James Spader was born in Boston in 1960. In 1981 he played Brooke Shield’s brother in “Endless Love”. He starred in “Pretty in Pink”, “Less than Zero” and “Wall Street”. He gave a tremndous performance opposite Susan Sarandon in “White Palace” in 1990.From 2004 until 2008 he starred in “Boston Legal”.
Actor James Spader was known for playing intriguing deviants in a number of acclaimed independent films in the 1980s and 1990s before his magic touch with morally ambiguous outsiders found its way to television on “Boston Legal” (ABC, 2004-08). Spader began his career playing a series of unsympathetic yuppie types in the era of the shamelessly wealthy, then put films like “Wall Street” (1987) and “Less Than Zero” (1987) behind him in favor of exploring man’s attraction to danger – often sexual – in acclaimed indie films like “sex, lies, and videotape” (1989), “Crash” (1996) and “Secretary” (2002). In 2003, he was handpicked to shake things up on David E. Kelley’s stale law drama, “The Practice” (ABC, 1997-2004), before being given a starring role as lawyer of questionable ethics in the spin-off, “Boston Legal,” for which he earned several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. By the time he joined the cast of “The Office” (NBC, 2005-2013) in 2011, Spader was firmly established as a credible lead in television and on film, capably performing in just about any role that came his way.
Born on Feb. 7, 1960 in Boston, MA, Spader was raised the son of two teachers, Todd and Jean, who enrolled him in top private schools, including Phillips Academy in Andover. But he was not particularly interested in school and spent more time lost in his active imagination. To compensate, Spader started performing theater while in school, where he could completely absorb in his fantasies, and eventually dropped out at 17 to move to New York City. While there, he took on a series of odd jobs and trained at the Michael Chekov Acting Studio. But he still considered acting a hobby and form of escape when he started landing paying gigs. Unexpectedly, he found himself becoming a professional actor. His earlier roles including a small part as Brooke Shields’ brother in “Endless Love” (1981) and playing the Kevin Bacon character in an unsold pilot for a 1983 adaptation of the coming-of-age dramedy “Diner” (1982). He played Frank Converse’s slightly rebellious son in the short-lived “The Family Tree” (NBC, 1982-83), then costarred in a few television movies before he hit his stride in feature films.
Spader gained feature film attention as Andrew McCarthy’s linen-clad, elitist best friend in the wrong-side-of-the-tracks teen romance “Pretty in Pink” (1986). He followed by digging even deeper into the dark side of the privileged, playing a rich kid cocaine dealer who forces Robert Downey Jr. to prostitute himself for drugs in “Less Than Zero” (1987). He paired with McCarthy again as a less-loathsome buddy in the absurd romantic comedy “Mannequin” (1987), but was again tapped to deliver his best smarmy yuppie in the classic portrait of 1980s excess, “Wall Street” (1987). In 1989, Spader saw a turning point in his career when the actor – who had often been seen as the guy you loved to hate – gave an intriguing and subtle performance in Stephen Soderbergh’s “sex, lies, and videotape.” He was recognized with a Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his finely nuanced portrayal of an eccentric, quietly neurotic drifter forced to face his emotional demons when a return to his college town upsets the staid suburban life of an old friend.
Following a supporting role as a possessive boyfriend in the well-received Martin Amis adaptation, “The Rachel Papers” (1989), Spader played a buttoned-up square befriended by a dangerously charming con artist (Rob Lowe) in the uneven thriller “Bad Influence” (1990). He fared better in independent film territory, delivering a quality performance as a young widower who falls for an older woman (Susan Sarandon) in the erotic “White Palace” (1990). He was paired alongside John Cusack for the political drama “True Colors” (1991), but the film about friendship and blackmail was not a commercial success. With “Storyville” (1992), Spader reinforced his new association with sexy, intelligent fare playing a New Orleans lawyer turned congressional candidate tempted by fleshly pleasures. He was again at the mercy of a destructive femme fatale (Madchen Amick) in the erotic thriller “Dream Lover” (1994), though the “Basic Instinct” (1992) wannabe failed to attract much attention.
In “Wolf” (1994), an imaginative urban take on the werewolf legend, Spader played his trademark yuppie villain, then went on to score his biggest commercial hit with “Stargate” (1994). An unexpected sight in the mainstream sci-fi adventure, Spader successfully showcased another side of his eccentricity playing a nerdy Egyptologist who becomes involved in a parallel dimension. When he returned from journeying across the universe, Spader was back to exploring the dark underbelly of humanity as a scheming hit man characterized as evil incarnate in John Herzfeld’s “2 Days in the Valley” (1996). Stepping boldly into the film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s “Crash” (1996), the David Cronenberg-directed world of fetishism and erotic obsession, Spader found perhaps his most provocative role since his 1989 breakthrough, delivering an inspired portrayal of a man whose involvement in a fatal accident revitalizes his sex life. Spader cut a terrific presence with his Elvis-style hair-do in the murder mystery “Keys to Tulsa” (1997), before giving a more conventional performance as an unethical doctor in Sidney Lumet’s “Critical Care” (1997).
Following a pair of duds – “Supernova” (2000) and “The Watcher” (2000) – Spader revived his acclaimed status with the erotic art house hit “Secretary” (2002). The Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance explored issues of love, sex and power through the story of an unusual relationship between a lawyer (Spader) and his young secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who was released from a mental institute. Though the lion’s share of the awards went to Gyllenhaal, the film raised Spader’s profile and helped him land on David E. Kelley’s short list when the television producer was looking to revive his ratings-deprived courtroom drama, “The Practice.” Kelley wanted someone provocative, compelling and a tad strange to insert into the mix of decent lawyers and approached Spader, thanks to his success playing devious, offbeat characters. As the charismatic and morally slippery Alan Shore, Spader breathed new life into the show’s final season and earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
In 2005, his character was spun off into “Boston Legal,” where Spader was able to further explore the questionable morals of his law partner at Crane, Poole and Schmidt, while sharing undeniable sparring chemistry with co-star William Shatner. The show delivered steady ratings for ABC, while Spader’s performance earned him Emmys in 2005 and 2007. After “Boston Legal” went off the air, Spader made his Broadway debut in David Mamet’s “Race” (2009), before returning to television with a guest starring role on “The Office” (NBC, 2005-2013) for the season seven finale, playing ultra-manipulative salesman Robert California. In a high-profile announcement, Spader returned to the show as a regular player for season eight after outgoing star Steve Carell moved on. With his “Office” stint clearly reviving his career, he kept up the momentum, appearing in Steven Spielberg’s historical drama “Lincoln” (2012). Spader soon landed his own series, starring as master criminal Red Reddington in “The Blacklist” (NBC, 2013- ). Shortly before the show aired, his next major role was announced-the veteran actor would be taking on the villainous part of Ultron in the highly anticipated superhero sequel “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” due to hit theaters in 2015.
This TCM Overview can also be accessed online here.