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Amber Waves to Fame: A Salute to Spader

February 25, 2014

The male actors of my generation, the actors who played teenagers when I was one, were a broody bunch of brunette boys: Matt Dillon, Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, Jason Patrick and Tom Cruise, to name a few. But, then there was the blonde outsider, James Spader. In his youth, Spader was rarely cast as the lead. He often played the best friend or the nemesis of the protagonist. And while his golden locks and chiseled features qualified him as a bona-fide movie star, his appearance seemed to “pale” in comparison to those of his darker co-stars.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t think much of James Spader. If anything, he was the annoying stuck up guy who reminded me of the conceited fraternity boys I was growing up with; so I wrote him off, not realizing that he was a sensitive genius ACTING like an asshole.

Then came Sex, Lies and Videotape, a film where Spader, the angst-ridden teenager, became James Spader, the artist. Film director Steven Soderbergh gave the actor the opportunity to reveal his complexity, vulnerability, intelligence, ability to be still and also deliciously sensual. From that point on, James Spader didn’t stop surprising his audiences with the risks he took, the choices he made and characters he portrayed.

I think the biggest surprise for me is his command of the English language. As the articulate and sardonic lawyer on The Practice and Boston Legal, Spader memorized and delivered page upon page of difficult dialogue and seemed to make it look easy. I don’t think his brunette counterparts could do the same, with the exception of Rob Lowe who was impressive on The West Wing.

In the end, if I had to pick the best actor of my generation, it would be James Spader. Of the bunch, I think he is the most versatile. He has demonstrated longevity and flexibility, working in both film and TV. And he has been willing to grow older and heftier in the public eye while maintaining his integrity and more importantly, his sense of humor.

James Spader is a stable guy too. Like most Americans, he is on his second marriage, devoted to his kids, likes to drink wine and loves his parents. To my knowledge he has never been a part of a sex scandal, been arrested or needed rehab. He is not a member of a cult, and he doesn’t jump up and down on couches during interviews.

I think he’s a pretty swell guy (and a great actor).

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