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Spader relishing detour onto small screen

James Spader never really imagined he’d wind up with a steady gig on television. He didn’t even watch much of it. But he was willing to give it a shot.
/ Source: The Associated Press

James Spader the movie actor is widely respected for his considerable talent. He’s known for eschewing leading-man parts befitting his looks in favor of offbeat, often dark roles in small-scale pictures. In turn, he gave audiences the creeps and won over critics.

He’s played a cocaine dealer, a sadomasochistic lawyer, a preppy rich kid, a crooked hit man, a smarmy businessman. He’s played some nice guys, too, but it might be argued that he made a bigger impression on moviegoers as the jerk in “Pretty in Pink” or the voyeur in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

He never really imagined he’d wind up with a steady gig on television. He didn’t even watch much of it. But he was willing to give it a shot.

“I mean, I’ve never been much of a planner in terms of my business,” Spader, 46, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I’m not very good at that, and I have not given tremendous thought to what to look for and what I would want to do, toward building a career.”

“I wasn’t particularly curious about it and I really had no idea about what that would be like. And then when I started doing it — and, I guess that’s part of the reason why I did it because I was so ignorant, you know? And ignorance really IS bliss.”

Spader plays the twisted yet goodhearted defense attorney Alan Shore on ABC’s “Boston Legal,” a David E. Kelley creation. Alan inhabits a world of weird and wacky Kelley characters, most notably the hilariously unhinged Denny Crane (William Shatner), senior partner of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.

Kelley introduced Alan in the final season of his legal drama “The Practice,” which ended in 2004. That same year, Spader reprised the Emmy-winning character and got his own hit show, “Boston Legal,” starring with such small-screen veterans as Shatner and later Candice Bergen, who signed on last year.

TV is addictive and intoxicatingSitting in a posh Manhattan hotel suite during promotional work for the show’s second-season DVD, looking erudite in a gray blazer, purple button-down and black-frame glasses, Spader clearly relished his detour into TV land.

“I realized how much I liked it and how sort of addictive it is,” said Spader, who describes himself as “obsessive compulsive.”

“And I have a very addictive personality, you know, so I’ve become rather intoxicated by it ... So I really look forward to getting the next script. I mean, I REALLY look forward to that. That’s something I think I would miss if I wasn’t doing the show.”

He would probably miss Shatner, too. The two have become pals — “odd sort of friends,” said Spader, comparing their relationship to the male-bonding between conservative Denny and the more liberal Alan. (Denny once stayed with Alan at his apartment when he was suffering from night terrors. Both, though, are womanizers.)

“Bill and I probably share more of the same views about certain issues than Denny and Alan do, but we are as dichotomous in personality as they are, and, in many ways, opposing in personality,” he said.

While Shatner has his side projects (host of the new ABC game show “Show Me the Money” among them), Spader prefers to concentrate on “Boston Legal” and is even staving off his movie career to do so.

If a script were good, would he look at it?

“I’m so busy on the show,” he said. “I don’t think I have time — I don’t have time to pursue a movie career right now. I have time if something were go to come along, and it were very minimal in terms of time and it were to just land on my lap and I were to quickly read it and then were able to quickly act it, then I could do something in film.

“But anything beyond that, I just don’t have time for. I don’t have time for the pursuit of anything except this show and trying to live a life outside it.”

His extracurricular activities, he said, include “eating or sleeping or record-shopping or goofing around” with his teenage sons, Sebastian and Elijah, from his first marriage. He has a girlfriend and a dog.

That’s a decidedly ordinary lifestyle for one of America’s quirkiest actors. Perhaps that’s why he likes to sink his teeth into peculiar characters — or, rather, explore the murkier side of human nature.

“I guess it’s what interests me,” he said, talking about the choices he’s made. “I don’t look at it at all as being darker or lighter ... And I guess I have always sort of been drawn to anything eccentric. I find that I am drawn to that in friends and in life.”