Spacey Unmasked review: A devastating portrayal of the power dynamics of fame

Spacey Unmasked review: A devastating portrayal of the power dynamics of fame

Kevin Spacey has already denounced Spacey Unmasked, Channel 4’s shocking investigation into claims of predatory behaviour by the Oscar-winning actor. “I cannot and will not take responsibility or apologise to anyone who’s made up stuff about me or exaggerated stories about me,” he told former GB News presenter Dan Wootton. “I’ve never told someone that if they give me sexual favours, then I will help them out with their career, never.”

Incredibly, it’s just seven years since Spacey’s career was torpedoed by allegations of inappropriate and non-consensual behaviour – first by actor Anthony Rapp and then by other men. Up to that point, he was one of the most respected talents in Hollywood, that rare character actor who had become a superstar without dumbing down his work or pandering to the industry’s crassest tendencies.

There is a reminder of his searing qualities as an actor at the start of the horribly gripping first episode of Spacey Unmasked, as we see his House of Cards alter-ego, Frank Underwood, matter-of-factly snap the neck of an injured dog. “I have no patience for useless things,” says Underwood, eyes blanker than a shark’s closing in on the kill. The scene established Underwood as one of the great villains of the streaming era. Spacey Unmasked asserts that, behind the scenes, the actor had his own demons.

Last year, after a criminal trial in London, Spacey was found not guilty of nine sexual offences said to have occurred between 2001 and 2013. He also succeeded in a 2022 civil lawsuit in the United States following accusations of an unwanted sexual advance at a party in 1986. In the eyes of the law, he is an innocent man.

But Channel 4 has now interviewed 10 men not involved in the 2023 criminal trial. Their allegations against Spacey are serious. One House of Cards actor referred to as Daniel – none of the interviewees are identified by their full names, despite appearing on camera – says the actor made inappropriate physical contact moments after they filmed a scene together on the show. “He had these dead eyes looking at me,” Daniel recalls. “I felt I was staring into this soulless monster.”

Some of the men gravitated toward Spacey because they believed he could help them break into Hollywood. One of the more unsettling aspects of the documentary is the portrait it paints of fame and its distorting power. Another man, Jesse, claims to have briefly had oral sex with Spacey even though he was straight – because he felt it was something he had to do to advance in Hollywood. He claims to have later realised that Spacey saw him not as a potential creative collaborator but as a plaything. His “reward” for giving the actor what he wanted was the opportunity to spend time in his company and listen to his jokes, he said. “He never asked me about the script; there was no quid pro quo,” says Jesse. “He was never offering me anything. I was in the graces of your company. And that’s your gift.”

There is even more disturbing testimony from a former marine and aspiring actor named Scott. He says he accompanied Spacey to a screening of Saving Private Ryan. He recalls turning to Spacey during the gory opening battle sequence to see the actor engaged in a lewd act. “Some of the most horrific war footage ever created,” he recalls of his reaction. “There is no way this is happening.” He breaks down and walks off-camera. “Your first reaction is not violence,” he says. “You feel you’ve done something wrong. You’ve brought it on to yourself. You feel shame.”

Spacey Unmasked, directed by Katherine Haywood, jumps back and forth across the timelines. There are interviews with men who knew Spacey early in his life before The Usual Suspects turned him into a megastar and the “Mayor of Hollywood” – including an actor on the independent theatre scene in New York, and a fellow amateur theatre devotee in New Jersey who claimed Spacey made unwanted advances against him in a car.

Kevin Spacey outside court following his 2023 criminal trial (AP)
Kevin Spacey outside court following his 2023 criminal trial (AP)

There is also an interview with Spacey’s older brother, Randy Fowler (Spacey is the actor’s middle name), who recollects how their father, Thomas, would beat him while leaving the younger Kevin unharmed. Their upbringing was highly dysfunctional, says Randy. He described how their father was “full of so much hatred”. He was also a fascist. “[He] said the Holocaust never happened. Used to have these Nazi meetings at the house. A big Nazi flag on the wall. My father had a riding crop. He used to beat the s*** out of me.”

While part one follows Spacey through his early success and the Oscar-winning triumph of The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, part two, airing Tuesday, 7 May, will take up the tale after he moves to London to become artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in 2004, where he is feted by the entertainment establishment and by royalty (receiving an honorary OBE in 2015).

The documentary’s executive producer Dorothy Byrne has said she hopes it will prompt a “#MeToo moment for men”. It might. Spacey continues to deny all wrongdoing, but this stomach-turningly fascinating programme stands as a devastating portrayal of the power dynamics of fame.