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The minds behind the method behind the madness (now on VH-1) The minds behind the method behind the madness (now on VH-1)
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Hollywood, Long Long Ago and Far Far Away - The Academy Awards Committee has officially announced what's been common knowledge for months: Kevin Spacey is up for an Oscar for his role as a beleaguered middle-aged man in last year's surprise hit, American Beauty. Shut out in 1997 from the category of Best Lip Smacking By a Cannabalistic Serial Killer for his uncredited role in Seven, Spacey may finally have his day.

"It's a breakthrough role in many ways", says Oscar panelist Kallme D. Snake. "That a middle-aged actor can actually play a middle-aged man wasn't known up to now. Most actors in their forties and fifties demanded teams of computer artists to morph their features into those of Luke Perry." However, with Perry aging rapidly, an alternative had to be found.

No one in Hollywood dreamed that the portrayal of the life of a middle-aged man could be interesting. But Kevin Spacey's performance has struck a chord. "It really got me that he was married to his mother and she hid him in the attic," said moviegoer Randy Travis. "When he finally started to look funny at his wife and daughter, you could really understand what he was going through. He was like, 'Is she my daughter or my sister? Is she even a relative at all?'"

Already handicapped by isolation, Spacey's character has an additional barrier: he can only communicate with his left big toe. Even though Spacey is a freelance author for computing trade publications, his family assumes he has no language skills. "People think it's heartbreaking when his wife and daughter take his paycheck and then feed him raw meat and talk to him in doglike barks," says director Sam Mendes. "Sure, this territory has been mined before, but not with skill or nuance."

But when Spacey manages to write the word "Mother" on the floor, using his own blood from a paper cut, the light dawns. His family begins to see him as a real person with real needs. Says Mendes, "For the first time they ask the question, 'What does a middle-aged man need and want?' And of course the answer is high-school cheerleaders."

His daughter brings home numerous cheerleading friends to meet her father in private sessions. "When those girls were lined up at attention in white togas, and Spacey was in front of them pointing with his toe to the ones he wanted -- that moved me deeply," says Cannes organizer Count deBeens. "The skill, the control in that toe, as he ponders not only his choice of cheesecake but of moral justification -- most actors would kill for that depth of expression."

Controversial for some are Spacey's scenes of morphine use. "It's an unconventional method for a character to undergo personal growth," admits Spacey. "Most films chart growth through the progress of a mismatched romance, or the incurable illness of a family member. But here you have this normal suburban guy, without any great tragedies in his life but carrying a load of questions, like: 'Why am I here? Is this really my life?' All these me-me-me questions. Morphine allows this tortured soul to realize how unimportant his concerns really are. He realizes the only things he needs to be happy are a mattress and a lifetime supply of needles. He achieves genuine acceptance of life and love."

American Beauty -- still playing at a theater near you.

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