BEYOND THE SEA directed by Kevin Spacey, written by Spacey and Lewis Colick, produced by Spacey, Andy Paterson and Jan Fantl, with Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn and Greta Scacchi. 113 minutes. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (January 14). For venues and times, see Movie listings. Rating: NNN
Kevin Spacey is on the phone from Chicago, and just by his voice you know he's wearing a good suit. The man broadcasts confidence.
To support the release of his Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond The Sea, he's launched a live tour singing Darin's songs, and he's loving it.
"There's nothing between me and the audience but a microphone," he crows. Compared to acting, "there is something incredibly liberating about music. I feel more myself than I've ever felt before."
Each word comes wrapped in a velvet envelope of diction and phrasing. Listening to Spacey is like being handed one new box of cufflinks after another.
If it's surprising to learn that Spacey is belting out Splish Splash and Dream Lover at club gigs all over America, it may help to know that he's been performing in musicals since he was 13.
He says that to direct the candy-coloured song-and-dance numbers in Beyond The Sea, he went back to the great MGM musicals.
"I just love those things. I grew up admiring those incredible production numbers."
Beyond The Sea marks a bold choice for Spacey, "bold" meaning possibly reckless. Not only does he star in and direct the film, but he also co-wrote and co-produced. There's only one ass on the line, and even if it's sheathed in Savile Row, it can still get kicked.
But Spacey took on the project with the confidence of a man who's had his choices rewarded time after time.
Playing Verbal Kint as a pushy dweeb through most of The Usual Suspects put an Oscar on the shelf. Portraying a lurid, midlife flame-out in American Beauty added a second trophy. He went uncredited in Seven, which just made his killer cooler.
But after burning through the 90s, Spacey made a lateral shock move, taking up a position as artistic director at London's historic Old Vic theatre. Last month he staged a traditional English pantomime starring Ian McKellen.
Now he's singing in Vegas and directing himself in his own personal Bobby Darin movie. Not surprisingly, he's already been accused of vanity.
"It's an easy shot to take," he says coolly.
"What they're not writing is that I spent three and a half years trying to find a director, because I never intended to direct it. But with my looming responsibilities at the Vic, I had to make the movie this year."
And, he insists, "this movie was the most collaborative experience I've ever had."
Still, it's clear the criticism hurts. "I don't know what people have a problem with," he complains, "when someone has a passion and a drive and sees it through to success."
You can't question Spacey's passion for Darin and his music.
"He was probably one of the most diverse talents we've ever had," he says. "He was an actor, he danced, he played the drums, the vibes, the harmonica and the piano. He was one of the last all-round entertainers."
Darin's mistake, Spacey suggests, was to hang around, alive, for so many years.
"If he'd died at his peak after Mack The Knife, I think he'd be James Dean."
Instead, Darin took turns playing the teen idol, the Vegas swinger and the earnest folk artist. And he didn't simply evolve from one persona to the other. He tried them all on. In 1967, he recorded the then-dangerous Mick Jagger- Keith Richards song Back Street Girl. That same year, he released Bobby Darin Sings Doctor Doolittle. Four years later, he signed with Motown.
As a vessel for Spacey's own mercurial ambitions, he must have been irresistible.
"He was Walden Robert Cassotto, who spent half his life trying to become Bobby Darin," Spacey says, "and then Bobby Darin spent years trying to get back to Walden Robert Cassotto.
"Bobby got to a place where he began to question what success meant."
Spacey has begun to define success for himself.
"The theatre's always been my primary allegiance," he says. The Old Vic and the nightclub tour might mean as much to him as his next movie.
In the end, Spacey will always be the sum of what comes out of his mouth. It's verbal ability that defines his most memorable characters – not just Verbal Kint, but Buddy Ackerman in Swimming With Sharks and his roles in The Negotiator, Seven and even K-Pax.
"It comes out of my experience with good writing in the theatre," he says, but it's more than that. It's the skill of a man with a need to persuade.
It's the dazzle of a born salesman.
BEYOND THE SEA (Kevin Spacey) Rating: NNN
This biopic offers the strange, tingly spectacle of Kevin Spacey channelling the spirit of 60s pop sensation Bobby Darin. Belting out Splish Splash, Mack The Knife and the glossy title track, Spacey is at his Vegas best. For those who remember Darin, this is a noteperfect impression.
But since Darin didn't actually cure cancer, Spacey's pedestal looks a bit tall. He ain't Sinatra and he ain't Ray. Also, the film is designed as a deconstructed biography, in which the adult Darin competes to tell the story with himself as a little boy. It's an awkward, maudlin strategy that strips some of the gleam from Spacey's performance.