When you think Kevin Spacey, "song-and-dance man" is hardly the first label that springs to mind. But the two-time Oscar winner wants to remind us that he actually has an extensive background in musical theater. "By the time I was 20, I [had done] a lot of musicals," he says. "I did Gypsy, Damn Yankees and West Side Story. But then I just never found the time or the chance to do more."
That's one of the many reasons he chose to write, direct and star in Beyond the Sea, a musical biopic about '50s pop idol Bobby Darin (opening today). Apart from wanting to show off his vocal pipes and fancy footwork, Spacey's always had a strong interest in telling Darin's life story. "I feel that, in a lot of ways, his legacy has dissipated. He's not as well known as he would have been had he lived a long life and done one thing really well. He kept reinventing himself, sometimes to the detriment of his career. I just don't think he deserves to be forgotten."
Despite his passion for his subject, the star had a hard time finding a Hollywood studio to back the project. The movie bounced around Tinseltown for several years until he finally secured overseas financing in 2003. But just as shooting was about to start in July of last year, the deal fell apart. "Suddenly, everything stopped and we had to refinance the film," he remembers. "We didn't start shooting until November. But everybody stuck with us; nobody took other jobs. I had an incredible group of people around me. I didn't make this movie, we made this movie."
Because the story was so close to his heart, Spacey admits he was a little more self-critical than usual. "When your heart is in something, it is different than when it's just a job. I was self-critical, but I didn't want to be self-conscious." He also knew that his decision to direct might tag his film as a vanity production. "I actually didn't want to direct the movie," he insists. "I went out to other directors right up until the end of 2002 and the two that wanted to do it weren't free until 2004. So I decided that if I'm up against the wall and the movie is going to get made because I direct it or it's not going to get made at all, then the choice is easy."
No matter how Beyond the Sea performs at the box office, Spacey's happy he finally got the movie made — and had the chance to showcase his musical chops for the world. In fact, to promote the film, Spacey went on the road and gave a series of concerts in which he crooned old Darin tunes like Dream Lover and Mack the Knife.
His first public performance happened during the Toronto Film Festival in September. "The night we had our premiere, I heard Jamie Foxx was having a party for Ray," he recalls. "So I went to the party and Jamie was standing on a piano rapping. He catches my eye, pulls me up on stage and that night, Bobby Darin and Ray Charles got back together and sang Splish Splash in front of 900 people. It was very cool."