Kevin Spacey has played friendly aliens, intrepid scientists, iron-willed negotiators, helpful teachers and Bobby Darin, but the Oscar winner is the opposite of Longfellow's little girl with the little curl -- when he's good he's very, very good, but when he's bad, he's better.
Spacey has embodied different varieties of evil in all of its guises, from sadists to Hollywood agents to grasshoppers. The actor's latest dark big screen turn is as Lex Luthor, the Man of Steel's money-hungry nemesis in "Superman Returns."
"It's a funny thing, because in any of the characters that I've played, going back to I'd even say 'Swimming with Sharks' -- which a lot of people looked at as a very dark, very kind of villainous character -- you just don't think of them that way, so to me they're just incredibly complex and interesting roles to play."
So the key to playing the bad guy, Spacey says, is to avoid playing the part as a Bad Guy.
"Like you'd be playing Iago in Othello, you're not thinking, 'Oh, I'm playing this villain, this evil character.' You're trying to play what each scene is about and what the character's trying to get," he explains. "I think that it's fun for an audience I think to be able to categorize. But as an actor I think you have to be quite careful about it, because otherwise you'll just be twisting your mustache. And I had no hair to twist."
It's true. As Superman's (Brandon Routh) arch nemesis, Spacey's dome is shiny and hairless, stripping him of every actor's favorite character crutch. Of course, Spacey, who isn't actually hirsute under normal circumstances, found other amusing aspects within the transformation.
"It's sort of weird, you can't stop touching your head," he laughs. "And then this other thing happens, it takes about a week to get used to, is that it's very hot. Because you know, when you put your hand on your head and you have hair, you don't feel it, but suddenly when you have no hair, it's like my head, am I sick? No, it's just the heat of my hand on my head."
Playing Luthor, a part played with definitive flair by fellow multiple Oscar winner Gene Hackman, Spacey is stepping into big shoes, but no bigger than when he performs Richard II with his Old Vic theatre company in London.
"I've seen countless productions of plays by different actors, and they're different by virtue of the fact that it's a different director, it's a different time, sometimes you see a modern production of the play," he relates. "So in my mind, in terms of these kind of parts, I feel the same way that I do about those kind of roles, which is that no single actor owns the part. We sort of rent it for a little while, and get a chance to explore it. And there's been great actors that have played Lex Luthor in the past, and obviously great actors have played Superman."
"Superman Returns" everywhere on Wednesday, June 28.