James Spader is not minding his manners. The actor has schlepped to an L.A. poolside restaurant not too far from his Hollywood Hills home, unshaven, unwashed, and seemingly in serious jeopardy of losing his pants. A knife attached to his belt does nothing to enhance the image of refinement he has cultivated as the white-bread professional (and occasional yuppie scum) in such films as Wolf, White Palace, and Baby Boom. Nor does his treatment of an offending anchovy, which arrives atop his salad and is immediately launched over his shoulder into the bushes.
If Spader playing Spader as a frayed, 34-year-old slacker in a flannel shirt seems at odds with Spader on screen (perfectly polished, if morally seedy), the actor’s latest role is a departure from both. The $55 million sci-fi adventure StarGate, which grossed a mighty $16.6 million its opening weekend, casts him as a geeky Egyptologist with the posture of someone who’s spent too long hunched over a desk. Reviews have typically been warmer toward the actor than the movie (He ”holds the film together,” said The New York Times), but Spader’s own posture is one of studied indifference. ”None of the films I’ve ever done are the sorts of films that I would go see if I weren’t in them,” he says, his voice briefly strangled as he sucks on a Marlboro. Last spring’s Dream Lover, in which he plays a victim of passion? ”Probably not. I might have gone to see Wolf. Bob Roberts I would have gone to see. Um that’s it. I probably wouldn’t have gone to see Music of Chance (in which he was a gambler), ”but I would have wished I had. White Palace (where he played a younger love interest to Susan Sarandon)? Nope. I don’t ever go see love stories.
”My reasons for taking a picture are wanting to play a character,” says Spader, who nonetheless admits that he was attracted to StarGate for other reasons. ”The script was just awful, and that sort of intrigued me,” he says sardonically. ”That made me want to meet the director [Roland Emmerich], and then he got me excited about it … I realized that making this picture (which was filmed largely in the Arizona desert) was going to be such an adventure that out of that would come an adventure on screen.” So has he finally made a film he might want to see, even if he weren’t in it? ”No,” he says, adding another title to his stay-away list, ”not StarGate either.”
Though he lives an apparently domesticated life with wife Victoria, whom he met in the late ’70s (”I think we wanted to get laid, and then we just stayed together”) and his two young sons Sebastian, 5, and Elijah, 2, Spader hasn’t always been so staid. At 17, he dispensed with a formal education when he dropped out of Phillips Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school, and moved in with his older sister in New York. There he took acting classes and taught yoga, which he’d learned from a book. He also started getting jobs that established him as the boy next door with an attitude: a high school snob in Pretty in Pink, a cocaine dealer in Less Than Zero, and a suspendered sleazebag in Wall Street.
Spader’s performance as a voyeur in 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape broke him from the Brat Pack mold, but his subsequent choices (and perhaps the manner in which he chooses them) have made for a stop-and-start success; when asked why he took the role of an idealistic young lawyer in True Colors, which he calls ”an awful movie,” he rubs his fingertips together. Still, Spader is content with the way it’s all unfolded. ”I’ve found satisfaction in a certain degree of dissatisfaction,” he says agreeably. ”I panicked for about two years when I first started experiencing anxiety. And I thought, ‘Oh, well, I’m insane, so I have to cure that.’ And that’s the mistake. Don’t cure it — that’s your life friend. That’s your life.”