Jack Abramoff is back in theaters thanks to producer/star Kevin Spacey and director George Hickenlooper‘s final film, Casino Jack. Only this time they’re not damning him in a documentary, but showing the “fun” side corruption in a non-fictional (though based on facts) comedy starring the big man himself, Spacey.
We had a chance to sit down with Spacey and talk to him a little bit about bringing this film to fruition, the political agenda behind it and why he and George thought that comedy was the best way to tell Jack’s story…
How did you first gather the knowledge and facts about the man himself? And what was you goal in going to meet him in jail?
Kevin Spacey: I wanted to see if I could get him to talk about what was happening to him emotionally and sort of pick up personality traits. That was very helpful and as much as I could trust that he was being open and honest and forth-right, he may have had his own agenda for saying things in the way that he said them, but I knew I was going to have other sources, that he was not the only source. And then I went to DC and spent a bunch of days with people who knew him, his lobbying team, other lawyers that he knew very well, people that hated him and wished he was dead. And then I started looking at all the commentary because all you have to do is Google his name and a fucking shitload of stuff comes up.
How did you take the man and turn him into a film, and then, why did you choose a comedy?
Kevin Spacey: George and I [were] in my favorite position which is when you’re trying to figure out how to write [the film] and you have all these clues to make work. A. How do you make this active and how do you try to emphasize and humanize a person that has been hugely demonized and turned into a kind of characterture villain, how do you make him a person, and B. how do you get an audience who might know this case and might already have opinions about him either root for him and participate in his story. Rather than say, this is who this person was and this is it and that would just be really boring.
What I came away with is as often as the case is in these kind of stories, it was far less black and white, and far more grey and complex than I knew. That was really when the humor came out and George and I said “let’s make a comedy”. Some of these situations are inherently funny, you couldn’t write this shit. Let’s use that as a way to maybe make our political points and show some of the hypocrisy rather than make a boring historical movie.
When you met Abramoff, did you think he felt he had done something wrong or that other people had done him wrong?
Kevin Spacey: Little things like when he said in prison that if he would have known that he was going to go to jail, because he absolutely did not think he was going to go to jail, if he would have known that he would have never taken the fifth in front of the senate. And so George and I drove away and we thought, “what would that scene be like? If he hadn’t taken the fifth?” And then that scene got written. And to me that was a very interesting way to point out, the hypocrisy that John McCain was there wagging his finger at him when John McCain was taking money from competing Indian Casino’s to do exactly the same thing. And many senators on the board waging their fingers were writing him checks.
The suddenly everyone forgot him!
And Bush saying “oh I don’t know if I ever took a picture with him” — and I love how, and George illustrated it in a very interesting way — that suddenly people didn’t know how to pronounce this name when they were in front of the press. “Ab-er-moff!” It’s like “Abramoff” is his name, you’ve called him “Abramoff” for a long time but suddenly they mispronounce his name. All of that illustrates that he was part of a culture that everyone was doing. Yes he crossed the line, he did illegal things, all of that is true, but if there is an environment and culture in which you think that is what everyone is doing, boy it sure is convenient to throw someone like him under the bus and say “see we’ve cleaned up our industry, we’ve put this bad man away.”
Do you think that a political comedy is enough change peoples minds about our current political problems?
Kevin Spacey: I think that, what’s really clear about America is that things don’t change unless a single individual lead the charge, who has the influence and the ability to inspire people. Or if people get angry enough. I certainly don’t think that if we leave campaign reform or lobbying reform in the hands of the politicians that anything is going to change.
Look, I made a suggestion while I was in DC and I’ve taken a lot of heat for it because “I didn’t think about the complexities of it. I didn’t think about the 1st Amendment. How do you vet it?” What I said was “here’s the problem it’s about money. As long as we forsee our politicians going out to raise all the money that they have to raise for television ads then corruption will exist. If you remove the money — and how do you remove the money, Network’s show political ads as a public service. Well everyone said I was an idiot, but just as a point, remove the money and you might remove the production.
Did he deserve what he got?
Kevin Spacey: I think there is a culture of winning, of being on top, of making more money than anybody, of winning elections, of being able to have your had on the agenda of laws — and very often I think that what Lobbyist do, is that on one hand what they do is a valuable service, is a conduit for information for senators to understand issues. What is corrupt is that I can say “If you vote positively on this bill, than I can get you $50k for your campaign” That’s what they’re influencing is voting.
For such a strong political message I can assure you that this film is actually quite a good time! It has a strong message and some great laughs.
Check out Spacey in Casino Jack this Friday December 17th!