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Nerdy Ninth: James Spader

So ages ago, my friend Curt rolled out the idea of "Nerdy Ninth", which is where we take the ninth day of the month every month to unabashedly talk positively about the things we like. It's a positive-feedback-only idea - no yucking other people's yum, and if you have something good to say, say it with enthusiasm. If the thing being discussed doesn't roll up your socks, then skip it; go play in your own sandbox if you wanna lay turds. I like it: it gives people the space to be positive about stuff, which sometimes in modern nerditry isn't something that happens often. It was a big thing on G+ for a while, and now that G+ is going away I'm going to try and drag that over into my own blog for a chance to talk about things in a positive way. So here's a Nerdy Ninth post to get started.

This month for Nerdy Ninth I'm going to go back to my roots and talking about something I like (in this case, someone):

James Spader.

James Spader has always been an odd duck of an actor; he did some work on TV as a kid, then made the jump to movies thanks to John Hughes, showing up in Pretty in Pink and then making his bones with Robert Downey, jr. in Less Than Zero. His off-kilter delivery and his quiet engagement really take off, however, in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, where he cements his ability to carry the story, even if it is a very, very weird story. He dabbles a little with the Action franchise in Stargate but almost immediately comes back to the experience of the Weird Leading Lad in Cronenberg's Crash, and then after some other roles (including another SciFi "weirdo" in Supernova) he plays opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (which, like almost all of Spader's work from this point on, is the very definition of "Troublesome"), and then he's got a niche that he fills pretty much forever.

He develops a public persona, too: as a raging introvert and a desperately private person, he adopts a character in interviews and articles and public appearances that is quiet, vaguely funny, and deeply kinky (which is often off-putting and disturbing to general audiences). It's not clear whether this persona is in any way truthful or not, since Spader spends a lot of time in public appearances making fun of both himself and the interviewer / public as a sort of "wink and a nod" to the idea that he's a weird guy; I'd like to think he's as weird as he lets on, but Spader is also open and up-front about his social anxiety and how performing a character helps him deal with a lot of that.
He establishes the character of Alan Shore in The Practice and is seen as strong enough to carry through to a spinoff in Boston Legal, where the relationship between Alan and Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) is the central pivot of the entire series, with it's vague wave towards the idea of a legal show, it's frequent fourth-wall-breaking humour, and it's extremely, extremely bad choices and behaviour especially around women.
Here's the thing about James Spader, though: he sells it. Words, actions, thoughts and comments that from another actor would immediately cause me to switch off in any other context are delivered by Spader in a way that makes him even more desirable. As my partner once put it when we were discussing yet another episode where Alan Does Something Troublesome, sometimes it's the Troublesome Behaviour that makes someone so attractive. And James Spader makes Troublesome Behaviour downright erotic.
Spader's choices as an actor help in this regard: he can and often is bombastic and loud, but his real talent is the undersell: his ability to take a moment, get quiet, get intimate with a line or a scene. His delivery often feels organic and real because he's not afraid to pause and think about the next word or phrase. He sells many emotions this way, but most often he uses "going quiet" to sell anger. Which is pretty sexy. And also Troublesome.
Spader is currently starring in Blacklist, an otherwise moderately-forgettable spy / cop / procedural show with a strong supporting cast that exist almost entirely to let James Spader deliver at least one monologue per episode (which, to me, is time and money well-spent). Honestly, if Spader wanted to read a phone book I'd pay money for tickets; his voice and delivery are enough to get me watching and enjoying the experience pretty much every time, so his ability to take a rant or a confession to Shakespearian heights is a lot of fun for me.
I encourage you to take some time and watch Spader's work. The choice of his voice for Ultron was, to me, a master-stroke, and I encourage everyone to try out at least one of his previous works.

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