Posts Tagged ‘Casino Jack’

Kevin Spacey Plays Lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack PEOPLE Thursday, January 27, 2011 By Richard Crouse

kevinspaceycasinojack2For Kevin Spacey the release of Casino Jack must be bittersweet. On one hand it is a return to form for the actor, who has received much praise, and a Golden Globe nomination, for his work playing disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

On the other hand his director, George Hickenlooper, who passed away suddenly last October, isn’t around to bask in the acclaim the film is earning. “That Casino Jack turns out to be his last, the pride I feel in it—in his direction, his ideas and the final results—has soared,” said Spacey in a prepared statement.

In an interview taped a month before the director’s untimely death Spacey discussed playing Abramoff, a one-time Washington high flyer later convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy.

“I chose not to start my research about him until after I met him,” the actor told me. “But then, after we met I began the process of looking at a great deal of the material that had been written prior to, during and after his trial and conviction, and it was like, ‘Wow, they really made him out to be the devil incarnate.’ But then you look at Abramoff and you go, ‘OK, so wait a minute. He wasn’t buying houses. He wasn’t buying helicopters. He wasn’t buying limousines. He wasn’t taking fabulous vacations with his family. What was he doing?’ He was giving money away to people who needed it. He was trying to build a Hebrew school. He wasn’t even paying his own mortgage. So wait a minute, the greediest man in Washington DC wasn’t spending any of the money on himself!

“So how do you play that because it is certainly not black and white? Did he consider himself to be the Orthodox Robin Hood? What is that all about? That’s where you hope an audience can lead themselves to their own conclusions.”

Spacey, as one of the film’s producers—“When you are a producer on a film you actually have a voice that can be listened to,” he says—was in a unique position to help mold not only his performance but also the structure of the film to help people get a fully rounded portrait of Abramoff.

“It was an interesting process of putting the film together because once we shot it and I looked at the first cut of it I remembered thinking, ‘Recount [his award winning 2008 account of the 2000 U.S. presidential election and the subsequent recounts in Florida] began with an event; a voter in a voting booth on Election Day, voting. But there is no event in this film and I remember saying to George, ‘I know this is going to sound crazy to you but I think the event is Jack Abramoff and we have to start with him. And there is a scene that’s playing an hour and forty minutes into the movie that I think we should start the film with.’

“And that is why the film starts the way it does. It gave you him at the moment just before he was about to be indicted. I felt like that has to move up because otherwise it will take us too long to have any grip on him. We had to start the movie with a scene that makes you say, ‘That guy! Wouldn’t mind watching a movie about that guy. He’s out of his mind doing a monologue into a mirror.’”

Spacey got close to the character so I ask if he would consider turning his take on Abramoff into a one man show at the Old Vic theatre in London where he is artistic director and frequently seen onstage.

“No… no… no,” laughs. “Generally, because I tend not to repeat myself and also, I don’t think it would play for our Old Vic audience.”


casino-jack-kevin-spacey-barry-pepper“Casino Jack” is a dark look at the American dream. Based on the true story of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s rise and fall, it recreates the heady days of DC’s greediest decade.

Director George Hickenlooper (who died last year at age 47) lays out a complicated story of how Abramoff peddled his influence on Capitol Hill in return for large cheques. The trouble really starts when he defrauds a Native American tribe out of millions of dollars that he then invests in a floating casino. Add to the mix a crooked mattress salesman (Jon Lovitz), a psychopathic gangster (the late, great Maury Chaykin), a kosher restaurant and a trophy wife or two and you get the essence of Abramoff’s strange tale.

The film begins with a bravura scene of Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) delivering a pep talk to the bathroom mirror that sets the tone for the rest of this fast talking film. The movie moves along like a rocket, propelled by Spacey’s performance. One quibble though, throughout the movie Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) stop the action dead time after time by quoting, verbatim, scenes from other movies, complete with vocal impressions and facial tics. It’s annoying in real life when people do that and it is a device that wears out its welcome VERY early on in the movie.

Apart from those missteps there are good performances all round, although this is Spacey’s movie. The only actor who comes close to pulling focus away from the two time Oscar winner is comedian Jon Lovitz, who has a showy and funny role as a devil-may-care sleaze bag.

Hickenlooper pitches the tone of the entire movie around Spacey’s tightly wound performance. The movie is as playful as the performance, which is sometimes at odds with the story. Abramoff was a narcissistic and nakedly greedy character, not qualities to be admired, but the movie seems to be a bit too impressed with him nonetheless. It’s true that he was a complicated guy who gave away much of the money he illicitly earned but despite his occasional good works he isn’t the loveable scamp the movie tries to present. For a different, and more accurate portrayal, of him check out Alex Gibney’s documentary “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”