In early October, Kevin Spacey was right where he wanted to be: singing and hamming it up in front of an admiring crowd.
Inside Stage 33 on the CBS Television City lot in Los Angeles, a TV special celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show was being taped in front of a live audience, and Spacey was on hand as a guest star.
Decked out in a tuxedo, the star of stage, screen and television joined Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Kristin Chenoweth as they sang songs around a piano. He dusted off a Bing Crosby impression and entertained the crowd between takes with his Johnny Carson. The 84-year-old Burnett introduced him as “an Oscar-winning guy and everyone’s favourite president.”
That was then.
By early November, Spacey’s career was in free fall amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and assault that stretched back decades and, in multiple cases, involved minors. Netflix, CBS and Sony were all scrambling to distance themselves from him as quickly as possible, even if it meant shutting down production.
Plummet From Grace
In a matter of days, a man who has won two Academy Awards and a Tony Award and been nominated for 12 Emmys was being all but erased from Hollywood. Literally.
And just two weeks ago, in a move that stunned longtime industry observers, Sony Pictures confirmed that the actor was being dropped from his role as J. Paul Getty in director Ridley Scott’s thriller All The Money In The World.
Actor Christopher Plummer is stepping in to replace Spacey, as the production scrambles at considerable expense, and inconvenience to co-stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, to reshoot Spacey’s scenes in the hopes that the film can still make its release date.
Occasionally roles have been recast during filming, but usually because the original actor died; to do so because of scandal after a film was already completed is unprecedented.
But so is Spacey’s catastrophic plummet from grace. After stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker chronicled accusations of sexual harassment and abuse, many projects sought distance from Harvey Weinstein’s company and his name.
With Spacey, that distance required a removal of the man himself.
“His career as he knows it, his stature in the industry, is over,” said Elizabeth Toledo, a crisis PR expert and president of Camino PR. “There’s no legal or (public relations) strategy that’s going to restore it.”
Dramatic Events In The Entertainment Industry
The collapse of Spacey’s career is just the latest in a string of dramatic events that have engulfed the entertainment industry in the past month. As long-hidden allegations of sexual misconduct have surfaced against industry heavyweights including Weinstein, Amazon Studios chief Roy Price, director Brett Ratner, and most recently, Louis C.K., most have lost jobs, deals and supporters.
“Just because these stories haven’t been heard, doesn’t mean these stories haven’t been told,” said Leigh Gilmore, a women’s and gender studies professor at Wellesley College. “They just haven’t gained traction. What we’re seeing now is a new level of awareness, a new level of accountability. The abusers are actually suffering consequences for their actions.”
In Spacey’s case, a seemingly self-centered initial response to the first allegation against him made an already serious problem worse.
Netflix Cuts All Ties
On Oct 29, Buzzfeed released a report in which actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Spacey had made sexual advances toward him decades ago when he was just 14 years old.
By Friday, Nov 3, as more allegations surfaced, Netflix announced that the actor would no longer be involved in the final season of House Of Cards, in which the actor has starred for five seasons as Machiavellian political leader Frank Underwood.
Production had already been put on hold, but a decision on the show’s future – without its leading man – will likely become clearer after Thanksgiving, when production is set to resume, according to a source close to production who was not authorised to speak publicly.
At the same time, Netflix announced that it would “not be moving forward with” another Spacey project, a biopic about writer Gore Vidal, which had recently wrapped shooting and was slated for release next year. A release, even through another distributor, is unlikely.
As for The Carol Burnett Show special, CBS opted to cut Spacey from it too. A source close to production said no decision has been made on whether the musical numbers will be reshot.
The future of Spacey’s other major upcoming project, the drama Billionaire Boys Club, in which he co-stars alongside a young ensemble cast including Ansel Elgort and Emma Roberts, is unclear.
The independent film, which wrapped last year, is seeking distribution – a task that will no doubt be more difficult in the wake of the scandal.
“Its very different now,” Toledo said. “Fifteen years ago, people in a position like Kevin Spacey would have had legal and PR strategies to move beyond this – even frankly a year ago or six months ago, his trajectory would have been a lot easier.
“Now it’s very difficult for people to have this level of accusation in the public sphere and be able to recover.”
As Oscar season begins to heat up, Sony is hoping to avoid the fate that befell the 2016 drama Birth Of A Nation. That movie saw its once-lofty Oscar hopes dashed virtually overnight when its director and star, Nate Parker, became enmeshed in a controversy over past rape allegations for which he had been acquitted.
With All The Money In The World, one longtime Oscar consultant, who declined to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the situation, says the film’s fortunes will ultimately rest on its artistic merits.
“I think they can salvage it. To penalise an entire movie for the past indiscretions and terrible behaviour of one of the many actors in the movie is unfathomable. If it’s a good film, it’s a good film.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service