NEW YORK – Kevin Spacey's lawyer told a jury Thursday that a sexual misconduct allegation that derailed his theatrical career was the product of a young actor's inability to tell the difference between real life and a scene he played on Broadway eight times a week.
Jurors in a New York courtroom heard opening statements in what is expected to be a two-week trial in a lawsuit brought by Anthony Rapp, the actor who in 2017 became the first in a string of people to publicly accuse the “House of Cards” star of inappropriate touching or sexual advances.
The lawsuit stems from an alleged encounter between the two men in 1986, when Rapp was a 14-year-old getting praise for a role in the play “Precious Sons” and Spacey, then 26, was having his own breakout moment on Broadway as the co-star of “Long Day's Journey Into Night.”
Rapp says the older actor invited him to a party at his Manhattan apartment, then tried to seduce him in a bedroom after the other guests had left.
In interviews and the lawsuit, he has said a drunk, swaying Spacey swept him up in his arms, like a groom carrying a bride, then laid him on a bed and climbed on top of him. Rapp said he quickly wriggled away and left, then kept quiet about what happened for three decades as both actors saw their careers take off.
In her opening statement to the jury, Spacey's lawyer, Jennifer Keller, noted that the incident Rapp described bore a close resemblance to a scene in “Precious Sons.” In the scene, an inebriated father, played by Ed Harris, mistook his son, played by Rapp, for his wife and climbed on top of him. In another scene, Harris lifted Rapp in his arms.
“How did Mr. Rapp come up with such an inventive and original story?" Keller asked the jury. “Eight times each week, actor Ed Harris picked up Mr. Rapp like a groom picks up a bride.”
“What does Mr. Rapp claim? Mr. Spacey falls on him drunkenly. No kissing. No grinding. No touching of his genitals. No request to touch his genitals. Nothing, just like in the play," she said.
Rapp’s lawyer, Peter Saghir, said the encounter between the actors was real and that Spacey tried to "gratify his sexual desire” by pressing his pelvis into Rapp's hips when they were on the bed.
“This was a deliberate act,” he said. “This is not horseplay.”
When Rapp told his story to Buzzfeed in 2017 as the #MeToo movement began to grip Hollywood, he addressed the similarity with the scene in “Precious Sons,” saying that perhaps he was initially able to set aside the trauma of his encounter with Spacey because he was “weirdly accustomed to the action, because it had been happening in the play.”
Spacey said at the time he had no recollection of the incident. “But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” he said.
Since then, though, Spacey's legal team has said the accusation is false. Rapp never attended the party, they said. And even if it had happened as Rapp described, they have argued, it wouldn't constitute a sexual advance.
Rapp wants compensation for mental and emotional suffering, medical expenses and loss of work.
Keller said Spacey was looking forward to testifying at the trial.
“He wants justice,” she said. “Once you've heard both sides, you'll be convinced this alleged assault never happened at all.”
The trial comes at a fraught time for Spacey, now 63.
Three months ago, he pleaded not guilty in London to charges that he sexually assaulted three men between 2004 and 2015 when he was the artistic director at the Old Vic theater.
A judge in Los Angeles this summer approved an arbitrator's decision to order Spacey to pay $30.9 million to the makers of “House of Cards” for violating his contract by sexually harassing crew members.
Those setbacks followed some victories for Spacey, who has recently been acting in films again.
In 2019, prosecutors in Massachusetts dropped indecent assault and battery charges filed after a man said Spacey groped him at a Nantucket bar. Spacey said he was innocent. His accuser also dropped a civil lawsuit.
Spacey won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “American Beauty,” a 1999 film in which he played a frustrated suburban father who lusts after his teenage daughter’s best friend.
Rapp, who as a teenager acted in films including “Adventures in Babysitting,” was part of the original Broadway cast of “Rent," and is now a regular on “Star Trek: Discovery” on television. He is also expected to testify at the trial.
Other witnesses will include a psychologist who believes Rapp experiences post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the encounter with Spacey.