When ballots go out to Oscar voters early next year, Kevin Spacey could be competing with himself for a best actor nod. As the is-he-or-ain't-he-an-alien Prot in K-PAX (opening Friday), Spacey shows off more of his all-too-familiar tics and quirks. The two-time Oscar winner — for American Beauty and The Usual Suspects — tells TV Guide Online: "I like characters that aren't perfect. To me, flaws are what make us human."

However, it's The Shipping News — opening Christmas Day — where we'll see Spacey like we've never seen him. He plays an emotionally crumpled man without an ironic or flip bone in his body. "That's probably the least abnormal character I'll play," he admits. Word is, Miramax feels bullish enough about his performance to gear up for an aggressive Oscar campaign.

The actor credits News director Lasse Hallstr&#246m (The Cider House Rules) for his understated performance. "Lasse would come up to me and say, 'This is so aggressive. It was too strong,'" Spacey reveals. "So I would go back to the set and squash my spine and do absolutely nothing. I was slightly lost, but he seemed pleased."

Spacey acknowledges that his star power intimidates some directors, but Hallstr&#246m clearly knew how to get what he wanted. "I'm at my best when I'm directed," he muses. "I want to be an actor who serves the material. When I'm left on my own, I don't think I'm as good an editor about what's appropriate or right. I really like it when I have a strong, decisive director."

Still, Spacey couldn't resist trying to add some backbone to his News character. As he wryly recalls, a diligent Hallstr&#246m placated him on that point with promises of "Later, later. It'll come later." As filming neared its end, a concerned Spacey approached the director, asking: "When you said, 'Later,' when did you mean?" At this, Hallstr&#246m replied: "Oh, I think in your next movie."