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Kevin Spacey biography


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Actor. Born Kevin Fowler, on July 26, 1959, in South Orange, New Jersey. He was the youngest of three children; his father wrote technical procedures and his mother was a private secretary. The family moved frequently and in 1963, they settled in Los Angeles, where young Kevin proceeded to become a self-described, “little terror.” After he burned down his sister’s treehouse, Kevin’s parents decided to enforce some extra discipline, and sent him to California’s Northridge Military Academy. He promptly won a leadership award, then got expelled for clobbering a fellow student with a tire during a boxing match. He then enrolled at the Chatsworth High School, where a teacher encouraged him to put his energy into acting. The strategy worked, and Kevin appeared in several theater productions, and also tried the comedy club circuit, doing impressions. He graduated from Chatworth High School as co-valedictorian with Mare Winningham. After briefly attending Los Angeles Valley College, Spacey transferred to the drama program at The Juilliard School of the Performing Arts in New York City, upon the encouragement of fellow actor and Chatworth classmate, Val Kilmer. He stayed in the program for two years, then dropped out in 1981, convinced he could tackle New York’s theater scene without a diploma. He joined the New York Shakespeare Festival and appeared as a messenger and a rock in Henry IV Part One. He later commented, “I was a very…solid rock.”

Over the next five years, Spacey appeared in several regional stage productions including the summer theater festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Seattle Repertory Theater. In 1982, just a year after quitting Juilliard, Spacey made his Broadway debut as Oswald in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, alongside Liv Ullman. After impressing director Mike Nichols for his work in David Rabe’s Hurlybulry, Spacey became the understudy for all the male roles in his productions. In 1986, he played Jamie Tyrone, alongside Jack Lemmon, in a critically acclaimed production of Long Day’s Journey into the Night, which brought him to the forefront of the New York theater world. Having secured a comfortable notoriety for his stage work, Spacey decided to brave the ever fickle and shifty film and television scene in Los Angeles.
He embarked on a trail of bit parts in major Hollywood productions, including a stint as a subway thief in 1986’s Heartburn with Jack Nicholson, a sleazy business executive in Working Girl with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford, one of a murderous pair in See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and a son-in-law in Steven Spielberg’s Dad, with Jack Lemmon. He found more prominent roles in television productions, playing evangelist Jim Bakker in Fall from Grace (1990) and lawyer Clarence Darrow in the TV movie, Darrow (1991). He also continued to work in stage, winning a Tony award in 1991 for his portrayal of mobster Uncle Louie in Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. Spacey also appeared in 1990’s Show of Force and the first NC-17 rated film, Henry and June, both of which received little box-office attention. In 1992, Spacey appeared alongside acting greats Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, and Ed Harris as a lusterless office manager in a widely acclaimed film adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Although his next two films, Consenting Adults and the Denis Leary comedy, The Ref, were panned by critics, Spacey garnered favorable reviews. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote of Spacey in the former, “As Eddy, [Spacey] is given his first real opportunity to fully express his fruitcake talent. He doesn’t disappoint—though he does outclass the movie and his co-stars.”

1995 proved to be a groundbreaking year for the now seasoned and experienced Spacey, although he seemed to appear miraculously out of nowhere to the Hollywood set. He played a supporting role as army officer Casey Schuler in the suspense thriller about the rapidly spreading Ebola virus in Outbreak, and played a mean-spirited film mogul held hostage by his fed-up assistant in the low-budget independent Swimming With Sharks. However, his portrayal of John Doe, the chillingly dead pan villain in David Fincher’s gritty and violent thriller, Seven, incited rave reviews and carried Spacey into a whole new realm of celebrity and recognition. Jack Mathews of Newsday wrote, “Not to mention his participation would be to ignore the film’s strongest performance… Spacey gives a truly chilling performance, madness under glass.”

Spacey followed this success strongly, earning glowing praise and an Oscar for best supporting actor, with his portrayal of Roger “Verbal” Kint in 1995’s runaway hit, The Usual Suspects. This time, Spacey masterfully masked manipulative menace and genius under a slippery guise of shy, stuttering innocence—blowing audiences away with a deceptive performance which carried through the film’s twisted conclusion. The film also spurred mass circulation of the query “Who is Keyser Soze?” in reference to the film’s looming but elusive villain.
Spacey found less creative freedom in the 1996 John Grisham courtroom drama, A Time to Kill, but he got a chance to return to his Elizabethan roots in Al Pacino’s playful documentary, Looking for Richard about making a film of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Spacey appeared next in L.A. Confidential, a visually slick and stylized film noir about the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department. He played Jack Vincennes, a police officer who sets up movie stars on vice charges to feed to a local gossip columnist. Janet Maslin, of The New York Times wrote of his performance, “Mr. Spacey is at his insinuating best, languid and debonair, in a much more offbeat performance than this film could have drawn from a more conventional star.” 1996 also saw the release of Spacey’s directorial debut, Albino Alligator, the story of three criminals who take the patrons and staff of a bar hostage while cops collect outside. Although the film featured Matt Dillon, Faye Dunaway, and Gary Sinise, it failed to attract much critical or box office attention. Spacey made strong appearances as an antiques dealer accused of murder in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and in Anthony Drazen’s film adaptation of Hurlyburly, but it was the 1999 release of American Beauty which once again caused a significant stir. In this dark view of dysfunctional American suburbia, the first film from noted British stage director Sam Mendes, Spacey portrays a “sedated” father who undergoes a personal transformation spurred by a desire to impress his teenage daughter’s friend. His performance earned widespread critical acclaim, including his second Academy Award, this time for Best Actor. The film also scored Oscars for Best Original Screenplay (first-time screenwriter Alan Ball), Best Director and Best Picture.

Spacey, known for his “average Joe” looks and intense privacy about his personal life currently lives in Greenwich Village, New York City with his dog, Legacy. He continues to participate actively in the Manhattan theater scene, and in 1999 turned in a stunning, Tony-nominated performance as Hickey in the Eugene O’Neill classic, The Iceman Cometh. .



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