In focus: Kevin Spacey, the actor


Kevin Spacey is notorious for playing intricately complex characters, those with so much depth that you forget that it is an act.

Lester Burnham of American Beauty, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint of The Usual Suspects and the chilling John Doe of Se7en are a mere selection of the vast array of characters portrayed by Spacey across an acting career spanning almost 30 years. They are prime examples of when the audience forgets that they are watching Kevin Spacey and are completely convinced by the characters on screen.

Spacey also has experience behind the camera, as a producer, as well as on the stage.

It was recently announced that Spacey will be marking ten years as Artistic Director of The Old Vic theatre in London by performing, one man show, Clarence Darrow, for a limited time between the end of May and mid June of this year. This article is the first of three looking at his work – this time we delve into his classic performances on the silver screen.

American Beauty (1999)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Released in 1999 American Beauty completely obliterated every other movie in the awards season. It was nominated for eight awards and won five, including Best Picture. Spacey grabbed the prestigious accolade of Best Actor. As Lester Burnham, Spacey puts in a stunning performance of a man in mid-life crisis being crushed under the weight of the decaying America dream. Societal expectations and the pressures of fitting in are causing people to live a lie. People are suppressing the truth, and Spacey’s Burnham is bringing these repressions to the surface. Accompanied by the brilliant Annette Bening, who plays Carolyn Burnham, the frustrated wife of Lester, Spacey gives the performance of a lifetime.

Se7en (1995)

Directed by David Fincher

John Doe, one of cinemas most brutal villains was brought to life by Spacey in the 1995 movie, Se7en. Never before had a screen villain both sickened and intrigued in equal measure – Doe is a truly unnerving cinematic psychopath. As the serial killer murdering victims in line with the seven deadly sins, Spacey remains unseen for the majority of the movie but delivers an exceptional performance bringing the movie to its classic and terrifying final scenes. Hardly recognised during awards season, Se7en is a rediscovered classic including Spacey, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in the early days of their career (well, not so early for Freeman).

House of Cards (2013 – present)

In Netlfix’s reimagining of Michael Dobbs’s House of Cards, Kevin Spacey plays the power-hungry Frank Underwood. With many hours to fill, rather than the two-three of a movie, Spacey has had space to progress and develop this intriguing character. The series proved the sheer depth of his acting talent. The rest of the cast is also superb. Golden Globe winner Robin Wright is stunning. Her onscreen dynamic with Spacey is just as intense in the second season as it is in the first. Demonstrating a ruthlessness that is parallel to Spacey’s Frank Underwood is something that makes them one of the most powerful, and dangerous, of all onscreen couples. With the second season came a whole new wave of appreciation for Spacey’s acting. Fans of the show now pour over every interview with him to find out more about how he works.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Directed by Bryan Singer

The Usual Suspects is a cult classic with the mystery of Kayser Söze still causing debate to this day. Spacey plays the film’s central role as Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint, known as ‘Verbal’ because he has a habit for talking (a lot)! The story is intricate in its detail, with a brilliant cast who all compliment Spacey’s portrayal of the seemingly timid Kint. This movie brought Spacey another Oscar win, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, with the movie as a whole achieving the accolade of (as it was then known) Best Writing for a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. You will see this film on almost every ‘Top 100 Movies’ lists with the ending being credited as one of the greatest movie endings of all time. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your ‘To Watch’ list, it will definitely make your top 10 favourite movies. And if it doesn’t, you have Kayser Söze to deal with.

LA Confidential (1997)

Directed by Curtis Hanson

LA Confidential is awe inspiring, and an absolute classic. This neo-noir crime classic, set in the 1950s amongst police corruption in Hollywood, was rightly nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. With deserved critical acclaim (including a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes) this movie catapulted Spacey’s fellow actors Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe into stardom, as they were relatively unknown in America at the time. Spacey’s performance in LA Confidential is less known than the likes of American Beauty and The Usual Suspects, films that are usually associated with him, yet it shouldn’t be discredited for this. Illuminating the corruption in society is something that Spacey does extremely well with his characters and Jack Vincennes in LA Confidential is no different. The corruption of the LAPD intertwined with the Hollywood system is perfectly executed in this adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel of the same title

Originally published on The National Student.


About Author


I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

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