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Can't please everybody 

Spacey distances himself further from cynical roles

Is it Kevin Spacey's fault that he's so good at playing smarmy, wise-cracking cynics? After winning a pair of Oscars for two such roles (1995's The Usual Suspects and 1999's American Beauty), who could really blame the 42-year-old actor for wanting to expand his repertoire by getting in touch with his more sensitive side? A lot of film critics could, that's who. In such recent films as Pay It Forward and K-Pax, Spacey has taken a lot of heat for getting all soft and mushy in his career choices.

And so it might go in The Shipping News, director Lasse Hallstrom's film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx. Spacey plays the put-upon Quoyle, an undisputed loser in life and love, who discovers a belated sense of self when he returns to his native Newfoundland and takes a job at a small local newspaper. Julianne Moore, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett co-star as the various women in his life.

Creative Loafing: Some critics have complained that you seem to be taking a more touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy approach in your recent movies Pay It Forward and K-Pax. Is that a valid criticism?

Kevin Spacey: Well, I can't comment on what other people's opinions of a specific film may or may not be. Obviously, there's a delineation to be made between why you do a movie and what a movie ultimately ends up being. I mean, you don't walk into a project thinking, "You know, I'd really like to make a bit of sentimental hogwash, some totally unrealistic weepie." You walk in thinking, "This is a really good idea," and it's challenging specifically because it is filled with certain traps and cliches, and you want to do everything you can to avoid them. What I find interesting about that is, some critics seem to be more interested in reviewing your whole career as opposed to simply reviewing a particular film, in which case maybe they should write a book instead.

So it has been a conscientious effort on your part, then?

Sure. Listen, I've had a great run playing a lot of very dark and complex characters. After a certain point, though, then some of those same critics would probably be complaining about how I'm always doing the same things. On one level, you accept that as the nature of the beast, the premise that some people only want you the way they discovered you. They don't want you going anywhere else. They just want you to show up and keep doing the same thing, because that's what they've always liked about you in the first place. I'm just trying to slowly shift myself in some new and different directions. I can't imagine that anyone would accuse me of playing an edgy, quick-witted, cynical character in The Shipping News.

Was that the primary appeal of the role?

I just feel there are probably a lot more Quoyles in the world than there are those snappy, ironic characters I've done. Like most of us, this guy's just trying to get through the day, you know? For the first time in his life, he isn't actually trying to accomplish much of anything, so naturally that's when he suddenly starts seeing himself fitting into the world as he never had before. There was no hidden agenda or driving ambition to him, so what was wonderful and challenging was figuring out how to make such a reactive character active for the purposes of telling his story on screen.

In the novel, he's pudgy if not downright obese, and he has an almost grotesquely pronounced chin. Was there ever any discussion about using prosthetics?

The book is extraordinary in terms of describing these characters. I think Quoyle is described as looking something like a walrus. I suppose we could've gone with some kind of prosthetic chin, and if I'd had the time maybe I could have gained an extra hundred pounds or whatever. Look, you're never going to fully satisfy the imagination of every one of the book's fans. For another thing, there are certain concessions you have to make in terms of making the story accessible to a movie audience. It's like, OK, let's not forget that the book sold about a million copies, but also keep in mind that even if every single one of those readers bought a movie ticket on opening weekend, well, that wouldn't be a very overwhelming opening unto itself. It's all about striking a balance.

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