Don’t think this is the end of Kevin Spacey – if history teaches us anything, it’s that Hollywood forgives
It’s an audacious stunt. Less than a month before the premiere of a major awards contender the director announces he’s editing out one of the film’s key scenes and replacing the actor with someone else. Can it even be done?
Well, if anyone can do it, it’s Ridley Scott, 79, who once cobbled together a Best Picture winner in Gladiator despite the death halfway through the shoot of Oliver Reed, a crucial foil to Russell Crowe’s title character. The decision to bin Kevin Spacey from the J Paul Getty thriller All the Money in the World and replace him with Christopher Plummer is Scott’s most cunning move yet. (Not least as reportedly Scott had wanted Plummer from the beginning but was told by the studio that he wasn’t a bankable star.)
In an age where it is almost impossible to separate the art from the artist, the backlash against the film was inevitable given the allegations against Spacey. Enough to tank it? Perhaps not, but the prospect of making a splash on the awards circuit would have been remote – and even post-Weinstein, studios remain brutally fixated on the economic value of Oscar recognition to market middlebrow drama. Now, there is also huge curiosity factor – how can you switch performances and not see the stitching? Scott’s film about a largely forgotten moment in Seventies history comes with more anticipation than his Alien prequel earlier this year.
In a way it all began with Netflix’s decision last week to bin the current series of House of Cards which is part-way through production. At the time, some criticised the move as rash; indicative of a new player in the entertainment space desperate to please and too fragile to see out the storm around its headline star. But Netflix seems to have set the standard for dealing with Spacey – and is perhaps setting a precedent for how the industry will navigate any future issues arising from other stars with dark pasts. And be sure of it, more big names will be outed.
What of Kevin Spacey? He has vanished in more ways than one. This is the right move. Given what we know now he brought this on himself and has no one else to blame. The stories of the alleged victims are disturbing – painting an image of someone who used power and maturity to prey on younger men. Given his mealy-mouthed apology, with the brazenly irrelevant announcement regarding his sexuality, it is no surprise that he has only stoked the fires of public indignation. And in the court of the public – otherwise known as social media – you are guilty until proven innocent.
It is interesting to note that unlike Weinstein we haven’t seen a succession of luminaries from film and theatre coming out to condemn his behaviour. Those who have spoken out, like Anthony Rapp, are industry outsiders. Hollywood, and for that matter the West End, are still in shock, biding their time to see what else emerges.
But the possibility for forgiveness remains. Spacey needs to demonstrate that he deserves this. For now, his silence is correct. If further serious allegations come to light he will be finished. But assuming we have heard the worst of it (as we know, assumption can be dangerous) Spacey ought to let events take their course – any attempt to speak out now would look defensive.
Give it six months and he will surface for a heart-to-heart – the right interviewer, the right title. Many would like to hear what he has to say. Should a reformed Spacey be deemed credible, it could be as little as two years down the line that the actor could be winning plaudits for a supporting role in an off-Broadway production or Sundance hit. The redemption of the likes of Mel Gibson – from antisemitic drunk to Oscar-winning Hacksaw Ridge – shows that it can be done. Roman Polanski, admittedly from a different era, still has his admirers in Hollywood despite a historic rape conviction.
If anything is to be learnt from Spacey’s humbling though, it is that no one is irreplaceable, especially if Ridley Scott is at the helm.
Mark Borkowski is a PR expert and author of ‘The Fame Formula: How Hollywood’s fixers shaped the celebrity industry’