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.