"We live in a world where infotainment has just run rampant," declared reluctant celebrity Kevin Spacey in an interview several years ago. "Frankly, I don't want anyone to know anything about me. The longer an actor can remain in the shadows, the characters will emerge." Out of the limelight for so long, the New Jersey-born actor has, in the last few years, won a brace of Oscars and finally gone centre stage.
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Born on July 26, 1959, to a technical writer and his secretary wife, Kevin Spacey Fowler was a troubled child. Following a couple of incidents involving fires, he was shipped off to Northridge Military Academy, where he was expelled just three months later for hitting a classmate with a tyre. A school guidance counsellor suggested he might enjoy acting. "I took a drama class," recalled the actor in an interview, "and suddenly I felt at home."
After finishing his schooling in California, Kevin hit the amateur comedy circuit, but a 1978 failed audition for The Gong Show, among others, led the thespian to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, where he planned to further his drama education. Two years into the course and anxious to find work, Kevin dropped out and signed up with the New York Shakespeare Festival. His first professional stage appearance was as a messenger in a 1981 production of Henry VI.
As the Eighties progressed, so did Kevin's stage career. Debuting on Broadway the following year in Ghosts opposite Liv Ullmann, it was just four years before he lensed his first film role although it was not the most auspicious of starts, playing a subway thief in the movie Heartburn. Kevin's dreams of becoming a leading man had to be put in cold storage, however, after he was deemed more of a character actor by Hollywood producers.
It was his turn in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross, alongside his close friends Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, that started bringing Kevin the attention he wanted. And three years later his success was virtually assured after breakthrough roles in Seven and The Usual Suspects consolidated his position as the premier portrayer of dark, manipulative characters.
The Usual Suspects brought Kevin his first Oscar a Best Supporting Actor statuette for the role of slippery criminal Verbal Kint, while putting him on a fast-track to all the best scripts in Tinseltown. But first up was his directorial debut. Albino Alligator, a claustrophobic hostage movie starring Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise and Faye Dunaway which, although it received good reviews, failed to do much at the box office.
Kevin was back in front of the camera in 1997 with turns as detective Jack Vincennes in LA Confidential, and as the genteel, closet homosexual Jim Williams, accused of murder in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. The latter role threw up no end of complications in his private life, after an Esquire journalist intimated that the actor was gay.
"I have always chosen to try to maintain a degree of dignity about that stuff," the actor commented to W magazine in 1988. "The people who are important to me my family, colleagues and friends they know what the scoop is, and that's all that's really important. Not for a second have I ever gotten an indication from any of the thousands of letters I receive that anybody gives two hoots about what my private life is. Nobody cares. They like the work."
Kevin's second Oscar nod came for his depiction of Lester Burnham, an American man-next-door suffering a mid-life crisis, in American Beauty. "This has definitely been the highlight of my day," he quipped on the podium, statuette in hand. "I read the screenplay and nearly fell out of bed," he later recalled of the Sam Mendes-directed movie. "I thought I better meet him quick before someone else read it."
Despite his on-screen success, Kevin has not turned his back on the theatre. He moved to London in the spring of 1998 to play the complex role of Theodore Hickman in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. But while he has two more stage appearances in the pipeline, plus plans to direct, he has recently announced plans to take time out from acting. Apparently he is keen to dedicate more time to his production company Triggerstreet, which he hopes will nurture new talent.
In February 2003 Kevin announced that he was moving to London to become Artistic Director of the prestigious Old Vic theatre. Kevin's work, both on and off-stage, has been a triumph for the theatre, with rave reviews for his experimental and classical performances. And the move has been a triumph for Kevin himself, with the actor and director saying he's "having the time of his life". In September 2006 he announced that he is to stay at the Old Vic for at least another nine years, and take up the offer of dual British citizenship when it becomes available to him.