Beyond the Sea" tells the life story of singer Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey), framing it as a musical film he's making about his life. Raised in the Bronx, Darin's not expected to live past 15, a consequence of rheumatic fever. He becomes a teen idol ("Splish Splash"), nightclub star ("Mack the Knife") and Hollywood actor, marrying Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). His life falls apart in the late 1960s.
DAVID ANSEN: You manage to avoid some of the problems of the biopic. Your movie has a flow to it. It doesn't play like, "This happened and then this happened... " There's a theatrical flair that you bring to it as a director.
KEVIN SPACEY: In the Italian sequence [when Darin meets Sandra Dee], I wanted the film to take on an MGM Technicolor musical look. All those incredible colors.
But your choice of doing it as a kind of '50s musical seems strange. I don't associate Darin with that kind of movie. I think of him as primarily a nightclub performer.
Bobby Darin was a guy who sang his guts out, did impressions, danced, played the drums, the guitar, the harmonica, the piano. Next to Sammy Davis, he was probably the last great nightclub entertainer we ever had. How do you show all of that and not end up with a two-hour concert film? How do you show that lust for life? Because he knew he wasn't going to live long. How many times can you shoot a nightclub sequence from different angles? There's no question we took a brash approach, but that's what Darin was. He was brash.
You made me appreciate Darin's music in a way I never had.
Well, that's good.
For me the most amazing thing is that you do your own singing. The phrasing is remarkable. Did you ever consider using his recordings?
The family started out being very against the idea of my singing. Which I understood. But I knew we were going to be expanding the music for these large dance sequences. We could have never done that if we had been tied to original tracks. What people don't know about me is that I have been a song-and-dance man my whole life.
You're almost 10 years older than Darin was when he died. You address that by having somebody at the start of the movie say, "He's too old to play the part." Then someone else says, "Well, he was born to play the part."
Sometimes the best way to deal with something is just to identify the elephant in the room, get on with it and hope that people will relax. Because they'll realize, "Oh, he knows it, too, so he's not insane." Also, it's only an issue for people who know Bobby Darin's story. You have to recognize that there are millions and millions of people who don't know who Bobby Darin is.
The age difference did get in the way for me. But my bigger problem is that I was never able to stop thinking that I was watching Kevin Spacey, not Bobby Darin.
You'd have to break that down as to why that was true for you when it may not be true for somebody else. Do you have a certain expectation when you see a film I'm in? Did you have an expectation about what Darin should be like in this film?
Late in the movie, Darin writes protest songs, which audiences reject. Listening to them, I could see why--they weren't very good. Yet I had the feeling I was supposed to like them. Don't you feel his early stuff is better?
Well, I think "Simple Song of Freedom" is one of the great protest songs of the period. It was a big song at the time.
The question that hangs over the movie for me is, why? Why make a movie about Bobby Darin? It was an interesting life, but you are stuck with a lot of the rags-to-riches conventions that we've seen many times. Your solution is clever--to turn it into a kind of fantasia musical. But I don't know that it entirely solves the problem.
Well, the problem may never be solvable. I think people ought to stop searching for the biopic that solves all the problems. The truth is, you go see a Eugene O'Neill play and it still has problems.
That's for sure.
I set out to tell a story of a man who's been largely forgotten and doesn't deserve to be. If that isn't enough, then people will stay home and watch HBO. I'm aware that the film isn't perfect. But I hope people walk out feeling uplifted and snapping their fingers.
If you were going to cut an album of you singing, just Kevin Spacey, would it sound like you sound in this film?
Just to drive you crazy, I'll do an album of all those protest songs.
Bring it on.
Eighteen tracks. And I'll dedicate it to you.