Specs, fame and satisfaction

James Spader calmly challenges the “mystery man” image he’s had among film audiences since playing a sexually troubled youth in “Sex, Lies and Videotape” more than 13 years ago, and he does it with the simplest, facts-of-life arguments.

His choice of roles, he explains, has never been determined by a need to “manage” his career or build himself up as a particular “type”, but rather by how a certain project fits into the rest of his life — sometimes it’s “my being out of money”, sometimes it’s “my children being out of school”. So he would “take whatever I can find at that time” and “try to make the best of it”.

“Every few years I do a film I’m really excited about, and the rest of the time I’m finding a way to make a living, still doing something that interests me,” he says in a characteristically soft manner. “I’m able to do that, and it works out great for me. I like making films, but I’m not going to connect my entire life to it”…

Working for Uncle Sam

Rob Lowe’s comeback story is of a peculiar kind. For his audience, seeing one of 1980s-Hollywood’s highest-profile heartthrobs in a serious, political role, in an award-winning TV drama series about life behind the scenes at the White House, has provoked a reaction just short of shock. But for the 37-year-old actor and ex-Brat Pack member, whose career had slipped over the past decade, playing deputy communications director Sam Seaborn in “The West Wing” is a logical turn that shows “everything I can bring to a part”.

“It taps more into my abilities as an actor than any other part I’ve done,” says Lowe, whose looks typecast him as the invariable romantic youth from the start of his career. “This is a role on which my physicality has no bearing whatsoever. Sam could have been played by anyone. The hallmarks of this character aren’t physical but verbal and cerebral”…

Wherever I lay my hat

Robert Altman spent three decades after his first hit film, the 1970 war satire “M*A*S*H”, telling the US what was wrong with it. Whether it was the unlikely mixture of country music and politics in “Nashville”, the scathing view of Hollywood in “The Player” or the suburban epic “Short Cuts”, American audiences reluctantly recognised the merits of Altman’s films but rarely gave him wholehearted approval at the box office.

Europeans loved the maverick director’s take on just about all things American, partly because his shrewd observations reflected their own perceptions of the superpower’s arrogance and greed. In fact, Altman’s name today stands next to Bergman’s, Fellini’s and Truffaut’s much more naturally than beside Coppola’s, Scorsese’s or Spielberg’s…