They all love how he makes them nervous

In his latest role, naughty Spader's so nice to watch


October 10, 2004|By Maria Elena Fernandez | Maria Elena Fernandez,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - The day before James Spader won an Emmy for his portrayal of Alan Shore, the morally dubious lawyer on The Practice, the actor was at the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at the University of California, Los Angeles, admiring the statues - especially the female forms.

"Look at the beautiful curve of her back, right at the base of her spine," he said, noticing a dancer at the top of Robert Graham's Dance Columns. "It's the most perfect curve in nature."

James Spader, network TV star: To anyone familiar with the 44-year-old actor and his work, it sounds almost absurd. With the outre air of highbrow naughtiness and deep but slightly distracted intelligence he's been known for since his 1989 big-screen breakthrough in sex, lies, and videotape, Spader could hardly have cooked up a more improbable career move. And yet on Boston Legal, the new David E. Kelley show spun off from The Practice, TV viewers will get a weekly taste of the actor who has specialized in finding an endearing human side to wealthy school bullies, creepy cocaine dealers and sensuous sadomasochists.

Making people nervous is a Spader trademark.

"When we first went to the network about James, they shrieked in horror," Kelley said. "James Spader is not a network face. ... But once we began to focus on him, he was the only choice. What James does so well is there's a nucleus to this character that is humane and decent. He manages to let that nucleus shine through even when he's committing egregious, contemptible acts. You don't know if you like him or not, but you can't wait to see him next."

Yet for all the unpredictability that comes across on screen, Spader's Boston Legal co-stars described him as meticulous, exact and particular on set.

"He's always looking for the truth of the moment, and he gets fidgety when it's not there," said William Shatner, who won a guest-actor Emmy for his portrayal of Crane on The Practice. "He becomes as recalcitrant as a donkey until he can find the right way to deliver a line. He never says a word that doesn't seem to come from the organic character. That's because James himself is a little weird. But we love him for it."

Confronted with the praise of his colleagues, Spader took a deep breath and looked skeptical. "Maybe this thing they are describing is just obsessive-compulsive. It just seems to be what the job is, to just try and get the right intention of whatever ... you're saying. Who is to say if whether what you end up tumbling toward is the right place when you're standing on your feet in the middle of it?"

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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