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Spacey splashes into ‘Sea’

Thesp, MDP tune Bobby Darin biopic

This article was corrected on Feb 26, 2003.

After five years of planning, Kevin Spacey is darin’ to play Darin.

The actor will star in and direct “Beyond the Sea,” a Bobby Darin biopic that begins lensing in June; he will also produce with Bernie Morris, Mark Damon and Sammy Lee. Stewart Hall and Joanne Horowitz will serve as executive producers of the pic.

Damon’s MDP Worldwide has come aboard to fully finance and produce with Spacey’s production shingle Trigger Street. MGM is in negotiations to acquire North American distribution rights to the pic, though no deal has yet been inked.

“Sea” had once been planned as a Warner Bros. pic, but Spacey bought the rights from WB two years ago. Producer is Arthur Friedman, who has worked on the project for 12 years.

Spacey told Daily Variety on Wednesday that the budget will be “considerable.”

The film covers the 1940s-’70s, “but,” per the actor, “it’s not a linear story. And not a docudrama.”

Details of the film’s soundtrack must still be worked out, as must rights issues surrounding Darin’s original recordings. But Spacey will sing songs including “Dream Lover,” “Mack the Knife,” “Splish Splash” and the title tune.

“Kevin’s passion for ‘Beyond the Sea’ is overwhelming and has consumed us as well,” MDP Worldwide chairman-CEO Mark Damon said.

It’s been five years since Spacey first expressed an interest in bringing Darin’s life to the screen.

“They say I’m too old,” he lamented at that time — Spacey was then 38. Darin died at 37 when his heart gave out following heart surgery.

Asked if he’s too old now, Spacey laughed, “Bobby always looked a little older — but if I waited any more I might be too old.”

Spacey proved his ability to imitate Darin on the “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” album, singing “That Old Black Magic” as a tribute to the singer. Spacey repeated when he sang during his hosting stint on “Saturday Night Live.”

Three years ago, Spacey said he planned to take six months off to devote to singing ahead of the Darin biopic, but added he would do the film “only when it can be done the right way” (Daily Variety, March 14, 2000).

On Oct. 24, 2000, Spacey brought down the house when he sang two songs a la Darin before an all-industry party created to involve young Hollywood in the MPTV Country House & Hospital.

Since then, the actor has continued to work with Darin’s conductor Roger Kellaway.

Spacey has continually emphasized that he wanted the Darin family to know he would treat the project “with respect.” He sent letters to that effect to Darin’s wife Sandra Dee and their son Dodd. They will be portrayed in the film, which will have “many other good roles as well,” Spacey said.

Darin was told that he would not live past his late teens due to a severe heart condition. He set out to prove he could become a showbiz legend by age 25 and in fact became a big star in the music industry as well as finding success in nightclubs and in films.

Over the years, the “Sea” project attracted writer Lewis Colick and writer-director James Toback, among others.

Spacey, who’s repped by William Morris, said the film won’t conflict with his new job as artistic director of the Old Vic in London, a job that doesn’t start until fall 2004.

“Sea” marks the second pic between Trigger and MDP after “The United States of Leland.” That pic was helmed by Matthew Ryan Hoge, and was acquired by Paramount Classics at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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