If you want to hire James Spader, here’s a tip: Look at every part he’s played, then offer him something entirely different. ”The way to get me interested is to surprise me,” the actor says. ”Whenever anything has just been out of left field, for some reason I really get interested.” Throughout his 30-year career, he has gone from playing preppy snobs to sexual deviants to an Emmy-winning crusading TV lawyer and, starting this fall, the Jedi-like CEO of Dunder Mifflin’s parent company, Sabre, on NBC’s The Office. As he gets ready for his return to TV, we asked the 51-year-old star to look back on his most memorable roles.
The Practice/Boston Legal (2003-08)
Spader guested as legal eagle Alan Shore in the final year of The Practice, just as creator David E. Kelley was gutting his longtime cast.
[Kelley] was tearing down this house he built. It was such a dramatic and seemingly brutal act. I couldn’t resist being a part of it. I said, ”I’ve never seen the show.” He said, ”Good, don’t. I just want this character to be sort of a Cat in the Hat who comes in and messes things up.” The tone of [Practice spin-off Boston Legal] was irresistible. Within the same episode, there’d be a scene where everything would just be silliness, and then in the next moment, we’re calling upon the audience to take a very important issue and take it quite seriously. Finally I could play the antagonist and the protagonist at the exact same time.
This controversial David Cronenberg film combined sex and car crashes.
There are films that I’ve thought would be fun to do, others I’ve done because I needed the work. And Crash was one that I just was so curious about. I was very conflicted about it in a way that I liked. Ted Turner [owner of the U.S. distributor] hated, hated, hated the film, so he buried it. I can tell you the single worst date to release a movie, because that’s when Crash was released in the U.S.: Friday before the Academy Awards.
He signed on to this sci-fi epic without a shooting script or a U.S. distributor.
They had 2,500 extras and a huge eight-story pyramid built in the desert, and they had no deal in place to get the film out there. My eyes were wide through a lot of that, and it made the job easy because that’s what I had to do in the film. We started talking about how much fun it would be to make the sequel in the jungles of Puerto Vallarta. But [then] MGM started making the TV series.