SATURDAY UPDATE: Kevin Spacey is in Washington DC this weekend doing extensive research for is portrayal of Jack Abramoff in the biopic Casino Jack, which starts principal photography this month with director George Hickenlooper. The actor will be meeting with former business associates of the imprisoned Capitol Hill lobbyist. Yesterday, at the prison meeting, Abramoff opened up about his former life, discussing how very little has changed on K Street since he has been in prison (and how very little will). At one point during the meeting, Spacey was sharing his impersonation of Bill Clinton with Abramoff, while Abramoff shared a pretty good impersonation of Ronald Reagan with Spacey.
FRIDAY 1 PM PT: My sources tell me that 2-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and film director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness) are right now visiting Washington DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Cumberland Federal Prison. Abramoff, of course, was responsible for one of the biggest political scandal to hit the nation’s capital since Watergate, and is the subject of a screenplay Casino Jack starring Spacey and directed by Hickenlooper and written by Norm Snider (Dead Ringers) and produced by Bill Marks, George Vitetzakis and exec-produced by Donald Zuckerman and Richard Rionda of Hannibal Pictures. A portion of the project is being financed by Brad Feinstein of Titan Multi Media Group in a deal being negotiated by Paradigm. The story is described to me as a modern day GoodFellas set in Washington DC that plays like a thriller involving Karl Rove and others in former President George W. Bush’s inner circle. Cameras will roll later next month.
I’m told that Kevin Spacey is set to star as Jack Abramoff, Hayden Christensen will play Abramoff’s closest associate Mike Scanlon, Spencer Garrett (Public Enemies) will portray Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Arrested Development star David Cross will be Abramoff crony Adam Kidan. The production is also in talks with Tea Leoni as Abramoff’s wife.
After weeks of extensive negotiations with Abramoff attorneys and prison officials, Spacey and Hickenlooper were finally granted access late this afternoon for a creative discussion with Abramoff, who is serving a 6-year sentence. Apparently the disgraced former lobbyist, who produced two Dolph Lungren movies in the early 1990s, is a big Spacey fan — ironically citing Usual Suspects as one of his favorite films. Spacey, who is a personal friend of former President Bill Clinton and who couldn’t be more the political opposite of Abramoff, apparently appreciated and respected Abramoff’s openness to talk. According to an insider, “Abramoff was in good spirits and very charming with the actor. For two guys who couldn’t be more different, they seemed to get along very well.”
Because of Son of Sam laws, Abramoff is legally unable to profit from any story told about him. But he apparently agreed to meet with Spacey and Hickenlooper because he believes no one has heard his side of the story. My source tells me, “Jack feels he has nothing to lose if he can at least convey his perspective even if it’s from inside prison walls. Frankly, he feels like he was thrown under the bus by his fellow Republicans, especially John McCain who wanted to use Jack to help sell himself to the American people as the great reformer. The reality is Jack wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t happening on K-Street already. In fact it’s still happening to this day and everybody knows it.”
Also my source tells me that both Spacey and Hickenlooper had met Abramoff separately once before in the early 1990s when the former Washington lobbyist had a Hollywood shop set up with his brother Robert Abramoff to produce movies. “Jack used to get around the Hollywood circuit quite a bit before he came to DC,” my source says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he wouldn’t end up back there after he gets out of prison.”
In 2004-2005, as you may recall, Abramoff was jokingly referenced by George Clooney during the 2005 Academy Awards. More significantly, Abramoff was convicted of defrauding American Indians out of millions of dollars in casino money, a scam that brought down a number of prominent Washington figures, among them Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Ohio Congressman Robert Ney. The story even gets more interesting because, according to the FBI, Abramoff was associated with a man who allegedly hired two Mafia hit men to murder the owner of a fleet of Florida casino boats Abramoff was in the process of purchasing.
This will be Hickenlooper’s first feature since the controversial Edie Sedgwick/Andy Warhol biopic Factory Girl. A self-proclaimed political junkie, he’s also the cousin of the very popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper who hosted last summer’s Democratic National Convention. The filmmaker chronicles his cousin’s role during that convention in the upcoming documentary series Hick Town which he produced with R.J. Cutler (The War Room, September Issue).