The Oscar winning actor still believes in Santa Claus...and The Ref

When most actors are faced with a film like Fred Claus, they usually take an automatic backseat to the special effects and tomfoolery going on around them. Not Kevin Spacey. Absent from the screen world since last year's Superman Returns, Spacey appears like a wild fire, using the opportunity to remind us that he's one of this generation's best actors.

In Fred Claus, Spacey plays what could have been a throwaway part. His Clyde comes to the North Pole to assess and analyze Santa Claus' gift-giving efficiency. He eventually has to fire Ol' Saint Nick due to budget constraints. And Spacey is loving every minute of it. He takes the role seriously, never once winking at the camera. It's a great performance, one that elevates this film into the realm of classic Holiday entertainment. Kevin gives the film a much-needed bit of authenticity. Fred Claus will surely occupy many television screens for many Christmases to come. It's a fun, family film that never loses its edge.

Last week, Kevin was gracious enough to grant me a few minutes for an interview. We chatted about his role in Fred Claus as well as the (slowly becoming a) classic holiday film The Ref. Here's our conversation:

Kevin Spacey: Hey, Paulington.

Hey, Kevin. How are you doing>

Kevin Spacey: I'm very well. Thank you.

The first thing I'll start with is: Do you have a certain type of fascination with destroying classic American pop iconography? First you go after Superman, and now you are out to get Santa Claus.

Kevin Spacey: Yeah, now I'm going after Santa. Its true. I don't really have a fascination with it. I just think it was so funny, this script. And plus there is the fact that it plays on the whole Superman thing. I just thought it was a lark, and lots of fun.

Did you have any qualms about doing the Superman scene? Did you ever think it might be too referential?

Kevin Spacey: Oh, God no! I think one ought to be able to make fun of one's self. As much as possible.

That's a great scene. Last night, it got the biggest laugh in the theater.

Kevin Spacey: Oh, did it really?

Yeah, everyone seemed to love that. So, what's up? Did you have your own beef with Santa Claus growing up?

Kevin Spacey: No, I didn't have a beef with Santa. Are you kidding? Santa was great to me.

Do you still believe in Santa a little bit?

Kevin Spacey: I think its great that people can still believe in things like Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. As adults, I will hear people asking questions all the time, "Do you think kids still believe? They are so cynical. They already have so much access to information, now. And they grow up so fast." Yeah, but you are not six. You are not eight years old. You don't know what kids believe. And what they don't believe. I think there is something quite lovely about being able to believe in something that is about family. And something that is about this spiritual feeling. It lets us know how we should be treating one another. It's not about material gifts. It's about the efforts. We always hope that feeling we get at Christmas will last longer into the year. That it won't last for just a couple of weeks.

The thing I found most fascinating about your performance is, any other actor might have come in and been lazy with the role. But you really destroyed it. I'm wondering what kind of mindset you had going into this?

Kevin Spacey: Look, the truth is, it's a wonder David Dobkin had a single take were I wasn't giggling. Because I find working with Paul Giamatti hilarious. And Vince hilarious. And it was very hard to keep a straight face during shooting. I always just try to put myself in the hands of the director. To me, it's always about the director's vision, and how far they want to go, and how broad they want it to be. How mean they want it to be, and how tough they want it to be. David was a great guiding hand through that whole process. I only really worked about sixteen days on it, because I was doing a play at the same time. I was awfully grateful that they came to London to do the movie, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to do it.

This film is going to be playing on TV screens every Christmas for the next twenty-five years. When you take on a role like this, are you aware that every December, you won't be able to turn on the television without seeing your own face?

Kevin Spacey: Um, no. Because I wouldn't watch it. But I did do a Christmas movie that gets played a lot at Christmas time now. It is called The Ref, and they originally released it in April. (Laughs)

I remember when it came out. I was going to ask you about that. In the last couple of years, The Ref has really started to get a huge following.

Kevin Spacey: Yeah, I know. Its funny. In a tiny way...I'm not making a comparison, so don't take it that way...But it's like It's a Wonderful Life. It was a failure at the box office. Because the rights situation on that movie went away, television started showing it in the 1970s, and that film has become a classic. Families watch it for twenty-four hours straight around Christmas time. Not just in America. But all over the world. Its one of the greatest movies ever. But, yet, when it came out it wasn't a success.

You say you don't want to make a comparison between those two movies, but The Ref is just as good as It's a Wonderful Life. And you could say the same thing about A Christmas Story. It was a flop when it came out, too.

Kevin Spacey: A Christmas Story was great. But, no, I wouldn't compare The Ref to either one of those films. Not personally. But it was a fun movie, and I had a great time doing it.

Why do you think Christmas movies seem to do that at the box office? A lot of them seem to be failures out of the gait, then they amass this huge following. The Nightmare Before Christmas was the same way.

Kevin Spacey: Uh-huh. There is no rhyme or reason why some movies make money and some don't. I made a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross, which is the film that I think will be around for a very, very long time. It's a film that people will study. Yet, it didn't make more than ten million dollars when it opened. Why? There is no rhyme or reason to it.

Where the Fred Claus sets all CGI or were they all practical sets?

Kevin Spacey: They were all practical. It was great. It was a bunch of fake snow, and elves running around. It was hilarious. I wasn't going to take it too seriously.

Now, you've directed in the past. Do you have any plans to direct in the future?

Kevin Spacey: I would love to. It's just the logistics of finding a year of your life where you can do it. It is about that long. At the moment I am in a full time position at the Old Vic theater in London as the artistic director. And I am running a film company in the United States that produces a large number of movies. I think I have an enormous amount on my plate at the moment. Until I sort of get through the process of building this theater company in England that is going to last, and produce some of the films that I am producing, I don't think that I will have the time to take on the assignment to direct. But I certainly will once the Old Vic is done.

Is the live theater work what has been keeping you away from being in more movies? I noticed you haven't been in too many lately.

Kevin Spacey: Yeah, I switched it up. After twelve years of making movie, after movie, after movie, and occasionally squeezing a play in, I decided that I was going to flip it around. I decided that I would do play, after, play, after play, and occasionally slip a movie in. So that is what I am doing now.

You narrated the documentary on Superman entitled Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman. That was a great documentary, and your narration made the piece what it was. Do you think you'll be doing any more voice over work in the future along those lines?

Kevin Spacey: Every now and then I am offered a chance to do more voice-over work. I did something about the genocide in Rwanda last year. I'm doing a voice in a documentary that I'm producing through my company. It's about Hackers. I will be doing that a little later in the month. So, yeah, every now and then I do them if I think they are interesting and challenging, and worth doing. It's always interesting to go into a studio and try to make something like that work. Especially if you are talking for a very long time.

Going back to Fred Claus, I heard that your character Clyde was named after the orangutan in Every Which Way But Loose. Is that true?

Kevin Spacey: If that is true, I have no knowledge of it. But that does make me laugh.

Have you seen those films?

Kevin Spacey: Yeah, you bet. (Laughs)

Do you have any news on the Superman front that you can let us in on?

Kevin Spacey: I actually have no news. I don't know anything more than anyone else does. To my knowledge, they intend on making another one. But I have no idea when. I am supposed to do the second one. If it happens, it happens. I have no idea what their plans are. I guess I will just have to wait and see.

They haven't said anything to you about Justice League of America?

Kevin Spacey: No.

Fred Claus opens this week, November 9th, 2007.