HANGING LIKE CHADS

“Recount” costars Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey have a laugh during a reunion. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

KEVIN SPACEY and Denis Leary have a history of reunions. On this midsummer day, the two have gathered at HBO's Manhattan offices to talk about their work on the Emmy-nominated television film "Recount." It's an easy discussion, one that seems to be simply picking up from where they left off the last few times they've worked together, including 1994's "The Ref" -- "one of the surprising" Jerry Bruckheimer-Don Simpson executive-produced films, Spacey says with a little bit of archness.

The two worked together again, such as it was, in 1998's "A Bug's Life" but then didn't reteam until "Recount," the HBO movie that dramatizes Florida's role in the 2000 presidential election and the flawed electoral system itself.

In it, Spacey plays Ron Klain, the Democratic political operator who was, among other jobs, general counsel to Al Gore. Leary played Michael Whouley, the reclusive Clintonista and lobbyist who was a strategist on the Gore campaign.

Looking back, they can joke about their time on set.

"We had such a ball," Spacey says. "It was fast in terms of the energy and pace that [director Jay Roach] set. And I think the film itself, there was a kind of juggernaut feeling or maybe 'roller coaster' is the correct term."

"That kid wrote a great script," Leary says of screenwriter Danny Strong. "Kevin called and said, 'You gotta read this.' It's everything he said it was."

"The first call I got was Sydney Pollack," Spacey says. Pollack had been signed to direct but after becoming sick with cancer continued in the role of executive producer. "It was Sydney that kept me in. Even though he knew he was ill, he was sort of, 'I'm gonna be there, shepherd it.' " He made good on that promise.

The last shot of the movie shows the crucial Florida ballots in storage in Tallahassee. "They'd originally had a crawl over it, explaining stuff," Spacey says. "And Sydney was the one who called and said, 'Don't have anything over that shot. That shot was enough. You don't need that crawl. The audience will get it.' And for us, who loved him and admire him so much, the fact that Sydney lived till the morning after this aired? It's the last film he was a part of."

The two speak of their costars fondly. "Do you remember the day he first came, Tom Wilkinson?" Leary asks. "And you're there, Kevin, doing your guy . . . and Wilkinson's on and you look over and he's . . . James Baker."

"I literally watched the transformation happen," Spacey says of Wilkinson's performance in the role of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who was leading George W. Bush's Florida legal team.

"James Baker loved it; he threw us a screening in Houston," he says, adding that he sat right next to Baker for it. "He turned to me and said, 'I didn't say this, but I like it.' "

"That's a great response to the movie," Leary says, "instead of saying you made us look like [wimps]."

"I knew Ron Klain; I'd known him for years," Spacey says. "When I was spending time with the script and with Jay, there was a feeling that if I did less, if I just painted a kind of Everyman feeling, that this was a guy just trying to get the votes counted and not to do a lot of demonstrative . . . keep it minimal, then maybe that was the right way to go. . . . Remember that scene at the bar?"

"We did it so long we both started to go, 'How many ways can we do this?' " Leary says. "On the 20th version you were like, 'I don't have anything left!' "

"I stayed with Jay through the entire editing process," Spacey goes on. "The only time I had any comments about cutting . . . I was telling him to cut lines of dialogue."

"Your dialogue? We were all saying that!" Leary says.