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Kevin Spacey’s Strange New World: From Triple Threat to Legal Challenges on Three Fronts

The two-time Oscar winner has reached a "critical mass" of legal challenges over allegations of sexual misconduct that make it unlikely he will ever work again.

In September 2012, Kevin Spacey injured his hand while holding a burning flag during a promotional shoot for the first season of Netflix’s House of Cards. A 20-something production assistant was tasked with driving the star to the hospital. Though Spacey was too wounded to work, he apparently wasn’t too impaired to sexually harass. Multiple on-set sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Spacey groped the PA, who later complained to a superior.

That incident is part of explosive confidential arbitration that pits the disgraced actor against his former employer, Media Rights Capital. In 2019, MRC brought the initial claim against Spacey, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages suffered as a result of #MeToo revelations about the actor.

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But Spacey then lodged a counterclaim against MRC, arguing that reports of his sexual misdeeds had been exaggerated and that he’s owed money MRC never paid him after allegations surfaced in 2017. (MRC is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media called P-MRC.)

After more than a year of contentious private negotiations, the Spacey case was submitted to an arbitrator in February 2020, right before the coronavirus lockdown began, with protective orders in place so that there would be no reporting on the still raging battle. But like everything in the new bizarre world of Spacey, this legal proceeding turned surreal quickly. At one point during his deposition, Spacey sprung up from his seat and performed a song-and-dance number in the conference room.

Kevin Spacey (center, with lawyer Alan Jackson) at his arraignment on sexual assault charges at Nantucket District Court in 2019.

Nearly three and a half years after Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp told a BuzzFeed reporter that Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was 14, the film, TV and theater star finds himself a Hollywood pariah. The actor who once nabbed Oscars for his iconic roles in The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, a Tony for Lost in Yonkers and 12 Emmy nominations, mostly for House of Cards, has become the most decorated actor who cannot work. (Spacey previously stated he did not recall the encounter with Rapp but said if it did happen he was sorry for “what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”)

According to a source once close to him, Spacey lives in seclusion with his Svengali manager, former boy band member Evan Lowenstein (of Evan and Jaron fame in the late ’90s/early aughts). The former A-lister now appears onscreen only in an annual Christmas Eve video that he releases on YouTube and Twitter.

But if Spacey is idle, his lawyers are anything but as the onetime triple threat fights legal challenges on three fronts. In London, the Metropolitan Police has concluded its investigation of at least six sexual assault claims made against him that allegedly took place from 1996 to 2013. Several of the claims stemmed from his decade-plus work reviving and running the Old Vic theater, where he collaborated with such heavyweights as James Earl Jones, Vanessa Redgrave and Sam Mendes, who also directed him in his best actor-winning American Beauty role 21 years ago. The findings, made by Scotland Yard’s Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Command, have been presented to the Crown Prosecution Service, the British version of a district attorney, which is deciding whether to bring forth criminal charges against Spacey, according to a legal source.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood on 'House of Cards'

At the same time, Spacey is being sued by an anonymous accuser who claims that Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was 14. The accuser, who is listed only as “C.D.” in a civil lawsuit filed in New York that also includes Rapp as a plaintiff, was an acting student of Spacey’s in Westchester County in the early ’80s when the future star “attempted to anally sodomize the plaintiff, C.D., who … said ‘No’ multiple times.” In the same suit, Rapp alleges that in 1986, when he was a teen and performing on Broadway in Precious Sons, Spacey invited him to a party at his Manhattan home and “intentionally and voluntarily and without plaintiff’s consent engaged in an unwanted sexual advance with a 14-year-old and grabbed … Rapp’s buttocks, lifted him onto a bed and laid on plaintiff’s body.” In recent court papers, Spacey says Rapp never attended a party at his home and denies any wrongdoing occurred with either plaintiff.

“There comes a tipping point where the number of allegations in the number of jurisdictions reaches a critical mass,” says Greenberg Glusker partner Priya Sopori, a former federal prosecutor who isn’t involved in any Spacey litigation, of the actor’s tainted stature in the public eye. “There are certain cases that have reached that tipping point, and Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey are two examples.”

The suit is making its way through court, with Spacey’s attorney Jennifer Keller challenging C.D.’s desire to remain anonymous in the hope that revealing the alleged victim’s name will compel other witnesses to come forward with information favorable to the defense. (Spacey’s team knows the name of the accuser but wants it publicly disclosed.) In late January, attorney Peter Saghir, who represents Rapp and the unnamed accuser, filed a motion for his client to remain anonymous, citing the “deep psychological impact he will suffer if he is required to proceed in this case using his real name.” The judge has yet to rule. Saghir declined to comment.

Attorney Genie Harrison, who represented a now-deceased Spacey accuser in a civil lawsuit, fought a similar strategy from Spacey’s legal team to unmask her client’s identity and calls it “an intimidation tactic.”

“Whether it’s intentional or not, it does intimidate the accuser,” Harrison says. “It was intimidating and concerning to my client that his name was out there.”

Harrison’s client, a massage therapist who died in 2019 from an illness that he was diagnosed with after he had filed the suit against the star in federal court, had claimed that in October 2016, Spacey grabbed his hand and forced him to touch his genitals. She says her client’s death meant the end of the suit; under California law, the ability to recover non-economic damages, like those caused by emotional distress, ends when an accuser dies. “The value of the case for his estate just didn’t exist after his death,” Harrison adds.

(Los Angeles prosecutors also dropped their sexual battery case, explaining that allegations against Spacey could not be proved without the massage therapist’s participation.)

Spacey (left) with Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos in 2017.

The massage therapist was one of three Spacey accusers who coincidentally died within the span of 10 months in 2019, the same year that criminal charges against Spacey were dropped in Nantucket, Massachusetts, after that accuser invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify about an alleged indecent assault and battery that occurred when he was a teenager.

Author Ari Behn, who accused Spacey of grabbing him under a table “right in the balls” at a Nobel Prize concert, died by suicide on Christmas Day. Earlier that year, Linda Culkin, a nurse who cyberstalked Spacey and accused him online of sexually assaulting an underage boy who had been a patient of hers, died after being struck by a car in a Boston suburb.

Still, the arbitration case may have the biggest monetary stakes for the actor. Sources familiar with the matter say MRC has argued that the value of its asset — House of Cards — was diminished throughout the remainder of its run and destroyed in ancillary markets because Spacey is now viewed by audiences as a predator. Furthermore, MRC and Netflix were forced to make the pricey decision to scrap what already had been shot of the final season of the hit series, eliminate Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, and start over. Both MRC and Netflix declined to comment for this story.

Spacey has countered that MRC signed off on a settlement with the production assistant, bolstering his claim that the company should make good on the payday terms stipulated in his contract. Right after Rapp first made his allegation against Spacey, MRC put out a statement that appeared to acknowledge a 2012 incident with a crewmember, albeit a downplayed version of it.

“During our first year of production in 2012, someone on the crew shared a complaint about a specific remark and gesture made by Kevin Spacey,” MRC said in 2017 after several more House of Cards crewmembers came forward anonymously in a CNN story to detail sexual harassment and aggressive behavior by the actor. “Immediate action was taken following our review of the situation, and we are confident the issue was resolved promptly to the satisfaction of all involved.”

The production assistant’s claim is noteworthy given that MRC and Netflix always have maintained that they were blindsided when allegations of Spacey’s predatory behavior began to surface and acted to fire him when leadership became aware. In arbitration, Spacey has claimed that the parties were aware and his contract was amended after the PA complained, with the addition of several morals-related clauses, because MRC and Netflix had concerns about him. Everyone from series co-star Robin Wright to former Netflix senior executive Cindy Holland to a member of the sound team was deposed. (A House of Cards source says recordings exist with Spacey on a hot mic making sexual overtures toward crewmembers.)

No final decision has been made, with JAMS arbitrator Bruce Friedman scheduled to hear oral arguments June 29. (JAMS is one of Hollywood’s go-to third-party companies that has arbitrators and mediators who handle disputes before they go to court or during litigation.) Friedman is expected to make a ruling by summer’s end.

The alleged assault of the production assistant wasn’t Spacey’s only sexual misconduct incident involving a member of the House of Cards cast and crew. When casting was underway for a subsequent season, Spacey invited an up-and-coming actor to Shutters on the Beach hotel in Santa Monica for a meeting to discuss a potential role. According to multiple sources familiar with the incident, Spacey asked the young actor to join him in his room, which he refused. He did agree to get in Spacey’s car, and Spacey drove them to the Getty Center, which was closed and empty, but the star was able to gain entrance. Once inside, Spacey began to grope the young actor, who said he needed to use the bathroom. He snuck out and hailed an Uber, according to those familiar with the actor’s experience. The actor, who declined to speak to THR, appeared in several episodes of the series. There’s no indication that MRC or Netflix was aware of the incident.

Around the same time of the Getty Center episode, Spacey was banned from booking massages with spa chain Burke Williams as well as the app Soothe, according to sources in his circle, because of previous harassment of staff. Both Burke Williams and Soothe declined to comment.

Little is known about Spacey’s current whereabouts or activities. One knowledgeable source says he is living in London at his place near the Old Vic — a two-story unit that formerly housed Mi5 and overlooks Parliament. Another source says he wants to write a book under a pseudonym. Others say his most recent Christmas video was shot in Florida, with palm trees visible in the background, while some pin the location as L.A. The man who regularly wore a hat, sunglasses and face mask long before COVID-19 is enjoying the mask mandate as he is able to move about without calling attention to himself, according to a source who still communicates with Spacey sporadically. He continues to bankroll an art and antiques shop outside Boston. Lowenstein, a founder of live-streaming platform StageIt, declined to comment to THR.

On the acting front, there is little appetite in Hollywood to bring Spacey back. Only writer-director Paul Schrader has openly professed in a 2018 Facebook post a desire to cast Spacey. (The Taxi Driver writer deleted the post given he was in the midst of his own Oscar campaign for First Reformed.) In an ironic twist, one of Spacey’s final acting roles, All the Money in the World, led to an Oscar nomination, but not for him. As he became embroiled in the #MeToo scandal in 2017, Ridley Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer during postproduction, necessitating costly reshoots. Plummer, who died in February at 91, later nabbed a supporting actor nom.

For now, the only window into Spacey’s odd world comes via the Christmas videos. In the 2020 COVID installment, the actor jumps up from a park bench and strolls along a palm-tree-lined walkway as he offers his support to those struggling.

“If your back’s up against the wall, or if you feel that there is no path for you, whatever your situation, I promise you there is a path,” he said.

But a path for Spacey’s Hollywood return doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

This story first appeared in the April 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.