Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Laredo Tribune. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Pretty in Pink, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Currently Known For:
1980s - Present
February 7, 1960
Pretty in Pink, Avengers: Age of Ultron
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“I’m a great fan of all things strange, eccentric and idiosyncratic. Things never get strange enough for me.” While James Spader made a name for himself playing loathsome characters in 80s movies like Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, he’s a pretty likable guy in real life according to his co-stars, including William Shatner. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have his share of idiosyncrasies. In fact, Rolling Stone once hailed him as “gloriously bizarre” and “the strangest man on television,” while Playboy declared, “Count on things to get exponentially more eccentric, intense and even more perverse whenever James Spader is on-screen.”
That Spader is a bit off-center is reflected in his vast body of work, which has included parts ranging from the titular character in the blockbuster The Avengers: Age of Ultron to quirky criminal mastermind Raymond “Red” Reddington on the hit show The Blacklist. Here’s a closer look at the intriguing career of this inimitable actor.
From High School Dropout to Hollywood Heartthrob
James Todd Spader was born on February 7, 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts. Both of his parents were teachers, and he had two older sisters. According to Spader, his home was a literal and progressive one filled with “dominant and influential women...that left a great impression.” The actor has also spoken fondly of his parents and upbringing. “Both of my parents are gone now, but in their passing I was able to see how lucky I was that they truly loved and cherished their children and did the absolute best they could,” he said in an interview.
Spader attended a series of elite private schools, including the Brooks School, where his father taught English. He later transferred to Phillips Academy, where he furthered the love of acting he’d developed in grammar and middle school. At 17, Spader ended up dropping out of the prestigious prep school to move to New York to pursue an acting career. He later said of the decision, “It always seems that if there are two paths, the one that looks bumpier is more interesting to me.”
Fame and fortune did not come immediately to Spader, who made ends meet with a diverse range of jobs including everything from driving a meat truck and loading railroad cars to bartending and shoveling horse manure. He’s also admitted to sleeping through the yoga classes he was supposed to be teaching.
In 1981, Spader landed his first feature film role in the movie, Endless Love; his first starring role followed four years with 1985’s Tuff Turf. it wasn’t until 1986, however, that the actor became a household name for his portrayal of sneering and sardonic playboy Steff in Pretty in Pink. Starring roles in Mannequin and Less Than Zero followed shortly after. Spader later said of the types of roles he initially got, “I didn’t really look like a character actor, yet those were the roles I loved to play. If you didn’t necessarily look like a character actor, you had to play bad guys.” He was reportedly so good in his audition for the detestable Steff that the film’s casting director did not want to hire him because he’d developed a “visceral dislike” for the aspiring actor, according to Rolling Stone.
The late 1980s were prolific ones for Spader, and included roles in Baby Boom; Wall Street; and Sex, Lies and Videotape. For his performance in the latter, Spader received the Cannes Film Festival’s "Best Actor" award.
The next decade was equally busy for Spader, who appeared in White Palace, Bad Influence, True Colors, The Music of Chance, Stargate, Crash, 2 Days in the Valley, and The Watcher. He also did a memorable guest-starring stint on Seinfeld in 1997.
Hitting His Stride at 40
When Spader hit his 40s, his career took an unlikely turn. Unlike many middle-aged actors who struggle to get parts, Spader started getting the kind of offers he’d dreamed of, including as sadomasochistic boss E. Edward Grey in the film Secretary. More than a decade later, he’d have yet another career-making moment playing the eponymous Ultron in Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron. This part has special meaning for him as it gave him the chance to work with his old friend Robert Downey Jr., with whom he'd made Tuff Turf and Less Than Zero. Of the experience Spader said, "To work with someone and feel the kind of safety that you can say anything to each other is such a gift. It has been a tremendous pleasure and absolute delight to be reunited with Robert on this film."
Spader is also a television star, and first played the character, Alan Shore, on The Practice. This led to the spin-off Boston Legal, which ran from 2004 from 2008. During these years, Spader won Emmy Awards for both shows, earning him a place on a very small list of actors who’ve won the prize for portraying the same character on two different series. He also won a Satellite Award for Best Actor for his work on Boston Legal. The recognition was even richer given that the odds were against his getting the part. Said writer-producer David E. Kelley of the pushback he encountered while trying to cast the actor, “I was told that no one would ever welcome James Spader into their living room. People will watch him in the movies, but they will never let him in their home.”
This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Spader went on to have a successful career in television, including in the role of the charmingly sleazy Robert California on the seventh and eight seasons of The Office, as well as on NBC’s hit, The Blacklist.
Spader has also revealed that he’s obsessive-compulsive, which may have helped him get ahead in his career -- if not with people. “I’m very particular. I rely on a certain routine. It’s very hard for me, you know? It makes you very addictive in behavior, because routine and ritual become entrenched. But in work, it manifests in obsessive attention to detail, and fixation. It serves my work very well: Things don’t slip by. But I’m not very easygoing.”
Still, Spader is beloved -- by his fans as well as his peers. Said William Shatner of his former costar, “He has all his idiosyncrasies. I really love him. And when you love someone, that’s part of why you love them.”
In addition to acting in television and movies, Spader appeared on Broadway in the David Mamet play, Race. His signature silky-smooth voice has also been heard in Acura commercials.
Many words have been used to describe James Spader throughout his extensive career. "Boring" is not one of them, and this suits him fine. “I like the saying ‘May you live in interesting times,’ because I think things are great when we accept chaos in life,” he’s said. “That goes against my being obsessive-compulsive and ritualistic, but I don’t mind adversity. The fight is okay. My life is wonderful. It’s a grand time, you know?”