Read our interview with Kevin Spacey, who stars as the title character, Jack Abramoff, in the new biopic ‘Casino Jack.’ Spacey was recently nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor-Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of Abramoff. Spacey discusses with us, among other things, what it was like meeting and playing the Washington, D.C. lobbyist and businessman, who was just released from prison after being convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion in 2006.

Question (Q): How closely did you follow the Abramoff story before accepting the role?

Kevin Spacey (KS): I was already living in London when it broke. I vaguely remember it because I’ve always had a passion for politics. I’ve been involved in politics for some time. But I didn’t have what I’m sure it was in the U.S. We have this great thing called the 24-hour news cycle, that usually lasts for a week. I kind of remembered it, but not really. After I met George (Hickenlooper, the movie’s director), and we decided to make the film together, I found out I might have the opportunity to meet him. Then I said I’m going to hold off on reading anything, going back and doing a lot of research. I didn’t want to meet him with lots of other people’s commentary. I just wanted to meet the man. Then I started the process of research after I met him.

Q: What kind of research did you do into Orthodox Judaism religious life?

KS: As much as I could. I met with a couple of rabbis, someone taught me how to do the divining. I had to learn some of the Hebrew because George wanted me to be actually saying it. I think I’m relatively grateful that you can’t really hear what I’m saying. I’m sure I didn’t get it all right. That aspect of his character was so fascinating to me. On one hand, he was this extremely devoted religious man who believed in his faith. He consistently did it every single day, it was part of his routine. Yet, he makes a bunch of misjudgments, crosses the line. Yet, maybe in his own head, the good things he was doing, and in his mind, he was doing lots of good things, including giving lots and lots of money away to lots and lots of people who didn’t have it and needed it, justified the other things he was doing. It’s always interesting to find what you look at is a contradiction in someone’s behavior.

Q: When you finally met Jack, what questions did you ask him?

KS: I was mostly interested in the emotional terrain because all of the facts of the case. He may have had his own agenda. I would have known right away if he was being up front with me or not. At the end of the day, I think he was. I was just trying to figure out what he was going through. At what point, if there was a point, when he started to lose the forest for the trees. I think there’s a point where we start to illustrate in the film that he was living in a culture and an environment where lots of this stuff was going down. Lots of people were selling access, and they still are. So then you sort of go, wow. But then after meeting him and other people on his team, people that knew him, people that hated him. I got a lot of different opinions of him. Then I started reading everything. You Goggle his name, and you’re like, Wow, I’m going to be here for a week! Wow, was he made out to be the greediest devil in-carninate that ever walked the Earth. I thought that’s convenient for an industry that wants to pat itself on the back and say, See we threw this bad man in jail, cleaned up our industry. I think we just went through an election where more money was spent than at any other time in our country’s history. So that’s to me what was interesting about playing this guy. He’s symbolic of an environment and culture that’s still happening today.

Q: Between this and ‘Recount,’ you’ve done a couple of movies now about politics, very recent politics. It’s funny stuff. Do you consider yourself to be political?

KS: I am a political person. I admire politics. I think public service is one of the most extraordinary things people can do. What I don’t admire is power and influence invading our political system and destroying the kind of respect people should have for public service. As long as we force anyone who ever runs for office that what they have to be doing is raising millions and millions and millions of dollars for TV ads, then we get what we ask for, and it will always be corrupt. Want to clean up the corruption? Take the money out. But the TV networks won’t run ads for free.

Q: Where do you think apathy for politics comes from?

KS: I think some people don’t think their vote counts for anything. People don’t think they vote people in. We live in the now. It’s kind of curious to me how impatient people are. I remember like 10 years ago, it took you about five minutes to get on an internet page. People were like, “This is amazing!” Now, three seconds go by and your page doesn’t come up, and you’re like, “What’s wrong with this piece of sh*t?!?” I think that attitude has permeated our society. You look at politics, and we do this. I don’t think we tend to do this in just this country. This tends to happen all over the world. We find someone who we believe is going to solve all of our problems, be our savior, who’s going to have a magic wand. Then they come in, and they can be very effective, actually accomplish a great deal. But because we’re not out of the sh*thole yet, then we point fingers and say, “Oh, this person isn’t who we thought they were.” We want people to solve all of our problems. A lot of people have responsibility for the problems we’re facing. So I think there’s an impatience and fantasy that it’s all going to happen overnight. These things take a long time.

Q: Is Jack out of prison now?

KS: He is.

Q: Has he reflected on the movie now that it’s out?

KS: I don’t know if he’s seen it. If he has seen it, I haven’t heard. His kids have seen it. I saw his two children in Los Angeles at a screening. Parts of the movie may be painful for them to watch. But I think they were pleased we didn’t make him out to be a caricature he had become, a one-dimensional villainous person. We made him out to be a real human being, and I think they were happy about that, but I don’t know what he thinks.

Q: Sadly, George passed away before the movie was released. What was he like to work with?

KS: George is like a kid. He was like a big kid, who played around with story-telling. We laughed a lot. We discussed a lot. I mean, every day on the film was incredibly fun and we had a tense conversation about how we can achieve the tone we want to make this entertaining. George had a mantra from the beginning that “I don’t want to make a boring film about Washington, like ‘Goodfellas’ in D.C.” He knew what he wanted, and it was a complete pleasure to work with him. I’m sorry and sad he’s not here to see and enjoy the release of the film. It was the most surprising circumstances that made it odd to promote the movie. But in the end, I know George would want people to see the film. If people saw it, it would make him very happy.

Q: What characteristics make a political comedy a classic?

KS: Well, I think if you’re not afraid of humor, of embracing the fact that certain decisions that people make. I did a film, ‘Recount,’ which, again, is a very funny and entertaining film. You kind of embrace the craziness and outrageousness, the over-the-topness of it all. It’s funny. If we’re going to make some political points, how much more fun is it to make a scene like the Senate hearing scene. If we’re going to show the hypocrisy at work, let’s do it in a way that’s entertaining. Oh, Jack Abramoff is going to give a boring speech, a big lecture about hypocrisy. In fact, Abramoff said to us that to some degree, had he known he was going to jail, he would have never taken the fifth. That’s why that scene ended up being written that way. George and I were like, “What would that scene be like had he not taken the fifth?” It grew from there to a kind of fantasy. So we weren’t afraid of what was funny. We just have to embrace it.

Q: You spoke men of power. Do you have any interest in revisiting Lex Luther in the ‘Superman’ reboot?

KS: Listen, they haven’t called. All I’ve heard is probably what you’ve heard. All I know is that when I hear a reboot, generally that means they’re going to recast everyone.

Q: There’s some uncertainty of if they were. Would you play him again?

KS: Yeah. In principal, there was already supposed to be a second one, but it never happened. But I had a blast. But my suspicion is that they’re going to reboot the whole thing. I’d be very surprised if they came and said, “Would you do it again?” I’m a huge fan of (director, producer and writer) Bryan Singer’s, and I thought the movie did pretty damn well.

Q: There were a lot of risks, like Superman having a kid. People weren’t expecting it.

KS: Because it’s such an important franchise, people are devoted to it. But you’re always going to end up with people who don’t like it. I had a really good time.

Q: Did you ever talk about any ideas if you were to come back?

KS: No, because it never got to that point. He was so focused on getting that film done. Over the years, I’ve kept hearing little rumors here and there. Then I read in the paper that it was all getting rebooted, and new people were on board. I don’t even know if they have a director.

Q: Yes, Zack Synder.

KS: Oh, okay.

Q: George said in the press kit that you always play these unlikeable heroes. Why does that type of role always appeal to you?’

KS: It’s not that that type of role appeals to me. I know sometimes that there’s this type of impression that people in this business that have gotten to a certain point or have done well and are successful, that we sit around and pick our films from a pleura of films set for the next year. I can go, I’m going to do that one, and George Clooney can do that one, and I’ll do that one. You can only do what you’re offered. In my case, I can only do not what I’m offered, but what I’m available to do. I have responsibilities <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>       running the Old Vic Theater in London. That’s what I’ve been doing the past eight years. I know it’s interesting to try and draw a line. The truth is that I try to find the most interesting things at the time I’m available to do them. Then other things aren’t available, and I ask, “Why didn’t I get that?”

Q: Are you going to direct again?

KS: I’d love to direct again. It’s just that it’s a big commitment, and knowing that I’m staring another project in May, that may take ten months. It may be a ten month commitment, and I’m doing the Old Vic and I’m touring the world, three continents. Then we come to Brooklyn. Thank you very much.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Kevin Spacey and Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack
Kevin Spacey and Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *