Amber Waves to Fame: A Salute to Spader

The male actors of my generation, the actors who played teenagers when I was one, were a broody bunch of brunette boys: Matt Dillon, Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, Jason Patrick and Tom Cruise, to name a few. But, then there was the blonde outsider, James Spader. In his youth, Spader was rarely cast as the lead. He often played the best friend or the nemesis of the protagonist. And while his golden locks and chiseled features qualified him as a bona-fide movie star, his appearance seemed to “pale” in comparison to those of his darker co-stars.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t think much of James Spader. If anything, he was the annoying stuck up guy who reminded me of the conceited fraternity boys I was growing up with; so I wrote him off, not realizing that he was a sensitive genius ACTING like an asshole.

Then came Sex, Lies and Videotape, a film where Spader, the angst-ridden teenager, became James Spader, the artist. Film director Steven Soderbergh gave the actor the opportunity to reveal his complexity, vulnerability, intelligence, ability to be still and also deliciously sensual. From that point on, James Spader didn’t stop surprising his audiences with the risks he took, the choices he made and characters he portrayed.

I think the biggest surprise for me is his command of the English language. As the articulate and sardonic lawyer on The Practice and Boston Legal, Spader memorized and delivered page upon page of difficult dialogue and seemed to make it look easy. I don’t think his brunette counterparts could do the same, with the exception of Rob Lowe who was impressive on The West Wing.

In the end, if I had to pick the best actor of my generation, it would be James Spader. Of the bunch, I think he is the most versatile. He has demonstrated longevity and flexibility, working in both film and TV. And he has been willing to grow older and heftier in the public eye while maintaining his integrity and more importantly, his sense of humor.

James Spader is a stable guy too. Like most Americans, he is on his second marriage, devoted to his kids, likes to drink wine and loves his parents. To my knowledge he has never been a part of a sex scandal, been arrested or needed rehab. He is not a member of a cult, and he doesn’t jump up and down on couches during interviews.

I think he’s a pretty swell guy (and a great actor).

Filling the Well

Since I have been working full-time at a job where the primary motivation is to make a profit, I have found my creative well consistently running dry. When I dive down into the blackness of the well, I come back empty-handed, parched and disappointed. Then, I begin to question my vocational identity. Am I an artist afterall? I feel nothing. I have nothing to say. I want nothing. I am tired. bored. and cranky.

But there is a remedy.

As Julia Cameron recommends in her book, The Artist Way, an artist must fill her well by taking herself out on “artist dates.”

In the past month, I have taken myself out on two such dates. The first date was to The ContemporAry Museum in downtown Austin where I saw an exhibition by Marianne Vitale.


And an experimental film by Liam Gillick. The film was broken up into smaller films and my favorite one was projected upside down. So the cars were upside and moving in the top part of the screen and the sky filled most of the middle and bottom parts. It was like watching a sci-fi film – the cars looked like space ships. And what was eye-opening for me was how the sky filled the frame. We don’t notice the sky when we see a film projected right side up. We look at the familiar objects that we can identify and ignore the expansive, all pervasive sky.

This is not the film, but I went to YouTube and found this clip when I typed in “Upside Down Cars”

An upside down movie clip

The second artist date was to a Culture-mapping meet-up event where painting stations were set up and attendees could have wine and paint a small canvas. I painted this in the dark in about 10 minutes. (The canvas photographed on my kitchen counter.)


So, I filled my well. Now, in the place of depression, I have hope. I feel more alive and happy. But just like water in a well, these feelings will diminish. I must continue to fill my well.

What motivates you to be an actor?

What motivates you to be an actor? Is it a need for approval, recognition, and love? Is it a need to express, feel and move? Is it a need for personal growth and a deeper self awareness? a need to give? to take? a need to communicate and be heard? to be rich? famous? powerful?

To be a great actor, one must understand motivation or intention: what drives a character to do what they do. An acting artist is a an archaeologist of the human psyche. He or she must dig deep into a character’s psyche to understand what drives them. How does an artist do that? First, you must understand what drives you. You cannot be self-delusional or unconscious. You must have the courage to dive deep into your psyche and uncover what lives and breathes you.

Essentially people’s drives can be divided into 3 categories: a need for approval, a need for security and a need for power. Into which category do you fall? Of course, most of us are motivated by all three to some degree, but one need will invariably stand out the most.

Without a doubt, I have a need for approval. My need for approval has motivated me (driven me) to pursue acting and to train extensively to be the best artist possible so that people would accept, approve of and admire me. Ironically my need approval has also prevented me from being the best artist possible because I have aimed for perfection, which is a man-made ambition, not a natural experience from which an artist creates. Therefore, my need for approval has both energized me and depleted me.

That is why it is so important to understand oneself as an artist.

Finally, a great actor is self-aware so that he or she can create characters of depth who accurately represent the writer’s intentions. We serve the writer and his or her creation of character, plot and conflict. Actors create characters whose the point of view have been created by the writer. Point of view is determined by desire. Desire is born out of need: the seeking of approval, the hunger for security, and the lust for power.