As a child, Kevin Spacey crooned Bobby Darin tunes into a hairbrush in his family's living room. In 2000, he finally had the clout to buy the rights to the singer's life story, including his rocky marriage to teen queen Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and his struggle with an eventually fatal heart condition. One of Spacey's first hurdles: persuading Darin's former manager, Steve Blauner, and son, Dodd, to let him record his own versions of ''Mack the Knife'' and ''Dream Lover'' for the film. ''The initial response from Blauner was 'Over my dead body is anybody but Bobby going to sing in this movie,''' Spacey recalls. ''But when they began to realize that this was not some ego thing to sing in a movie, but that I wanted to honor him, they really got behind it.''
To become the performer, Spacey (who at age 45 is eight years older than Darin lived to be) hired the makeup team from ''The Lord of the Rings.'' ''Yeah, but don't assume that I've got a different face on,'' says Spacey. ''I've got about seven wigs that I wear through the course of the film, but it's not like I was in makeup for four hours trying to make myself look 22.''
Spacey, who also served as producer and may end up with a writing credit as well, had trouble raising cash from Stateside studios. ''I would very often hear 'It's a great story, but who's ever heard of Bobby Darin?' And my argument would be 'No one knew who Forrest Gump was.''' Eventually Spacey found European financing (the film was shot in Germany), but his initial investors backed out within weeks of the start date. ''I just remember him calling me all the time going 'This is gonna happen, I will make this happen,''' says Bosworth. ''Kevin has a way of instilling this incredible belief.''
Spacey insists his cast and crew were stronger after the ordeal. ''Nobody took other jobs, even when agents were saying 'This movie isn't happening, you should walk away from it,''' he says. ''What I ended up feeling was that everybody took my dream and made it their own.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Since ''American Beauty,'' it's been five years of flops for Spacey. This labor of love needs to remind us how potent he can be.