Kevin Spacey plays an emotionally damaged man struggling to find his place in the world in The Shipping News (opening Christmas day). In real life, the two-time Oscar winner faced a long struggle of his own to land the juicy part of Quoyle in Lasse Hallstr&#246m's big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel by E. Annie Proulx.

"I read it six years ago and immediately called my agent," he recalls to TV Guide Online. "I said, 'I've got to do this.' When he told me that John Travolta had already committed to the project, I hung up the phone and wept like a small child. But I didn't give up. I kept checking back and I heard things like, 'You'll never play Quoyle. You're not right for it.' But patience is a virtue and I hung in there. When John dropped out, and after Billy Bob Thornton passed, I finally got my chance.

"I was excited to portray Quoyle because it's so different than anything anyone has ever seen me do," adds the star of The Usual Suspects, American Beauty and K-Pax. "But it's not terribly different from anything I've ever felt. I understand a man like Quoyle. There are moments when the audience may say to themselves, 'Come on, what is your problem?' But I think that can be humorous and it also mirrors a lot of people's experiences. I think there are more Quoyles out in the world than there are people like some of the snappy, quick-witted characters I've played."

Spacey — who will spoof himself in the upcoming Austin Powers sequel — says he's made it his mission to keep moviegoers guessing about his future career choices. "It's so easy to allow yourself to get pigeonholed," he concedes. "So, I keep looking for things I haven't done before and stuff that gives me a new place to go. They may not all work, but you don't hit a home run every time you get up to bat."

Incidentally, the 42-year-old thesp confesses that there aren't as many opportunities for him to play ball as some might think. "I'm not getting offers all the time even though I may have gotten accolades," he laments. "Why? On one hand, because everybody assumes I'm working so they don't even offer me stuff. And the other part of it is you have to prove you can do it. If they haven't seen you do it, they don't believe you can. I only got that part in American Beauty because director [Sam Mendes] believed in me."