Sam Mendes Reveals The Secret Behind Kevin Spacey’s Oscar-Winning ‘American Beauty’ Performance

Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
DreamWorks Pictures

American Beauty director Sam Mendes has hinted Kevin Spacey used marijuana to enhance his Oscar-winning performance in the film.

Kevin, 56, played Lester Burnham, an advertising executive undergoing a midlife crisis, in the acclaimed 1999 movie.

Speaking at Britain’s Hay Festival, Sam, 50, strongly suggested that for one key scene which saw Lester smoke the drug, Kevin took marijuana for real in order to get into character.

“Kevin is very manicured, everything is absolutely well planned,” he tells British newspaper The Times at the literature event. “But he was playing a character that was lost and who was out of control and he wasn’t organised in his thinking.”

“There’s a scene in American Beauty where he and another character are getting stoned outside a real estate convention and there may or may not have been real pot available on that particular movie. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Whatever substance Kevin may have ingested, Sam revealed that he got exactly the right performance from his star, as he descended into fits of giggles.

“At one point Kevin got the giggles as you imagine might happen if somebody were to actually (have pot),” Sam adds. “He got helpless with laughter and his eyes flicker over to the camera because he’s looking for me to cut and say: ‘don’t giggle, it’s not what I want you to do’. And I was saying: ‘Keep going’. I felt it was absolutely magic and he kept going and that was absolutely the movie.”

American Beauty was a major critical and box office hit, winning five Academy Awards, including a Best Actor gong for Kevin, a Best Director prize for Sam and the coveted Best Picture trophy at the 2000 ceremony.

However Sam, who moved into movies after starting out in theatre, struggled to enjoy the acclaim he received for his first feature film, as he reveals he felt guilty about winning a directing Oscar before several filmmakers he revered.

“In some ways it was a burden,” he explains. “It was a success beyond my wildest dreams and all I felt on the night of the Academy Award was guilt because I was surrounded in the auditorium by Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, David Lynch, David Fincher, Michael Mann and not one of them has ever won an Oscar.”

Almost two decades on from filming American Beauty, Sam is the director behind the two highest earning James Bond films of all time, Spectre and Skyfall.

Despite his Bond film success, he has revealed he is ready to quit the iconic British espionage franchise, saying, “It was an incredible adventure, I loved every second of it, but I think it’s time for somebody else. I’m a storyteller and at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

Also apparently ready to quit is 007 star Daniel Craig, 48, and Sam believes he will be replaced by a relative unknown rather than one of the big name actors who have been linked with the role, saying, “I can guarantee whatever happens with it, it will not be what you expect.”

Stars who have so far been touted to play the British superspy include Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy and Idris Elba.