TORONTO – Bobby Darin (search) wanted it all and pretty much got it: Pop music stardom, success as a folk singer, a reputation as one of the great stage showmen, acclaim as a movie actor.
He's even going on tour with a 19-piece big band to promote the film, crooning tunes from Darin's eclectic repertoire, which includes "Splish-Splash," "Mack the Knife," "Dream Lover," "If I Were a Carpenter" and the movie's title track.
Multitasking to that extent is a risk for any actor. For Spacey, the gamble is even greater, coming at a career downturn in which his big-screen bankability has waned.
Since winning his second Academy Award for 1999's "American Beauty," Spacey, 45, has starred in four straight studio flicks that proved to be critical and commercial duds — "Pay It Forward," "K-PAX," "The Shipping News" and "The Life of David Gale."
"The studio films I've done, I was an actor for hire, so the responsibility of being the storyteller wasn't mine," Spacey said in an interview at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where "Beyond the Sea" premiered. "And in this case it is, so if this film works, it's because of the vast talents of a great number of people, and if it doesn't, there's nobody to blame but me. And I accept that going in. My eyes are wide open."
Early reaction to the film has been lukewarm, though Spacey earned praise for his warm, energetic performance and spirited vocals.
Spacey had performed in musicals from his early teens into his 20s, but good singing roles had since eluded him. He chose to sing himself because he's generally not a fan of lip-synched performances, and relying on his own voice allowed him to expand on the music without being tied to Darin's original vocal tracks.
"This wasn't about an actor's ego, wanting to get my rocks off by singing in a movie. This was about trying to do something that would honor him as an entertainer," Spacey said. "This is all about Bobby. It's about trying to reintroduce people to his catalog and hoping that this film will ignite a kind of recognition of his body of work that's just been denied too long."
"Beyond the Sea" traces Darin's cloistered childhood, when he was afflicted with rheumatic fever, through his varied recording and acting career, which culminated in an Academy Award nomination for his role in 1963's "Captain Newman, M.D."
A Darin devotee since his teens, Spacey dreamed of making "Beyond the Sea" for 12 years. Studios were unwilling to finance a film about a comparatively forgotten singer who died in 1973 at 37 after open-heart surgery.
"Every door slammed in my face," said Spacey, who eventually found overseas financing. "Politely, but every door slammed in my face."
Darin's family also had objections, first, to the film itself, second, to the thought that anyone's voice but Darin's would be used for the soundtrack. Spacey gradually won over Darin's reluctant loved ones, including manager and pal Steve Blauner, played by John Goodman, and son Dodd from his marriage to teen idol Sandra Dee, played by Kate Bosworth.
The film also co-stars Brenda Blethyn as Darin's mother, Caroline Aaron as his sister and Bob Hoskins as his brother-in-law. Hoskins recalls his initial skepticism when he met with Spacey over dinner to discuss the film.
"He said, `I'm going to direct it, I'm going to act in it, and I'm going to sing the songs, and I'm doing the dancing.' `Yeah, you are, are you?'" Hoskins said. "And he said, `Really, I am.' Well, I thought, if anybody's going to stick their neck out that far, I'm going with them."
Spacey has stuck his neck out before. After a successful early career on stage, Spacey broke into movies but found himself typecast as sleazes or outright monsters, including the serial killer of "Seven" and a motor-mouthed low-life in "The Usual Suspects," for which he won the supporting-actor Oscar.
Consciously trying to reinvent himself, Spacey bulled his way to more varied roles with "L.A. Confidential," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," "The Negotiator" and "American Beauty," for which he won the best-actor Oscar as an acerbically funny husband in a midlife crisis.
Though his movies since have flopped, Spacey cannot be accused of going for safe roles. In "Pay It Forward," he played a lonely teacher scarred physically and emotionally by childhood burns. In "K-PAX," he was a psychiatric patient who may or may not have been what he claimed to be: An alien from a distant world. "The Shipping News" cast Spacey as a taciturn, meandering loser awakened from his passivity by a new life in his ancestral home.
"He's such a chameleon," said "Beyond the Sea" co-star Bosworth. "He can go from one role to the next and the next and the next, from playing a frustrated husband to an alien. That's a pretty big range."
Spacey filmed a supporting role in the upcoming cop drama "Edison," with Justin Timberlake and Morgan Freeman. He also continues overseeing his production company, Trigger Street, which produced such smaller films featuring Spacey as "The Big Kahuna," "The United States of Leland" and "Ordinary Decent Criminal."
For the foreseeable future, though, Spacey plans to stick largely to the stage.
"I'm going to be a theater rat for a while," Spacey said. "I'll probably do less movies than plays for the next five, six, seven, eight years."
Spacey took over this year as artistic director of London's Old Vic theater and plans to star in two plays there in 2005: Dennis McIntyre's "National Anthems" and "The Philadelphia Story," the basis for the classic film comedy starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart. Spacey will play Grant's role as a conniving ex-husband.
He got off to a rough start at the Old Vic, where critics trashed his first production this fall, the Dutch drama "Cloaca," which Spacey directed.
Spacey shrugs off his artistic misfires, including his recent string of film flops, saying he wants to keep his career focus on the long haul.
"There were a lot of years when people were really crapping on Paul Simon. Whatever happened to Paul Simon? He used to be good," Spacey said. "Then `Graceland' came out, and everybody was in love with Paul Simon again.
"We live in a very temporal attitude about whether somebody's hot, or in or out, or whether their movies make money or don't. And that's not where my focus is. My focus is on the journey. And at the end of the journey, over a reasonable period of time and a body of work, that's when somebody should be judged."