James Spader

Active - 1981 - 2015  |   Born - Feb 7, 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Often noted for his comment that he enjoys working in all of his films -- as long as he doesn't have to see any of them -- actor James Spader (born February 2nd, 1960) may have missed out on seeing a few good performances in some pretty memorable films.

Though descended from a long line of scholars and professors, Spader, in ironic contrast to his theatrical image as the definitive terminal yuppie, dropped out of Phillips Andover prep school to pursue a career as an actor. Forsaking his formal education, Spader instead decided to focus his attention on acting by studying at the Michael Chekhov school in New York, while also working a variety of odd jobs to support himself until he found success as a thespian. Making his debut in the 1978 comedy Team Mates, Spader began the slow process of gaining more frequent work with roles of increasing substance. Spader's first role came in Franco Zeffirelli's soft-core teen melodrama Endless Love (1981) (also notable as the debut of another young unknown actor named Tom Cruise. After a brief, mid-'80s stint in teen exploitation including Tuff Turf and The New Kids (both 1985), Spader gained mainstream recognition with his first fore in yuppiedom as Molly Ringwald's insincere suitor in Pretty in Pink (1986). Over the course of the next few years, Spader would refine his slimy persona to perfection in Wall Street (1987) and Less Than Zero (1987), and take an interesting turn as a possible serial killer in the Jack the Ripper thriller Jack's Back (1988), but it was the end of the decade that brought the defining role in Spader's career.

Though his role in independent filmmaker Steven Soderbergh's voyeurism-obsessed sex, lies and videotape did little to propel his persona into more likeable territories, it showed an actor with considerable talent who wasn't afraid to take risks, winning him the Best Actor award at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Spader's dark portrayal of the ominously seductive videophile struck a chord in audiences and critics alike and turned him into a household name. The '90s found Spader expanding his yuppie image into more sympathetic territory with roles in White Palace and Bad Influence (both 1990), and he continued his likeable trend in the first of the mega-budget Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich collaborations, Stargate (1994), before reverting back as Jack Nicholson's manipulative lycanthropic rival in Mike Nichols' imaginative satire Wolf (1994). Controversy soon followed with David Cronenberg's widely panned study of fetishistic alienation Crash (1996), and Spader has worked steadily since, with roles in Supernova (2000) and Speaking of Sex (2001). With the release of Secretary (2002), Spader once again found himself in the favor of art house audiences for his portrayal of a demanding lawyer who hires a recently released mental patient for the eponimous duty.

Spader found success on the small screen once again for his work on Boston Legal from 2004 to 2008 as the character of Alan Moore, a vehemently moral attorney who resorts to unethical methods during his pursuit of justice (a role that would win the actor two Emmys). Spader made a guest appearance on an episode of The Office, and returned to the sitcom in 2011 as part of the main cast.

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  • Jobs before becoming a successful actor included yoga instructor, busboy, truck driver, stable boy and railroad-car loader.
  • Studied acting at the Michael Chekhov School in New York.
  • Has extremely poor eyesight and cannot wear contacts. Has said that when his characters do not wear glasses he can barely make out the faces of the other actors in the scene.
  • Always wanting to spend more time with his family, he told GQ in 1990, "If I don't need the money, I don't work."
  • Received Emmys in consecutive years for portraying the same character in two series: The Practice in 2004 and Boston Legal in 2005.