Actor Obsession: James Spader

[Note: this post will most likely not be articulate in any way and possibly full of fangirling, at which I excel. Also, some of the links will contain spoilers so proceed with caution if you really hate spoilers.]

Starcrossed, 1985

Every now and then I get the urge to seek out every single film that a particular actor has been in, in the space of a short time. The latest obsession of that kind, for me, is James Spader. Strangely enough, it started when a friend reblogged a gif-set of Robert Downey Jr looking wide-eyed and beautiful, as usual, on Tumblr. It was uncredited and my curious nature won out and I decided I had to know what film it was from. After at least a thousand notes of ‘OMG He looks so young!!!11!1’ I decided to systematically go through each film credit listed on IMDB (I eventually found it – it was One Night Stand). Then I thought I may as well watch a few of his earlier films I hadn’t seen yet…and this is where we get to Spader. When I, er, procured Tuff Turf I remembered I’d once wanted to go through Spader’s filmography, too. You know how there are actors or directors one may proclaim to love then realise you’ve only seen a very small number of their films? Well, I guess Spader was one of those for me. And so I have been obsessively seeking out any film that he has been in, no matter how bizarre or plain awful it may be (or how little screen time he gets). 

White Palace, 1990, with Susan Sarandon

So far I have gone through: 

  • Tuff Turf 1985
  • Less Than Zero 1987
  • Starcrossed 1985 
  • Sex, Lies and Videotape 1989
  • White Palace 1990
  • Bad Influence 1990
  • Crash 1996
  • Pretty in Pink 1986 (re-watch)
  • Secretary 2002 (re-watch)
  • True Colors 1991 (re-watch)
  • Mannequin 1987 (re-watch)
  • Critical Care 1997
  • Wolf 1994
  • Baby Boom 1987
  • The Watcher 2000
  • Supernova 2000
To go: whatever is left here that I can get a hold of!

The Watcher, 2000

Yet, no matter how terrible the film may be (I’m looking at you Supernova, for one) Spader manages to be brilliant (or am I just blinded by his astoundingly beautiful face?!) and plays creeps and/or jerks (Mannequin, Pretty in Pink), yuppies (Bad Influence) or individuals with somewhat unusual sexual proclivities* (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Secretary, Crash…) with the same dedication and…Spader-ness. (Yes. You know what I mean. Lots of actors have mannerisms that come through in most of their roles and tend to have a style. I love Spader’s hand gestures and…face). Even when the movie is so bad you wonder how anyone could take it seriously, I feel like Spader’s acting is spot on…then again there is always the change that I am so immersed in his films, right now, that my perception is slightly warped and he is terrible sometimes. But I’ll just stick with my first assessment. 

Supernova 2000

I haven’t read up much on his career except for his film credits (this is usually the most effort I go to with anyone) and not at all on his personal life (because I rarely care about actor’s private lives) and I’ve only read a few articles on some of the films that I’ve watched so far. But I’ve put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into seeking out and watching his films. And then swooning because, seriously, that face. And, you know, great acting and all that.

If I were to write everything I thought about each of the films I’ve watched so far, I think it would need to be a series of posts (I will probably write feature posts on some of the films in the future…the very distant future because I even procrastinate with things I LIKE doing) so, instead, a few words about a few of them (as this post is getting rather a bit too long already):

Tuff Turf directed by Fritz Kiersch, 1985

I thought I’d got to a point in my life where I just didn’t care for stories about rich (in this case, ex-rich) white boys getting themselves in trouble. I guess I was wrong because this delightfully trashy film with Spader as Morgan, a ‘troubled teenager’ who has moved from Connecticut to LA with his parents, completely got me. It didn’t hurt that RDJ played his BFF and that Kim Richards, playing his love-interest (she hates him at first, of course) had the longest hair I’ve seen in a non-fantasy film possibly ever. It gets ridiculous fairly quickly – that club scene that turns into Kim Richards dancing at not only Spader but everyone in the club, for one – but I can handle ridiculous if the cast members just go with it. In fact, Spader is in a fair few ridiculous films where the cast (often equally fantastic acting talents) just embraces it (Wolf with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Plummer is one that comes immediately to mind). I may do a feature post on this movie one day, once I get a nice copy to screencap!

Starcrossed 1985, with Belinda Bauer

Starcrossed directed by Jeffrey Bloom, 1985

This TV movie from 1985 is about an alien (Belinda Bauer) who runs away from her planet (I think because she has been enslaved? Or everyone has?) and literally runs into mechanic Joey, played by Spader, as she is running away from two very slow walking men from her planet who followed her to take her back. The film also involves an exploding car, floating billiard balls, run-ins with the FBI and the single most ’80s spacecraft I’ve seen to date. When you add that to James Spader being legitimately adorable for the entire film, how could I not love this? And, to be fair, I’ve seen far worse TV movies in my time.

White Palace, 1990, with Susan Sarandon

White Palace directed by Luis Mandoki, 1990

This film revolves around Max (Spader) a business executive in his late 20s (27, to be precise) who still hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife when he meets Nora (Sarandon), and the two begin a relationship. Not only is there an age difference (Nora is 41 or 43) but a class one, as well, as Nora is and always has been working class. I’ll admit right off the bat that this is not the kind of film I’d usually watch and I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of it, so I was pleasantly surprised when I not only enjoyed but completely fell in love with this film. Spader and Sarandon are both superb and the chemistry between them is palpable. There is a lot of tension in their relationship from the outset and a lot of obstacles (both internal and, when others find out, external) and there are a lot of things you’d expect in this sort of story but I found it a little bit sexy, touching and, at times, poignant. But it was when Sarandon tickles Spader (the two meet twice in one night, the second time at a bar) and I nearly exploded from how adorable it was that I knew I was going to love this film. (You can see what I mean at around 2.37 here.)

Bad Influence, 1990

Bad Influence directed by Curtis Hanson, 1990

The plot of this film is a well-worn one (the uptight  – ‘wimpy’ – business executive meets a mysterious stranger who shows him how to have fun but he doesn’t realise the guy is a ‘dangerous sociopath’ until it’s too late) and the film is laughable  but I opted to write about it over a couple of others (like Sex, Lies and Videotape which I felt I couldn’t properly write about in a few sentences) for purely shallow reasons: look at Spader in those glasses! Seriously. And because I was slightly surprised when I looked at the director’s (Curtis Hanson) IMDB page and noticed I’d watched two other films of his: LA Confidential and Wonder BoysAnd the film co-stars Rob Lowe as the titular ‘bad influence’, who is just plain odd in this movie. I can’t quite articulate it but there’s something about his delivery of the role that was just a little strange (I mean, his character is strange but it’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on). As I suggested, this film is just plain bad: the plot is silly, the dialogue ridiculous and the ending even more so but the old ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ really fit how I felt about this film.

True Colors, 1991, with John Cusack

But I haven’t enjoyed every single film that I’ve watched (though I’ve enjoyed looking at Spader in practically all of them). True Colors, despite also starring John Cusack, did nothing for me (political dramas generally don’t), Critical Care had a message I could get on board with but it was heavy handed and obvious, Baby Boom is the kind of film I’d usually avoid watching (I hate plots that involve people inheriting children, especially women who never wanted children of their own) and Supernova was just a mess (but, woah, Spader is hot in this film). Oh, and I haven’t made it all the way through The New Kids, yet, because Spader’s character, Dutra, and his entire gang were so vile that I didn’t want to go to bed angry (I started watching it before bed).

Secretary, 2002, with Maggie Gyllenhaal {source}

If I were to compile a top 5 (for the top 5 Thursday I forgot all about) it might look something like this: Tuff Turf; Secretary; Sex, Lies and Videotape; Starcrossed and White Palace. Maybe.

You may have noticed that I’ve opted to not write about some of the bigger or better known films he’s been in but I think I’d like to dedicate whole posts to a few of them, including Pretty in Pink, especially, because I find the more I watch that film the less I seem to like any of the characters. But that’s a thought to be explored another day.

It’s obvious that Spader gets a lot of love for playing assholes, and I love him in those roles (Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, and so on) because he does it so well but I love that he can play nice guys (not Nice Guys™) and other, more complex, characters equally well. Because he’s a great actor (such insight I have!). And a babe. (Just to reiterate that point).

Pretty in Pink, 1986, with Molly Ringwald {source}

I know that I know quite a few other fans because I’ve written this at the urging of quite a few of my twitter followers so I’d love if we could all just talk about how much we love Spader in the comments (I’m also keen on critical discussion on any of the films I’ve watched though there are a couple that I’m still digesting and processing so I may not have any coherent thoughts on them at present).

I don’t know if the obsession/phase will fizzle out before I get through every film I can find, or not…I can only wait and see. But, either way, I know I’ve found a new favourite actor to add to my list.

* I spent so long trying to word that properly. I use unusual in terms of what is generally seen in cinema, I suppose.


33 thoughts on “Actor Obsession: James Spader

  1. I’m quite partial to Secretary myself.

    I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on Pretty in Pink, especially the Duckie/Andie relationship. I think Duckie’s amazing fashion sense clouded my judgment for the longest time because he really is the most needy, irritating character. Plus the concept that he “deserves” her so much more than Blane because he’s been such a long-suffering friend is just gross. I think the movie should have been Andie and Iona hanging out and being awesome, the end. No boys. Oh, but Spader and his blazers and luxurious ’80s mane can stay.

    • One of my favourites of all time for sure.
      Yes! I felt the exact same way about Duckie. I think it’s kind of understandable that a poor kid (and we see him in his room and it is so sparse) would resent his best friend becoming involved with someone rich, whether or not he was in love with said best friend. And I like that he gets to redeem himself at the end but he was a jerk to her. I think Blane is dull & underdeveloped and listens a little too much to his friends (someone I follow on Tumblr said something interesting wondering whether Steff is just an asshole or if he’s one because of how much he likes Andie) but, hey, if Andie likes him then that’s who she should be with. So, I definitely agree it’s a little bit gross that he ‘deserves’ her just for hanging around so long. Oh man, yes. I wish it were just Andie & Iona hanging out, too, with a side order of Spader. Haha.
      I guess I also have to remember the characters are 16/17 and emotional immaturity is gonna be expected a bit, you know? Regardless, it’s still one of my favourite movies 🙂
      And thanks for the comment!

    • i really love the stickup the watcher and alien hunter Dream lover .plus of course boston legal and now blacklist .James Spader is a fantastic actor who can deliver what ever is called for on the script

  2. Seriously. Spader in Secretary does things to me. In fact, Spader in anything. I absolutely loved reading your thoughts on some of his films!! Awesome stuff.

  3. Ahhh Andrea, you have nothing to be embarrassed by in this post – I LOVE IT :3

    I discovered him whilst watching Pretty in Pink (of course), and my sister and I immediately decided we would choose him over Duckie or Blaine ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. We were then very very amused to discover our mom hates him because she can only associate him with the rich assholes he played in the 80s lmao (WE ARE STILL TRYING TO CONVERT HER).

    I am very very pleased you like Tuff Turf BECAUSE I THOUGHT IT WAS ADORABLE. Did you notice his tattoo of a spade is visible in it? And I will be looking forward to seeing your post on Pretty in Pink, it really is the perfect fizzy 80s movie ❤

    • Thank-you, Kailey! 😀
      I guess the first film I saw him in was technically Mannequin but I was about 5. So Pretty in Pink was when I probably first noticed him? I was all for Duckie when I first watched it but now I completely agree. My mum keeps mixing him up with William Shatner because of Boston Legal so whenever she says she doesn’t like him I have to remind her it’s Shatner she doesn’t like. Haha.
      Yes! I did. I love it. And in a few other films, too. (I know it’s definitely visible in Less Than Zero but I think it’s covered up in some others).
      And thank-you again 😀 ❤

  4. I have been a Spader lover for several years, ever since I first saw him on TV during the last season of The Practice (2003). He was gorgeous and absolutely phenomenal in that show. After that I just had to watch everything he had done. In the ensuing years I have collected all his work on film and TV, and saw him several times on Broadway in Mamet’s RACE (2009-2010). He’s a very nice guy in person, and looks much younger than he does on film or in photos. So as an over the top Spader fan I can say I loved reading your comments about the man. 🙂

    Here is a list of my top 10 favorite Spader movies: (subject to change daily…except for the top six)

    1. sex, lies, and videotape
    2. Secretary
    3. White Palace
    4. The Stickup (small indie movie, but I love him as John Parker…he met his real life lady love Leslie Stefanson on this film)
    5. Stargate (he is such a sweet dorky guy in this one)
    6. Bad Influence (I really like this film, but you are right about Lowe…what is it that is off??? I always wished they would have filmed it twice and had the two actors switch roles just to see how different it would have been.)
    7. Jack’s Back (he gets to play twins)
    8. Dream Lover
    9. The Music of Chance (although you won’t recognize Spader as the dark haired, New York gambler)
    10. Wolf

    • I know I’m commenting years after the fact (I’m terrible about that), but I’m so glad someone pointed out Jack’s Back! That’s a so-bad-its-good movie if there ever was one.

      I’m also glad to find someone who obsesses over seeing every film an actor is in once they get in your head the way Spader does. I was OBSESSED with him when I saw Tuff Turf back in the day. OMG was he HOT in that! I still own it on VHS if you can believe that! (Some of the soundtrack got altered in later releases from the VHS if anyone cares. It’s a great soundtrack!)

      So after a re-watch this past weekend, I got obsessed with finding out where it was all filmed, and lo and behold, I figured out the restaurant where Frankie (Kim Richards) and her two girlfriends are having burgers about midway through was a mere seven blocks from my house. This is the scene where Spader and Downey have the bad dude’s car, she wrongly assumes it’s her shitty-ass boyfriend picking her up and jumps in the car only to find its Spader.

      Well believe me, I hightailed those seven blocks, and I couldn’t believe it – the building is still standing. It’s a used car lot now, but the original Sandy’s Char-Burger sign (which you can see clearly in the film) and the seedy motel next door to it are still there. The building has been painted white, but the doors you can see in the movie are still there. Also discovered this is the same building that was used for the Pig Burgers restaurant where Lane works in Better Off Dead. I stood there for the longest time thinking “OMG, James Spader was RIGHT HERE. I mean, yeah, it was 31 years ago, but HIS FEET TOUCHED THIS GROUND I’M ON.” I also took a ton of pictures and made comparison photos with the film.

      So I well understand your obsession, and now you know there are people like me who are even weirder. LOL LONG LIVE SPADER! (Who, to me, is still hot as ever in The Blacklist)

  5. I forgot to mention in The Stickup or the movie Driftwood you get to see his revised tattoo…it no longer is the simple spade. It now is a larger spade being peeled off layer by later by a spider. The peeled off layers cascade down his arm to just above the elbow…it is very odd and I can’t imagine what possessed him to get this particular tat!?!? My only thought is at the time he was either drunk or high. 😉

  6. I told you my list changes frequently. I just looked at IMDb and realized #7 should be 2 Days in the Valley, #8 should be the TV movie The Pentagon Papers, and #9 should be Crash (1996 Cronenberg version). Obviously I wasn’t fully awake for my first list! #10 would then be Jack’s Back.

    • That’s OK! My lists of favourite films (in any category) are constantly changing too 😀 Oh, I really want to see Jack’s Back but can’t find it here, yet. (I’m in Australia & it is really hard to find his movies on DVD but I’ve been managing by…other means. :\ I’ll eventually start collecting them off Amazing/eBay, too, when I have the $$). I’ll reply to your other comments later as well! Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

  7. Oh I have never heard of this Spader man but he does seem delightful want to watch the alien one especially sounds mental in a good way. I must admit I am still drooling over the Downey Jr Gif you linked to, oh my oh my xxx

  8. Love what you wrote! You *so* described my present infatuation / obsession with Jimmy Spader. I think I’ve fallen in love! And I don’t mind that he is no longer 20 and has lost his angelical beauty. He’s still sexy today! 🙂
    Yane (from Germany)

  9. Hello Andi,

    Your words express exactly what I have been experiencing for some months. And you say it so well! I am really happy to see I am not obsessing alone here! 🙂

    I vaguely knew James Spader before last summer, when I “discovered” him by accident (in June), after I saw Sex, Lies and Videotapes. (This is quite a shame–that I saw this movie only this year–me, whom I thought to be a cinemaphile!)

    After this revelation, I looked for other movies with him and I stumbled upon Dream Lover (that left me rather unimpressed) and then… White Palace. See, I had seen White Palace a few years ago and it impressed me. I promised to myself I would see it again, but rather loosely, since in the mean time I forgot the title, and the only thing about this movie that I could remember at a certain point was Susan Sarandon. Only when I started to search systematically for JS’s movies I discovered that White Palace was with HIM!

    This movie blew me away this time. I keep watching it over and over again, I read the script and the novel and everything I found about it on the net. Because of him. That face. That presence. That voice. The great acting, of course. I fell in love with him.

    Then I saw Crash. And Driftwood. And Pretty in Pink… Talk about swooning when seeing that face. And hearing that voice.

    It goes without saying, I intend to watch ALL the movies with him, no matter how silly (Alien Hunter has him in almost every scene, for God’s sake!) or how little screen space he has (The Rachel Papers or 2 Days in the Valley are fun, and when he ‘shows up,’ he is electrifying).

    Last night I saw Starcrossed and I absorbed every second.

    I still have some movies to discover and looking forward to it. Like you, I am not interested in his personal life, it’s just his movies. All of them. But there is so little info about his acting (and his movies, actually) out there…

    I have to live with this passion-obsession. I can’t help it. But, as I said, your presence and so beautiful post are such a comfort! Thank You!

    All the best,

    Marie-Lyne from Canada

  10. Am doing exactly what you are with Spader in his younger guise. Though now fat and less than hot, he is still great. Let us pray he revives his interest in health and looking his best. You are right. He is not conventionally handsome, but the way he swaggers and moves through space, uses his hands, that face, those eyes, lips, his voice are smokin’. I can’t figure out how the DNA came together to create him and put him in acting. He’s bulletproof. In the worst films his Spader-ness floats him. “Crash” is brilliant. “Keys to Tulsa” worthwhile. Everyone says “Driftwood” is horrible, but a comment noted it was worth seeing Spader’s naked ass in a few scenes. Well, you know I’m gonna watch it, if only to fast forward. I think he does have a style and brings it to every role he plays, and as he is a superb actor, it is nearly impossible for him to be bad in weak films such as Supernova and Tuff Turf. He always plays his “A” game. “Jack’s Back” isn’t bad and he plays a dual role. I love seeing him play tough. I think there is as much of the yup in him as there is the badass or he couldn’t pull it off so well. And he does dweeb and nerd, “Stargate” and “Speaking of Sex”, excellently too, but that’s for laughs, so, don’t know if it’s James or acting skills. First time I saw him was in Less than Zero as the awful, slimy drug dealer. But he was mesmerizing. I had no idea who he was, but it was love at first slight! Downey and McCarthy could’ve dropped out of the movie as far as I was concerned. That “Rip” character tore me up! So I’m on same quest. Love to ya. James is a hunk of burning actor. A rarity.

  11. I also have an obsession with him!!!! it happened like 5 years ago, just zapping over and over, and there he was, that face, that smile, and that movie “Dream Lover!”, it was love at first sight, although i realized he is way older now, wow he was hot and extremely handsome in his youth. he was(still is) exquisite, dreamy, sexy, and those eyesss, that voice!!!!!!!, unfortunately it seems it doesnt exist someone(a young version) like Mr. Spader in hollywood nowadays. anyway
    i enjoyed reading your post, you cannot believe, but this week i’v watched “Secretary”, “Stargate”, “Pretty in Pink” and “Tuff turf” hihihi. and also watching the blacklist. it is just the beginning, i took a look on wikipedia and i see there are lots of movies in which Mr. Spader starred. obviously im dying to see “Boston Legal”, The practice (just season 8).

  12. Heh – count me in! (I am late to this thread but this shows James Spader’s appeal just continues on and on!) I just discovered The Blacklist…. yup, you know I’m in trouble now. I never paid much attention to Spader in the past decades – – probably because I was blinded by my long-standing Kevin Spacey fixation… 🙂 Now I’m catching up and loving this ridiculous frenzy — I’m even watching his talk show interviews. Not only is JS a wonderful actor — he’s quite well spoken and interested in life — which makes him so interesting. As for his “aging,” I’m reading comments on other sites lambasting his looks (“fatter” and “bald” and such) and don’t agree! Sure, he was cute “back then” but I think he looks mighty appealing now and is aging just fine. Emphasis on FINE. 🙂

  13. THANK YOU!!! I feel so much better about my obsession after reading this. I discovered Spader a few months back when a friend gave me the first season of The Blacklist to watch. I binge-watched it in 2 days, couldn’t stop. Since then it has just been my mission to watch everything Spader. I also live in Australia and am slowly building my dvd collection, thank goodness for ebay, fishpond and even amazon. HIs voice sends chills up me spine and his gaze mesmerises me. Everything about this man brings me back for more. I keep telling my friends how phenomenal he is and have even converted a couple, but none of them are as far gone as I am. Life is better with a bit of Spader!

  14. Going through the Spader obsession myself right now, so I can totally understand this post! lol. A few years late in the game, it was blacklist that got me surprisingly, especially considering it’s an older, balder, heavier Spader, but man that guy has something regardless of age, weight or anything else. It prompted me to go back through all these old films and of course share in the complete swoon of him. I’m hooked! Glad to see I’m not the only one!! 🙂

  15. omg….can’t believe there is other people out there with the same obsession. I fell in love with spader after watching him on the blacklist. His voice is almost hypnotic. The funny thing I was never a spader fan. But now I can’t get enough of him. I’m now hooked on Boston legal. He’s performance in that series is awesome!! And I’ve been trying to watch some of his old movies. Brilliant actor. He was good looking in the 80’s. He’s even more gorgeous bald in his 50’s

  16. I’m a big fan of Spader though, like many, I didn’t much care for his character in Pretty In Pink. When I’m reminded of him in that film, the first word that comes to mind is “smarmy”. Over the years, I’ve seen most of his films with my favorites being Secretary, Sex, Lies And Videotape and Crash as well as the TV series Boston Legal and the current The Blacklist. I think he and Megan Boone, as Red and Lizzie, are fantastic together in Blacklist.

  17. I have become an active faceaholic for this man.
    I don’t remember what got me started on him a month or so ago, but, I am knee deep in my obsession, actually much deeper than knee.
    When I first saw him in Pretty in Pink, I was reminded of every smarmy, rich kid jerk I swooned over.
    Now, I think I may have gone over the top. I’ve seen some very cheesy 80’s tv show he played a bad boy in ( Family Tree?), old interviews, new interviews( love home with jimmy Fallon and and old one with Conan) and ridiculous compilations of his face, hands and a$$ to every Lady Gaga song ever recorded.
    Just started on Boston Legal ( love it) . His scene dancing with William Shatner is so brilliant.
    He really is an unbelievably talented actor, but, that face is what keeps me coming back. I think it’s perfectly symmetrical. I mean, there are a lot of gorgeous movie stars, but Spader is like a drug I don’t wanna give up.

  18. Like you I started to watch the whole RDJ filmography, to learn from him, and then I did James one. What a treasure. The guy is an artist. Now I’m watching the Blacklist. I’m not that much into tv show screening cops but Spader make the thing interesting, adding his own style, rewriting dialogs, even screenplays. I’m a young director and I’m learning a lot from him, listening interviews or watching him play. He is very inspiring. He should make masterclasses. I would apply. You say you like his facial expressions, his hand movement, I mean, yes, this is it, he has this stunning capacity to create subtleties in small things. I heard he played in broadway, on stage, I wonder how it was. Probably interesting. Did someone here went to see him on stage?

    • I do realize I made a lot of typin faults in this message… I’m french and I’m writing from France. C’est normal !

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