Sunday, 3 June 2018

How I Learnt to Hate Kevin Spacey

I have seen Kevin Spacey acting on stage, he wasn’t just a good actor but he also had an amazing stage presence, his performance could dominate the whole of the Old Vic stage, and that is no mean feat because the Old Vic is a huge theatre and many actors have got lost on its stage. As the Artist Director of the Old Vic he turned the theatre around and they have produced some excellent theatre under his leadership, they have also expended the Old Vic out into their local community, lifting it up from just a middle-class destination on the South Bank.

Spacey was also a great screen actor, he has turned in some breathtakingly good performances, he rightfully won his Oscars, the Netflix series House of Cards was must-see viewing in our house and Spacey’s performance in the lead was one of the big reasons.

Then, on 30th October 2017, Buzzfeed published an interview with the actor Anthony Rapp (1). When he was fourteen, Anthony Rapp was working as an actor on Broadway, and he attended a party at Kevin Spacey’s home. At the end of the party, when everyone else went home, Spacey cornered him in the bedroom, climbed on top of him on the bed and tried to made sexual advances towards him.

For a brief moment I thought, “What?… No?...” But Anthony Rapp is also an actor I respect, years ago I saw him in Rent, when the Broadway production came over to the Westend, and he made a difficult character memorable. He has also been an actor open about being gay when at the time actors were told it was career suicide to be out, so I believed him.

At first I thought it was a one-off, Spacey had been much younger and a drinker then. But shortly after Anthony Rapp’s allegations other men came forward with very similar stories to tell (2, 3). Soon it seemed that Spacey is a sex-pest and a serial groper, and it didn’t seem to matter if the man was interested in Spacey or not, Spacey seemed to act as if he was entitled to do it.

Spacey didn’t give any media interviews following this, he went to ground (4). He did take to social media to issue his “apology” (5). This way he could control what information came out, but what he said was very tight lipped and hollow-sounding. It ended with him assuring us that everything is all right now because “I choose to live as a gay man” (5). He brushed off the allegations by finally coming out, as if that would make everything all right. As if coming out was all he had to do to be “forgiven” his actions. All his career he had denied being gay, held his closet door tightly closed, and only when faced with an avalanche of abuses claims did he finally come out. He tried to turn being open and honest about himself into an accuse for bad behaviour.

The evidence that has tumbled out since Anthony Rapp’s allegations is that Spacey is a sexual predator, forcing himself on any man he fancied, but why did he need to do this? Spacey has repeatedly said in the past that he valued his privacy but that doesn’t excuse any of his behaviour. Spacey is successful, rich, handsome and charming; he would have had a long line of breathless young men throwing themselves at his feet. There was no need for his behaviour.

What else is sickening about this mess is that people must have known what was happening and either turned a blind eye or actually helped cover it up. The Old Vic enquiry into Spacey’s activities has found twenty different men complaining that Spacey assaulted them, most of them staff at the Old Vic when the assaults happened (6). Spacey was Artistic Director there for nine years (6) and this asks the question, who knew what he was up to? The enquiry says there wasn’t “widespread knowledge” (6) of Spacey’s activities, but it didn’t say no one knew. Some people at the Old Vic must have known and therefore kept silent or even covered-up for him.

As all the other allegations poured out (7) all I kept thinking was that people must have known. Spacey didn’t seem to be subtle or discreet in his behaviour so other people must have known, and yet they turned a blind eye or even worse they covered up for him. Spacey has been behaving like this for a very long time, Anthony Rapp’s allegations stem from 1986 (1), and yet no one even thought to stop Spacey until 2017. That is a lot of bad behaviour ignored and even covered up, and all because Spacey was “famous”. Is fame so important to us that we will ignore sexual abuse? I cannot forgive Spacey his actions, but I am also repulsed by all those people who covered up for him, either by deliberately hiding Spacey’s actions or just ignoring what he did.

Spacey has finally been punished for his behaviour, his career is dead. He has been sacked from House of Cards (8) and his last film performance has been erased, he was digitally replaced by Christopher Plummer in the film All The Money In The World (9). But what about the people who protected him, the people who covered up his behaviour because he was “a star”? We have not heard of any studio officials, any personal managers, publicists, or any personal assistants losing their jobs for covering up for a star? I certainly haven’t.

The #MeToo movement has been a very positive movement, it has exposed the gross sexual abuses of powerful people, abuses that have gone on for far too long, powerful people treating sexual assault as a perk of power, but I question how far it can change behaviour. Harvey Weinstein, whose abuses of his power seemed almost industrial, is now facing changes of rape and sexual abuse (10), but he is facing those charges alone. At present, no one else has been charged with him. He didn’t cover up his activities all by himself, other people covered up for him, other people turned a blind eye to what he did, other people knew about his behaviour and still carried on working with him, where are they now? Some of the abusers have been exposed but not the system that enabled them to abuse and stay in power. We still need a change of culture and that is a much bigger ask than just exposing some abusers, we need to continue to demand uncomfortable answers from the industries and institutions that covered up for these abusers, and that is a much longer journey. I hope people have the stamina for it.

We are already seeing a backlash in Hollywood to the activities of Spacey, Weinstein and their like, we are seeing the re-emergence of moral clauses in contracts (11). Clauses that say an actor will be in breach of their contact, facing being sacked, if they are found committing certain sexual “sins” or activities. This it is feared will force LGBT actors and artists back into the closet to get work, or else they will fall foul of a morals clause, just when we were seeing actors being able to come out as LGBT and it not being the death of their career. The actions of Kevin Spacey, an actor who spent most of his career firmly in the closet, will be helping drive another generation of actors back into the closet.

How I learnt to hate Kevin Spacey, let me count the ways…

Drew Payne

P.S. I started this blog back in January but due to illness and work it has taken me a lot longer to finish than I planned.

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