Last week, it was reported that Kevin Spacey owed MRC, the company that produced the massive Netflix hit House of Cards, $31 million for breach of contract, after they had to fire him from the show in 2017. This is quite a large sum for any one person to pay, which means that the mediator who decided the case believed that Spacey wasn’t just liable, he was really liable.
In case you aren’t familiar with what happened, or so much has occurred in the past few years that it’s escaped you, Spacey was accused of predatory behavior on teenage boys, as first mentioned by the actor Anthony Rapp. As a criminal investigation ensued, he was appropriately apologetic, talked about “examining” his own behavior, and finally came out of the closet, after literally decades of speculation about it. That it was a fairly open secret — Kevin Pollak tells a pretty graphic story in his autobiography, How I Slept My Way to the Middle, about something Spacey did on the set of The Usual Suspects in 1995 — was beside the point. This was public, and it’s probably fair to assume that the actor figured that he’d escape any major consequences.
But then MRC conducted an internal investigation into Spacey’s behavior on the House set, and found that there were no less than eight examples of him sexually harassing and groping crew members. It was at this point that he was summarily dismissed from the show, with what can only imagine was extreme prejudice.
MRC soon filed suit against Spacey, looking for damages for having to scrap all the written episodes of the show’s sixth, and ultimately final, season, rewrite the entire thing, cut the episode order from 13 to eight, and thus interfere with the contract the company had with Netflix. There’s also the lost revenue from having made fewer episodes, which was part of the case and what the company felt Spacey owed them.
Apparently, the mediator made the decision 13 months ago, but it became public when MRC filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to confirm the award. Which is when it became national news, and people like me decided to write about it.
My take is a bit different, and as I did a couple weeks ago when I wrote about the tragedy on the set of Rust, I have a personal anecdote which affects my viewpoint on the proceedings, as well as my opinion about the results.
When I was 19 and 20 years old, after my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was a camp counselor at a place in Maine. I was on the waterskiing staff, which meant that I spent most of my day in a speedboat, teaching kids how to waterski. Aside from the fact that the pay was lousy, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a summer, especially at that age,
The second year I was there, for whatever reason, I was hyper-sarcastic and borderline mean to people. Not sure what I was going through that made me more caustic than normal, but whatever it was, it made two different girls approach Roger, the head of the entire waterfront, as well as the head counselor of us waterski counselors. After the first rotation of the summer, as he was making the schedule for the next couple weeks, they expressed that they did not want to be in a boat with me.
So, being a few years older and more experienced, he pulled me aside and told me about this. I tried to shrug it off — I was 20, and whatever I was going through had my guard and defenses up — but he persisted, and ultimately gave me some pretty fantastic advice.
“You’re being a dick,” he said. “Some people are very successful in life behaving that way. You will not be one of those people. So stop being a dick.”
It took a while for that to sink in, though it did stick with me. Eventually, it reached the important part of my brain, took hold, and thus a change was made in how I live my life. Forever more, I would live by a single, simple credo: “Don’t be a dick.”
It sounds silly, but it’s actually served me extremely well. I espouse the philosophy when needed, sometimes to describe my behavior or reaction to something, sometimes as a helpful hint to someone who is not living their life that way, and it has not only led to more friends than I can count, but also to plenty of quality opportunities, both personal and professional. This weekly column included.
Now, someone might take issue with my comparing an immature, insecure kid’s boorishness with a grown man’s predation, but I would argue that both people in this story are being total dicks. Kevin Spacey, actually, is a pretty legendary one — I met him a couple times, years ago, and did not have a pleasant experience either time — and so the fact that this didn’t just add to his downfall, but actually intensified and expedited it, is not a surprise. On the contrary, it was almost expected.
That Usual Suspects story I referenced above? The one Pollak held back until Spacey was officially out? I won’t get too deeply into it, but I will say that it involves Spacey stealing director Bryan Singer’s boyfriend while on the set, and doing so in such a vicious way that it almost killed the production, and led to the two communicating through other people for its duration.
This, in case you were curious, is a perfect example of being a dick, and I think we can all assume that this was not a one-time thing. Especially considering his behavior on the House of Cards set 20 years later. There had to have been dozens of other such instances, perhaps hundreds, over the course of Spacey’s career, a career that encompassed more than 30 feature films between The Usual Suspects and 2017, when he was fired from House of Cards, and in which he won two Oscars, one of them for his work in The Usual Suspects. For years, he very clearly believed that he could get away with it, because he was a big enough star that no one was going to stop him. That he was above the law, in a sense.
I like to think that being a dick eventually catches up with you. Four years ago, it finally caught up with Spacey, and he lost a job. Last week, it was confirmed that it caught up with his bank account, too. With any luck, it’ll serve as a warning shot to other people who behave similarly.
I tend to doubt it, but hope does spring eternal.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.
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