment of discovery to happen for you, for the audience, the same way it happened for me. And I think, truly for me, this film has gotten closer to that than any other I've done."

Near the middle of the Q&A, a student referred to one of the key scenes in American Beauty and asked, "Do you really think that there's so much beauty in the world that your heart's gonna cave in?"

Spacey pondered the question a moment, then replied, "I happen to think that scene is one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen played -- because we've all had a plastic bag moment, you know. And if you haven't had a plastic bag moment, go out and get one." Spacey went on to say, "I think that sometimes the things we think are the most mundane or the people that we don't really pay that much attention to are in fact the most beautiful."

On a more humorous note, one girl asked about the scene with Lester and Ricky (newcomer Wes Bentley) smoking pot. "That's one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen," she said. "Was that totally spontaneous or were you laughing for real or what?"

"We were laughing for real," he said, "because, to be honest with you guys, the whole crew thought we were baked out of our minds. And we weren't, I promise you -- we were just dealing with memories."

Sure, Kevin. Memories, that's a good one.

"What's the deal with the color red?" another guy asked. "The red car, the red door, the roses?"

Spacey said, "This script was unusual in that Alan Ball, the screenwriter, actually put in the script from the very beginning the red door, the red rose petals, the red car. I think all of it is leading towards the final image of red in the movie, which is the blood. It evokes a certain feeling, a mood, kind of a motif that happens throughout the movie."

When asked how it feels to play a character like Lester Burnham, who is so different from characters we're used to seeing in movies, and have him end up dead, Spacey elaborated for us.

"I think the journey that Lester goes on is one that everybody's trying to go on in their lives. You know, in terms of trying to find your place in the world, trying to find out your relationship with yourself and your relationship with your family. And I think that whether that discovery lasts your whole lifetime or lasts five minutes, at least you found it. And that's enough, and Lester's journey is complete."

When Kevin Spacey's time was up, the audience cheered and this cool, down-to-earth guy walked off the floor. What's next for Spacey -- one of those "Got Milk?" ads? We can only wait and see.

Article published 02.04.2000.

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