Despite attempting a yuletide log-off, I, like over 8 million other people, could not resist watching Kevin Spacey’s weird, meta video message that appeared the night before Christmas. It was the first peep from the disgraced actor and director in over a year since he vanished from public and professional life amid allegations of unwanted sexual advances and indecent assault – and was a jaw-dropping act of nerve, or hubristic entitlement.
He appears as Frank Underwood, the character he played in House of Cards before he was sacked and killed off by Netflix in late 2017. Wearing a Christmas apron, carving a turkey, he breaks the fourth wall, just like Frank often did, and speaks directly to camera, veering between Underwood-type lines and lines that seem to relate to Spacey’s own year of allegations, sackings and disappearing, playing on the fact the plotline imitated real life. As allegations mounted, he has been, effectively, killed off by Hollywood, hiding, according to reports, in the Cook Islands or the south of France.
“All this presumption made for such an unsatisfying ending, and to think it could have been such a memorable send-off,” he drawls, in the signature Underwood lilt, referring to his character’s ending. And then he seems to refer to his own predicament: “But you wouldn’t believe the worst without evidence, would you? You wouldn’t rush to judgment without facts, would you?” He refers to “all the animosity, the headlines, the impeachment without a trial”. (Spacey has yet to face trial for any allegations, which he denies.)
Certainly, the video raises more questions than it answers. Firstly, WTF? Did he sneak it out while his legal team and publicist were sinking their teeth into turkey and bread sauce, or supine in front of Home Alone 2? Is this a genuine attempt at a comeback by a man who may be innocent? Does he think he can out-act the allegations? Is this the work of a deluded narcissist mid-breakdown? Or is the video a DeepFake?
One thing is sure: there is an appetite to watch it. The video has millions of views and rising, with three times as many likes as dislikes, which, unless people are watching it repeatedly, is six million more viewers than House of Cards season five. Comments range from “refuse to watch this whole thing, dude is just straight creepy af, no one wants to see you anymore you disgusting p.o.s ” to “KEVIN SPACEY I WANT YOU BACK! THIS ACTING IS TOO GOOD TO NOT BE ON THE SCREEN! ” Journalists have described the video as evil, cringeworthy, menacing, malevolent, alarming and unhinged.
A relatively quieter Christmas week aside, the video has cut through because we are in unprecedented territory. I’ve hardly thought about Spacey this year, having given up on House of Cards during the last season he was in. But I did marvel at the fact a real king of film and theatre – winning Oscars in 1996 and 2006, running the Old Vic from 2004 to 2015 – could be toppled by allegations without a trial. I’ve briefly wondered, too, whether he could ever be rehabilitated.
If this video is an attempt at a comeback – and he slides on Frank’s signet ring at the end – I doubt it will work. First, we like a humble apology from our shamed celebrities. This scene deviates from the Hollywood script in which we’re more likely to forgive a person who holds their hands up and says they were wrong with penitence, hence why other actors publish apologies or head off with head bowed to seek treatment at addiction clinics (Spacey was spotted at Meadows, the rehab centre in Arizona, also attended by Harvey Weinstein). Instead, the speech smacks of entitlement. “We’re not done no matter what anyone says,” he snarls. “Well, of course they’re gonna say I’m being disrespectful not playing by the rules, like I ever played by anyone’s rules. But I never did and you loved it anyhow.” Yeesh! And there’s a heavy dollop of grandstanding in the video – “I know what you want. Him back, of course.” I just don’t think that’s going to cut it.
The arrogant and aggressive tone also picks up shades of some of the allegations made against him, which characterise him as a person who took without asking first – groping, shoving his hands down pants and touching genitals, unwanted massages, losing his temper when he didn’t get what he wanted, being “handsy” as the actor Guy Pearce called him. Although he has yet to stand in a court of law, it feels a bit too close to the accusations we’ve read about. “In retrospect, what disgusts me about Kevin was how safe he did feel,” Harry Dreyfuss, an alleged victim, has said. “He knew he could fondle me in a room with my father [the actor Richard Dreyfuss] and that I wouldn’t say a word.”
And we are in new territory. There has been a culture shift, the climate has changed and the court of public opinion is emboldened against allegations of sexual misconduct. New lines are being drawn about how people should treat others. The culture, disseminated mostly through social media, has pronounced Spacey guilty, while we have yet to hear from the courts. But we are still in a time of bloodletting and whether he is innocent, guilty of sexual assault, or guilty of being a handsy creep. Spacey is one of the kings who had to fall, a golden calf for all the powerful predators who’ve been allowed to take without consent. We are still at the reaction stage of #MeToo. But let’s not forget there is a difference between sex crimes and unwanted sexual advances or crude comments. And, while it is good that social norms are evolving, with institutions now taking sexual harm seriously, in varying levels, we must also remember due process and the presumption of innocence.
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Spacey’s apparent entitlement and need to be watched and loved mirrors our worship and deification of celebrities and Hollywood. We think we know actors, and devour magazines, videos and gossip that help us form a picture of their personal lives and morality. But to think we really do is as foolish as me forming a view on Spacey’s character after interviewing him for eight minutes at a film junket, at which I was met with the charmless, cold and rude character he rolls out to all journalists.
It is a fittingly weird end to a strange month of fake drones, the president ruining Christmas for a little girl, and the ongoing farce in Westminster, topping off a bizarre year of shifting norms and realities. On 7 January, Spacey is scheduled to appear at Nantucket District Court in Massachusetts on a charge of indecent assault and battery. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave his testimony in character as Frank Underwood.
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