Kevin Spacey in a Comeback Film: a Sign of Bad Taste?

~ by Dora Endre ~

The Man Who Drew God, the controversial new project by filmmaker-actor Franco Nero is currently in post-production. It will mark the first movie Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects) appeared since sexual allegations against the Oscar winner surfaced. Back in 2017, multiple accusations were made by over 20 men who had allegedly experienced sexual misconduct by the actor.

The alleged behavior spanned between 1995 and 2013, while Spacey served London’s Old Vic as an artistic director and gained much success both on Broadway and at the West End. Following the allegations Spacey was dropped from Netflix’s hit show, House of Cards, removed from other major projects and pretty much ostracized from Hollywood. He lost his publicist and his agent, his UK charity that had aimed to help young people enter into art, also disappeared. Spacey’s last silver screen appearance was in James Cox’s Billionaire Boys Club, in 2018.

At the time the shocking news broke, Kevin Spacey was swiftly replaced by Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World. Many praised the director’s quick decision and risk-taking mentality, especially knowing that he had to go back into production and do reshoots. Plummer’s work on the project earned him a well-deserved Oscar nod. Spacey, in the meanwhile, has repeatedly denied all the allegations, and now, after nearly five years of being off-screen, The Man Who Drew God will be the disgraced actor’s comeback. Will the industry, and most importantly, audiences forgive and forget?

Controversial Story and Controversial Casting

The Man Who Drew God (original title: L’uomo Che Disegno Dio) is about

“The rise and fall of a blind artist who has the extraordinary gift of making true-to-life portraits just by listening to human voices, and of becoming a TV junk star. A fable on the need to rediscover the miraculous power of dignity in a world where media’s noise has solved the problem of man’s imperfection simply by removing the problem itself.”

Yes, feel free to pinch yourself, you have read logline right. This really is the plot to the project.

The script is penned by Lorenzo De Luca (Bastardi, Madness) based on a story by Eugenio Masciari (The Mass is Ended). Franco Nero (Django, Die Hard 2) is directing and starring in the project as the blind painter. L’Altrofilm, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo (MiBACT), Rai Cinema are producing.

Early May 2021, Franco Nero confirmed Spacey’s participation in the movie and that he was set to portray a police detective. Franco Nero’s wife – the pair have been married since 2006 – actress Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End, Coriolanus) was originally cast as a braille teacher who is an old friend to the blind artist. Immediately after the announcement, Redgrave received a heated wave of social media backlash for her decision to appear in the movie alongside the actor.

On casting Spacey, Nero told ABC News,

“I’m very happy Kevin agreed to participate in my film. I consider him a great actor and I can’t wait to start the movie.”

Scott and Nero seem to be two directors representing two very different kinds of worlds.

Abrupt Casting Changes and Other Questionable Choices

On 26 May 2021, Redgrave confirmed that she had no longer planned to be on board with the project. Many believed that her decision was due to the discomfort she felt about playing against the embattled Spacey and the backlash she has received.

“Vanessa Redgrave’s name is being included in recent stories relating to the casting of the upcoming film The Man Who Drew God,”

– a statement about her sudden departure from the project read.

“While there have been discussions about the possibility of her joining the cast, she will not appear in the film.”

On 7 July 2021, Variety learned that Redgrave had been replaced by Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown) and that the film was sold by Motus Studios at the Cannes Marché du Film. The movie also stars Robert Davi (Die Hard) and Stefania Rocca (The Talented Mr. Ripley). If you owned a distribution company or were in charge of a festival, would you want to be associated with a project like this? Imagine, half-naked models stumbling on the red carpet, corrupt businessmen sunbathing on yachts and now Kevin Spacey-s perching in the first row? Sounds like a “high-quality” film event, right? The question is: where is the line? Is money worth everything?

The film’s producer Louis Nero confirmed the casting to Variety. “She plays an old Braille teacher who is an old friend of the blind protagonist played by Nero. She taught him how to read. She is a woman with a pained face but a vivid light in her eyes.” Regarding Vanessa Redgrave’s exit from the project he said she “isn’t up to traveling anymore”. The actress, reportedly, resides in the UK while filming for the project took place in Italy. Was she not aware that the production takes place in the land of pasta? Interesting.

Nero added:

“All the controversy around the film has generated plenty of interest…It was good for the film, from my point of view.”

The producer had previously stated he believed allegations against the Hollywood actor were categorically “false”. And if he is wrong, it is still “good for the film”.

Filming took place in Turin between 28 May and 3 July 2021. The project is expected to bow by September. Spacey has not commented on the film since his casting was unveiled. He has kept a low profile, in general, beyond tweeting out Christmas Eve – cryptic and creepy – video messages for the past three years. In 2019’s video, he appeared as his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood and advised his fans to always “kill people with kindness”. A few days after the video was posted, one of his accusers, author Ari Behn, took his own life.  In 2020, Kevin Spacey posted another video, this time he told people suffering from isolation and fear that “you are not alone”.

The question is, will Hollywood ever welcome back the disgraced actor? How will Spacey’s return to film be received by audiences and colleagues? Is reintegration possible without pleading guilty and admitting one’s wrongful actions? Nero’s casting choice might be good for the movie’s marketing, independently from the artistic quality of the project. However, hiring the star to take part in a film about an artist unjustly accused of abuse might turn out to be a sign of poor taste and lack of moral values. If Kevin Spacey really is proven to be guilty, his current collaborators will have a lot to explain.

The Man Who Drew God is set to be released this fall.