The crime is among the most famous in Fort Lauderdale history: Nearly ten years ago Miami Subs-founder and gambling boat mogul Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis was driving his black BMW sedan through downtown when the truck in front of him stopped short. Boulis slammed on his brakes, and when he did, a black Ford Mustang pulled up next to him and someone opened fire, hitting Boulis three times and killing him.
Police quickly called the murder "a well-executed gangland-style hit," and Boulis' death is widely considered an unsolicited mob favor for Washington, D.C. superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who later pleaded guilty and served prison time for defrauding investors in Boulis' SunCruz gambling boat business. Three men have been arrested, but the case is still nowhere close to trial.
Now the crime plays an important part in a new movie about Abramoff's life: Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey. A few days ago, I had the chance to talk to Spacey about the movie, about what he thinks of Gus Boulis' murder, and about people asking him if he's gay.
The movie, which was recently nominated for several Golden Globes, is a political satire. In the same vein as Oliver Stone's W and the HBO movie Recount (about the lawsuits surrounding the 2000 presidential election, it also stars Spacey), the film is an interesting comedic historical record, but it's also, essentially, a lot of Hollywood liberals psycho-analyzing the corrupt conservatives they detest. So we see Abramoff the exercise freak, Abramoff the religious family man, Abramoff the Hollywood wannabe.
Here's the trailer:
Directed by the late George Hickenlooper, the movie was shot nearly a year and a half ago with a small budget, mostly in Canada. To promote the release, Spacey, who lives in London most of the time, has spent weeks touring across America, at screenings, at festivals, doing interviews and photoshoots, and taking questions from just about anyone with a press pass.
Not long ago, a reporter for the Daily Beast asked him--pretty much out of nowhere--if he was gay. Spacey told the reporter: "Look, I might have lived in England for the last several years but I'm still an American citizen and I have not given up my right to privacy."
The self-righteous reporter (in his headshot, he's wearing a black turtleneck) went on to argue with--some would say bully--Spacey for several questions, insisting that he owes it to society and to gay teenagers to openly discuss his private life. Spacey went on to excoriate the writer, saying:
"Look, at the end of the day people have to respect people's differences. I am different than some people would like me to be. I just don't buy into that the personal can be political. I just think that's horseshit. No one's personal life is in the public interest. It's gossip, bottom line. End of story."
It's probably worth noting here: I'm all for anyone coming out, if he or she wants to. And I think hypocrites like George Rekers, of rentboy fame, need to be outed whenever possible (not that Kevin Spacey is anything like George Rekers). And I certainly understand what this reporter is saying about a public figure's social obligation. But it's also just wrong to try to push a personal agenda using someone else's private life. And that's what went on here.
Even the question was sleazy and convoluted, stretching to relate Spacey's sexuality to the Abramoff film:
"Casino Jack has a tribal motif running through it. There is Abramoff's taking advantage of the Native-American tribes and playing them off each other. There is the tribe of lobbyists in D.C., which is itself a tribal town. And there is his deep identification as a Jew that almost takes on tribal aspects in its religiosity. As I sat in the screening watching all these tribal narrative streams blend together I began to feel compelled to put this to you. We gay men have always proudly claimed you as a member of our tribe, and yet you don't proudly claim us back. Why?"
The conversation I had with Spacey covered everything from Abramoff's part in Boulis' murder to the process of dramatizing politics to the awkwardness of being asked about his sexuality.
Since I'm talking to you from South Florida, we might as well start with this movie's Fort Lauderdale connection--a mob-style hit on one of Jack Abramoff's business rivals. Don't you think the Gus Boulis murder sort of epitomizes the depths of the criminal enterprise Abramoff was (directly or indirectly) connected to?
Well I think you're trying to get me to make some line between him [Abramoff] and the tragedy that happened down there. But obviously he was never connected to that directly.
There's a great documentary by the same name, Casino Jack, that I'm sure everyone involved with this movie was familiar with. It tells the same story, but that film actually begins with the Boulis murder and uses that as a jumping off point to tell the story of Abramoff and his web of corruption that led up to that moment. That movie doesn't make any claims yours doesn't, right?
Everyone was familiar with the documentary. I've never seen it, but I knew it was out there. I just never had a chance to see it.
Yeah, well, uh...it's a good one. So, um, it seems like one of the obvious goals of this movie was to take the dark nuances and realities of politics and make them not just digestible, but pretty funny too. What's your thought process, and are there any lines you don't want to cross when your transforming reality into drama?
Basically I look at it this way: When you have stories that are based on actual events, life doesn't happen in a certain narrative and life doesn't happen in dialogue. As surely that we can be confident that Peter Morton [who wrote the screenplay for The Queen] was never hiding under a bed in Buckingham Palace, listening to the Queen talking to her husband about her daughter-in-law, what you do is you source. You source as much as you possibly can both from a legal perspective, but also from a factual perspective.
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And then dramatize. That's what we do. We're not making a documentary. We're dramatizing. The episode in a certain person's life, in this case Jack Abramoff. So we didn't make up anything in terms of what happened. The events are exactly as they are. And you source enough of the people who are actual characters in the film that you get a reasonable sense of what you can dramatize that will illuminate that story but not veer off into an absolutely 'Oh we invented all this stuff.' Because the truth is, you couldn't write this shit. It's pretty remarkable.
You can read an enormous amount of information and you can take in a lot of factual stuff and you can look at behavior, but if it isn't active, if it doesn't propel the story forward, then it's fairly useless information, so you leave a lot of stuff to the side. You say, 'This isn't playable. I have to actively play something.' I think that's one of the reasons that George Hickenlooper was so determined that the tone of the film would be entertaining and it would be funnier than people might imagine it.
It's a little bit like when we made Recount for HBO. You tell people we're gonna make a movie about an election or we're gonna make a movie about a Washington lobbyist, you can sort of hear the yawning start across the nation. So you hope that by finding a way into a character, particularly because Abramoff sort of had this connection to show business and sort of always wanted to be in show business and was sort of a raconteur and sort of holding court, you open yourself up to the possibility that through humor you can make your political points.
One of the examples of how Abramoff ended up being helpful to us even though he didn't know he was being helpful, was when he mentioned to George and I when we had our meeting with him that if he had known he was gonna go to jail, he would have never taken the fifth in front of the Senate. And as George and I drove away from the prison that day, we looked at each other and said, 'Now what would that scene be like?' And then ultimately you end up writing a scene that I think not only is a funny scene, but it also underscores the hypocrisy that was going on in that Senate hearing.
Is that your way of expressing something that maybe newspaper stories weren't able to get at?
Exactly! I don't think if you read any newspaper stories about Abramoff, you would have ever heard about the sides of him we try to portray in the movie, as well as the sides you did hear about. You get little clues about how you can illuminate something and how you can dramatize something that will make it far more interesting than it would be if you were sort of playing it flatly.
So you're sort of a political junkie and your last movie also had a South Florida connection, so I have to ask, is there something wrong with South Florida?
Is it something metaphoric or microcosmic about this reclaimed swamp land we call home?
Definitely, things seem to happen down there that cause a great deal of attention. But I suppose you could sort of point to any city across the United States. Things happen in Chicago. Things happen in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And things happen in New York. I don't think it's in anyway a slate on your fine village down there.
Is it more corrupt than other places?
It just so happens that politics down there is a very serious business. I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure how to...I tend to try as best as I can not to make sweeping statements.
I'm sure you've got plenty of people trying to lure you into traps. Personal agendas and whatnot.
I promise you I won't ask if you're gay. As a matter of fact, I think the Daily Beast guy was kind of a dick.
On that note, actually, I noticed that Casino Jack has a tribal motif running through it. There is Abramoff's taking advantage of the Native-American tribes and playing them off each other. There is the tribe of lobbyists in D.C., which is itself a tribal town. And there is his deep identification as a Jew that almost takes on tribal aspects in its religiosity. As I sat in the screening watching all these tribal narrative streams blend together I began to feel compelled to put this to you. We LeBron James fans have always proudly claimed you as a member of our tribe, and yet you don't proudly claim us back. Why?
I don't what you're talking about.
Oh, I um, I was...I was trying to make fun of the Daily Beast reporter again...trying to make fun of his personal agenda making out of other people's private lives...or...
Oh, I got it.
And LeBron James is the big news in South Florida...
Well I live in London so I'm not up to date.
And I apologize for the immediate awkwardness of that horribly failed joke...
Uh...do you...ever...have...uh...I...I'm just gonna studder and stammer here for a few seconds after that.
[A few more seconds of painfully awkward stammering.]
So, as you do publicity for this movie, what percentage of you is the actor pushing the film, what part of you is doing this for a friend, and what part of it is political participant who thinks it's important for people to see the movie?
I'm not fractioned. George was my friend. He was my collaborator. We made a movie together that we're very proud of. We hoped to work together again. There's moments where, God I wish George could have been at the D.C. screening. I wish George could have been at the St. Louis screening--that should have been his triumphant return to his hometown. So everything about going out and talking about this movie is tinged with the sadness of his death. But at the same time he would want people to see the movie, so I've got to do everything I can to make that happen.