What is Kevin Spacey doing?
News broke on December 24, 2018, that the two-time Oscar winner would be arraigned on a felony sexual assault charge in Nantucket District Court on January 7. Spacey faces charges of indecent assault and battery connected to an alleged incident in a bar in July 2016, involving the then-18-year-old son of former Boston-area news anchor Heather Unruh. Allegedly, Spacey put his hands down the man’s pants and grabbed his genitals.
Within minutes of the Boston Globe reporting the story, Spacey released an apparently self-made video on YouTube titled “Let Me Be Frank,” in which he appears to try to defend himself while using the broad Southern accent recognizable as the one used by his House of Cards character Frank Underwood. In the video, Spacey wears a Christmas apron and appears to be cooking, but he speaks directly to the camera as Underwood often would in the series.
It’s notable that Spacey never once says he’s explicitly playing Frank, because he doesn’t control the rights to that character, which are tied up in the overall rights for House of Cards. Those are controlled by Media Rights Capital, while Netflix owns the broadcast rights to them. Thus, the video is a bit of a wink to a famous part — one not sanctioned by either company that could actually greenlight a new Frank Underwood project. (Both MRC and Netflix said in the wake of the allegations against Spacey that they would never work with him again, and Netflix has even sat on a near-finished Gore Vidal biopic with Spacey in the central role to prove that point.)
It’s a frankly bizarre video — and it’s not the first time Spacey has tried to deflect matters related to sexual assault allegations in ill-advised ways. In the video, the actor may be in character as Underwood, but the timing and his statements make it clear: He’s talking about the real-life Spacey.
Allegations against Spacey first broke just over a year ago
Hollywood insiders have said that Spacey’s alleged deeds were one of Hollywood’s open secrets for a long time, but the dam finally broke just over a year ago.
On October 29, 2017, veteran Broadway actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of making sexual advances toward him in 1986, when Rapp was 14. More than 30 other men and women subsequently alleged that Spacey made unwanted sexual advances toward them, a number of whom were underage when the alleged incidents occurred.
At the time, the actor deflected by coming out as gay, issuing a statement via Twitter in which he said, “I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
As a result of the allegations, Spacey was fired from Ridley Scott’s movie All the Money in the World, which had already been shot. Scott chose to reshoot the scenes in which Spacey appeared with Christopher Plummer replacing Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, a move that reportedly cost $10 million and took about nine days. The movie opened theatrically last year on Christmas Day.
The allegations also resulted in Spacey being fired from the Netflix show House of Cards, a role that had netted him several Emmy nominations as well as a Golden Globe. In the sixth season, his character, the conniving fictional US President Frank Underwood, has died, and his wife Claire (played by Robin Wright) occupies the Oval Office. The sixth season was released in its entirety on November 2, 2018.
Frank Underwood is House of Cards’ antihero. He lies, cheats, and literally murders his way to the top, making his way over the course of the series from frustrated House majority whip to president. Unscrupulous to the end, Underwood is not a character anyone can trust — he never speaks the truth to anyone, except sometimes his wife Claire, if it doesn’t benefit him.
This aspect of the character makes the video where Spacey “plays” Frank one more time all the stranger.
In the video, Spacey declares himself to have been “impeached without a trial”
In the video, which lasts about three minutes, Spacey monologues to the viewer about the relationship between himself and the audience, using the Frank accent to call back to his most famous recent role.
“I know what you want,” he says. “Oh, sure, they may have tried to separate us. But what we have is too strong, too powerful. After all, we shared everything, you and I. I told you my deepest, darkest secrets. I showed you exactly what people are capable of. I shocked you with my honesty. But mostly I challenged you, and made you think. And you trusted me, even though you knew you shouldn’t.
“So we’re not done, no matter what anyone says. And besides, I know what you want. You want me back.”
In the course of the video, Spacey says that what happened to him amounted to “impeachment without a trial,” and that some people “believed everything and have been just waiting with bated breath to hear me confess it all.”
“They’re just dying to have me declare that everything said is true, and that I got what I deserved. Only you and I both know it’s never that simple — not in politics and not in life,” he says, decrying “all this presumption.”
“I can promise you this,” he continues. “If I didn’t pay the price for the things we both know I did do, I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the things I didn’t do.”
The video’s tag would seem to tease some kind of additional Underwood storyline — “Wait a minute, now that I think of it, you never actually saw me die, did you? Conclusions can be so deceiving,” Spacey says. In the real world, House of Cards’ final season concluded this fall, and the series won’t continue.
House of Cards is about a lying, villainous murderer. Why would you try to defend yourself in his voice?
As with all shows about antiheroes — such as Breaking Bad or The Sopranos — there’s a contingent of House of Cards fans who see Frank Underwood as a hero, someone to valorize and emulate. (The New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum has characterized this group of viewers, the sort who praise and admire the character who’s meant to serve as a cautionary tale, as the “bad fans.”)
But in theory, most people know that Frank Underwood isn’t someone to emulate or trust. That’s why Spacey’s video — in which he assures the audience, in the voice of a sworn liar and murderer, that “my confidence grows each day that soon enough, you will know the full truth” — seems at best ill-advised, much in the way that coming out as gay after he was accused of sexually assaulting a minor was widely criticized, not least for perpetuating the myth conflating gay men and pedophilia.
In this case, Spacey’s move seems like it could backfire, but perhaps only on himself, particularly if his case goes to trial. Positioning oneself as defiant rather than repentant — in the words of his statement last December, having “deal[t] with this honestly and openly” and “examin[ed] my own behavior” — in the voice of one of TV’s most dishonest and ruthless villains seems like not the best possible PR move.
(It is, however, in keeping with some of the comeback attempts from other men like Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. against whom allegations of harassment and assault have been made. Remember when Weinstein responded to the initial story about him in October 2017 by pledging to fight the National Rifle Association?)
Spacey’s arraignment is a few weeks away. But he clearly is dying to make a comeback, no matter what. And his bizarre video suggests he may never really have understood House of Cards — or the horrible actions he is accused of — after all.