Mena Suvari says filming American Beauty was ‘respite’ from her abusive relationship

Mena Suvari has said that filming the movie American Beauty provided “respite” from the highly abusive relationship she was in at the time.

In the 1999 movie directed by Sam Mendes, Suvari plays Angela, the 17-year-old friend of Kevin Spacey’s daughter who becomes the object of his desire.

In a new interview with The Guardian, in which she touched on themes addressed in her 2021 memoir, Suvari said she “identified with Angela”.

“I knew how to play that role, because I was so schooled in it. ‘Oh, you want me to be sexually attractive?’ Done,” she said. “I felt unavailable in a million other ways, but I knew how to play that card.”

She said on set, she felt “adored”, but would then go home to “the worst relationship of my life, where I was being extremely abused”.

“It was very dark for me at that time, [and the film] felt like a respite, because I could go to work and be important there,” she said. “I wasn’t called a ‘retard’ and an ‘idiot’.”

The interview noted that American Beauty has not aged well due its central theme of an older man lusting after an underage woman and the parallels it draws with Spacey’s ongoing controversies. The actor recently pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges dating back 17 years.

“I feel really sad because of what happened with Kevin had sort of left its mark on it,” the film’s writer Alan Ball told The Independent in 2020. “Especially since the character he played in the movie is somebody who’s lusting after a 17-year-old girl.”

Kevin Spacey and Mena Suvari in ‘American Beauty’ (Lorey Sebastian/Dreamworks/Kobal/Shutterstock)
Kevin Spacey and Mena Suvari in ‘American Beauty’ (Lorey Sebastian/Dreamworks/Kobal/Shutterstock)

In her memoir, Suvari recalled her an unsettling interaction with Spacey while they were filming American Beauty together.

“Between set-ups, Kevin took me into a small room with a bed and we laid next to each other, me facing towards him while he held me lightly,” she wrote.

“I wondered if he had discussed this with Sam [Mendes] or if it was something he premeditated as a way to prepare both of us for the intimacy we needed to share or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea. Whatever it was, it worked.

“Lying there with Kevin was strange and eerie but also calm and peaceful, and as for his gentle caresses, I was so used to being open and eager for affection that it felt good to just be touched.”

The actor continued by saying that she “immediately” thought Spacey “was interested” in her, stating: “I didn’t know how far he was going to take it or how I was going to react if he did go there. But he didn’t. We just lay there, getting close and comfortable.”

Kevin Spacey outside the Old Bailey in London (PA)
Kevin Spacey outside the Old Bailey in London (PA)

Spacey appeared at the Old Bailey in London earlier this month to deny five allegations relating to three men, who are now in their 30s and 40s.

The double Oscar-winner was listed under his full name of Kevin Spacey Fowler and appeared in person, having been granted unconditional bail.

He denied four charges of sexual assault and one count of causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent.

The alleged offences are said to have taken place in London and Gloucestershire between 2005 and 2013.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247, or visit their website here.