Sharon Stone and Liam Neeson's support for Kevin Spacey may not erase 'creepy' film persona

Martha Ross, The Mercury News on

Published in Entertainment News

Kevin Spacey became a cause célèbre of stars like Sharon Stone and Liam Neeson this week, who went public with their belief that the embattled, “canceled” Oscar winner was the victim of a #MeToo-era witch hunt and should be allowed to resume his Hollywood career.

But their arguments and pushback against a new U.K. documentary, which contains fresh sexual assault allegations against Spacey, may only go so far in making the actor palatable again to the public. Among Spacey’s challenges, according to PR experts and people in the film industry, is that he built his career on playing “creepy,” “sleazy,” or “sinister” characters onscreen, including his Academy Award-winning role in “American Beauty.”

Stone, though, has a very different take on Spacey’s image and talent. In an interview with The Telegraph this week, the “Basic Instinct” star said: “I can’t wait to see Kevin back at work. He is a genius. He is so elegant and fun, generous to a fault and knows more about our craft than most of us ever will.”

Neeson also expressed dismay about the new Channel 4 documentary, “Spacey Unmasked,” which is streaming on Max. “I was deeply saddened to learn of these accusations against him,” the “Taken” star told The Telegraph.

“Kevin is a good man and a man of character,” Neeson continued. “He’s sensitive, articulate and non-judgmental, with a terrific sense of humor. He is also one of our finest artists in the theater and on camera. Personally speaking, our industry needs him and misses him greatly.”

Among the many powerful men brought down during the #MeToo movement, Spacey’s fall was especially precipitous and has been uniquely persistent. Spacey was indeed once considered one of the most talented actors of his generation, also winning an Oscar for “The Usual Suspects.” He moreover was nominated five times for Emmy awards for “The House of Cards,” Netflix’s first big streaming hit which was built around Spacey’s bankability as a movie star.

But Spacey was fired from “House of Cards” in late 2017, after actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Spacey, then aged 26, molested him when he was 14 in the 1980s in his Manhattan apartment. More allegations of assault and misconduct followed. Ridley Scott, suddenly faced with Spacey’s “toxicity,” famously reshot the actor’s scenes in his film “All the Money in the World” with Christopher Plummer, weeks before the film’s release, The Guardian reported. Since then, Spacey has effectively been blacklisted by the film and theater industry.

But when Rapp’s lawsuit went to trial in New York in 2022, a civil jury sided with Spacey, finding that he did not molest the young actor, NPR reported. Spacey was also cleared of all charges in a 2023 criminal trial in London, dealing with sexual assault allegations made by four other men, CNN reported.

Now, “Spacey Unmasked” has revived the controversy surrounding the actor. It features previously unheard allegations about sexual misconduct from 10 men, including a claim that Spacey allegedly groped another “House of Cards” actor on set, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But Spacey and a growing cadre of famous colleagues are pushing back against these new “baseless” allegations, as Spacey said in an online interview with British journalist Dan Wootton.

Spacey told Wootton he had never done anything illegal, The Independent reported. He admitted that he made “clumsy” passes at times and “hooked up” with men, “who thought they might get ahead in their careers by having a relationship with me.” But he said never demanded sexual favors in exchange for helping an another actor further his career. Spacey also said that Channel 4 failed to give him adequate time to respond to the allegations.


Others speaking up for Spacey include F. Murray Abraham and Stephen Fry. Abraham, an Oscar winner for his role as composer Antonio Salieri in the 1983 film “Amadeus,” told The Telegraph that he regarded Spacey as a friend, saying: “I vouch for him unequivocally. Who are these vultures who attack a man who has publicly accepted his responsibility for certain behavior, unlike so many others?”

Fry blasted the documentary, saying he accepted Spacey’s explanation that the had been “both ‘clumsy’ and ‘inappropriate’ on many occasions.” But he said it was unfair to “bracket him with the likes of Harvey Weinstein” and “to continue to harass and hound him, to devote a whole documentary to accusations that simply do not add up to crimes … how can that be considered proportionate and justified?”

But as much as Stone, Neeson, Abraham and Fry believe Spacey deserves a chance to work again, others told The Telegraph in October that his reputation had been so damaged by the controversy that there’s no straightforward way for him to resume his film and TV career. He also remains “unpopular” with some in the entertainment industry for the way he came out as gay in response to the initial assault allegations made by Rapp, The Telegraph also said.

Mark Borkowski, a top U.K. public relations expert, told The Telegraph that Spacey should be realistic about ever being a major star again. “He is never going to be able to get a big franchise – the big studios will keep him at arm’s length because they don’t like any sniff of negativity,” Borkowski said. But independent filmmakers might be willing to work with him, as they have with Johnny Depp.

One of those independent filmmakers, Gene Fallaize, happily cast Spacey in his low-budget 2023 thriller “Control,” according to The Telegraph. But Fallaize acknowledged that the film had troubles with its release last year because of its association with the actor; its premiere at one London theater was canceled, even after Spacey was acquitted in the criminal trial. Fallaize expressed confidence that Spacey would be offered roles in the future, but he also said the public might be pre-conditioned to believe Spacey’s accusers because they are used to seeing him play “sleazy or sinister” characters on screen. “Kevin often plays creepy characters,” Fallaize said.

One of those characters was Lester Burnham in 1999’s “American Beauty,” a white-collar worker in suburbia who is experiencing burnout and develops an infatuation with his teenage daughter’s cheerleader girlfriend. Upon its release, the film was hailed as a modern masterpiece for its exploration of contemporary American malaise. It also won best picture and Spacey won best actor.

More than 20 years later, the critical consensus is that “American Beauty” has aged poorly, with The Ringer saying that Spacey is “the one thing” about “American Beauty” that has aged “the worst.”

Spacey probably also hasn’t helped overcome the “creepy” factor by making what Rolling Stone calls “bizarre” Christmas videos, in which he channels his “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood to address his fans. His most recent video, released on Christmas Eve 2023, featured this Southern politician character doing an interview with the real-life Tucker Carlson.

During his faux interview with the controversial TV host, Spacey-as-Underwood discussed cancel culture and even broke the fourth wall a few times to discuss the sexual misconduct claims against him and his Netflix firing, Rolling Stone reported. Spacey-as-Underwood” said: “It is bizarre that (Netflix) decided to publicly cut ties with me on allegations alone, allegations that have now been proven false.”

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