When I was 13 years old, Kevin Spacey put his hand on my thigh.
It isn’t the most egregious thing he’s ever done, as we know thanks to Anthony Rapp. The incident Rapp described to BuzzFeed occurred a few years before my own, and more horrifyingly, Rapp was in a strangely isolated situation. When I read his account of what happened, I was actually relieved. It could have been so much worse.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. Rapp and I never crossed paths in those days — he’s slightly older than I am — but it seems we led somewhat similar childhoods. I don’t think there’s much of a “fraternity” among former child actors, though we certainly all know a little something about the oddities of the experience. To this day, when I tell my wife a story about getting tutored on movie sets for three hours a day or spending several hours after school in a car, headed to New York City for three auditions, she shakes her head and says, “You had a weird childhood.”
Maybe. But I loved it. Not the acting so much. I gave it up as soon as adulthood came, and I was far more interested in John Milton than Al Pacino. But what I did love were the opportunities: to travel, to stay up way later than all my classmates, to be treated as an adult. And most importantly, to meet some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. Much of how I think and feel about the world today comes from the privilege of my “weird” childhood.
Kevin Spacey and I were in the original cast of “Lost in Yonkers” in 1991. We got along great. He’s an affable, funny guy, as anyone who has seen him on ”Saturday Night Live” knows. Great at impressions. Easy to talk to. A lot of fun. I remember being fascinated by the distinctive scar on his face, but too afraid to ask about it. But I bet he wouldn’t have minded if I did. And I’ll never forget sitting in the lounge of a hotel on a chilly night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We talked about the show, my adolescent vicissitudes, his age (for some reason I couldn’t believe he was only 32). It was actually a beautiful night. I was charmed; my parents were charmed. I went to bed feeling good that Kevin Spacey was my friend.
Back in New York, the play received rave reviews and won a bunch of Tony Awards. Kevin and I were peers in one of Broadway’s biggest hits. We became good friends. We’d go out for dinner, shoot the shit backstage, and there was even a plan for me to hang out at his apartment in between shows on a matinee day. Mostly, though, we hung out in his dressing room. Kevin had one of the “luxurious” dressing rooms on the other side of the theater. It was spacious. There was a couch and a TV and one of those fancy Hollywood mirrors with the light bulbs all around it. We spent many nights in there before the show watching basketball, especially when the playoffs came around.
It was on one of those nights, with the goddamn Celtics on the television, that Kevin Spacey put his hand on my thigh.
To say I remember the exact circumstances or how high up he placed his hand would be a lie. As a diagnosed obsessive-compulsive, I have often doubted my memory. In fact, I just got off the phone with my mother, and she says that I couldn’t even say on that day, with absolute certainty, exactly what had happened. But she knew I was scared. And — knowing that her son wasn’t one to make up stories for attention — she came to pick me up so I didn’t have to go to Kevin’s house. But I do think my OCD hamstrung my parents. They were already managing a child who kept crazy lists of his guilty feelings, had exposed himself in a supermarket at age 4 because of an inexplicable compulsion, and was fixated on the number five. Maybe this was just another version of an illness they didn’t understand?
And so we said nothing. And we did nothing. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve never thought, until now, about saying something, even in my adult years. In fact, I have used the details of the incident several times as a kind of “party story,” something to pique the interest of semi-drunk people standing in a semi-drunk circle near the hors d’oeuvres, often following the story with a casual declaration: “Everybody knows this stuff about Spacey.”
When I think about those moments now, I am ashamed.
We can never escape our pasts. Not me, not Kevin Spacey, not Anthony Rapp. I treated the Spacey situation as a joke, a punchline at dinner parties.
I’m trying to figure out why I am writing about this, why Anthony Rapp’s disclosure has made me want to sit down and find words. The easiest answer is that writing is my life. I use words to figure things out. I never understand anything until I have tried to write about it. That moment with Kevin never affected me very much. I’m not sure why. A few years after the incident, I even accepted an invitation from him to a screening of ”Glengarry Glen Ross.” But there’s something else, something I have been struggling with in the days since Rapp’s revelation. And the best I can come up with is…
In 1951, William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And that, quite succinctly, is it. We can never escape our pasts. Not me, not Kevin Spacey, not Anthony Rapp. I treated the Spacey situation as a joke, a punchline at dinner parties. And now I am forced to confront the seriousness of something that I, and my parents, should have treated differently. As for Kevin, he’s been able to avoid this for years. Not now. Not anymore.
I want to be generous and say that, somewhere along the line, Kevin has been hurt, too — fucked up by a society that punishes people for honesty. Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which one feels an attraction to prepubescent children. There are legions of people who have these feelings and don’t act on them. What if Kevin Spacey had been given space to talk about his attractions without fear of cultural sanction? Would we still be having this conversation? But of course Kevin, as a successful actor, likely had more opportunities than most to get help. And in fact, his apology took no responsibility for his behavior, and conflated his sexuality with his predation. I’d like to forgive him. I’d like to believe he’s redeemable, if only because it gets me off the hook for the blitheness of my response. But until Kevin comes clean, he won’t deserve absolution for sins he doesn’t even seem to understand.
As for Anthony Rapp, I applaud his decision to speak out, his willingness to revisit an old wound. But even he knows that he is not the story here. As Rapp said on his Twitter page, “I came forward with my story, standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking to shine a light and hopefully make a difference, as they have done for me.” He’s right. The truth is that this is a never-ending story with a never-ending list of heroes and victims. And a lot of people in between.
I never went back to Kevin’s dressing room. He must have known something was up. And he tried to make nice. I was the first of the original cast members to leave ”Lost in Yonkers.” In fact, Manny Azenberg, the play’s producer, agreed to let me out of my contract early so I could get to California in time to start filming ”Brooklyn Bridge.”
After my last show, most of the cast and crew went down the block to McHale’s, an old-fashioned Irish bar and grill that has since been torn down. Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony Award that year as an 11-year-old, was there. We’d been in ”Les Misérables” together a few years before. Kevin was in a great mood. There is even a picture of us from that night: him holding me in the air, smiling for the camera; me, arms and legs flailing, feigning distress. Later, he handed me a portable Atari Lynx video game console as a going-away present. There was no box and there was one game already inserted into the console. It was as if he had bought it for himself and decided it might be a good way to curry my favor. I played that single game for hours upon hours in the backseat of my parents’ Toyota Previa van as we drove across country.
Danny Lanzetta is a novelist, a degenerate Knicks fan and the academic director for Highbridge Voices. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.