When Kevin Spacey met Kate Bosworth two years ago to talk about her starring with him in a Bobby Darin/Sandra Dee movie he planned to direct, he felt the eerie resemblance between the two blonde starlets immediately '- down to hearing the theme song to A Summer Place in his head as Bosworth, then 19, sailed across a crowded Los Angeles restaurant toward him. Bosworth, on the other hand, suffered a bit of generation-gap confusion. "I asked him, 'Sandra Dee from Grease? You're doing a remake of Grease?'" she says, laughing, during a recent interview in New York.
Spacey, feeling all of his 43 years at the time, calmly explained that, no, he was making Beyond the Sea, a biographical movie about the '50s pop crooner of "Splish Splash" and his Hollywood sweetheart wife, who had been in the original movie Gidget.
Coming off roles as a teen surf champion in Blue Crush, a sweet girl next door in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton and a teenage porn star in Wonderland, Bosworth was looking for something different '- something adult and dark without being tawdry. "What hooked me," she says, "is that Sandra Dee was so different from her image. She was sweet and innocent, but she had a lot of demons as well."
Bosworth, now 21, reels off a quick list of how she's going to stay out of the kind of trouble that Dee got into: "Don't become an alcoholic. Don't become depressed. Don't have a child at 17." Can't argue with that.
The Trap Door
There are other dangers that are harder to avoid, however, like pushy parents. Sandra Dee started acting when she was 13, marshaled along by a controlling mother. Bosworth started at 14 with Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, which also launched Scarlett Johansson's career.
"Acting was so strangely accidental in my life at that point," Bosworth says. "I was this 14-year-old horseback rider from Connecticut. A bunch of girls from the barn went to New York to audition, and I went along. Then I was called back and called back, and I got this horrible anxiety."
But instead of pressuring her, Bosworth's parents encouraged her softly: "They said even if you do this just once, you have to have this experience, because six years from now you'll say why didn't you make me do that?"
After the movie, she took the next four years off to finish high school, without flying around to auditions and movie sets. "I just wanted to be normal Kate," she says.
Surf Movie Stereotypes
Sandra Dee's breakthrough role of teen surfer Gidget saddled her with maintaining an impossible persona for the next 10 years of her career, which forced her into all sorts of emotional and physical contortions in order to keep looking like she was 16. "They weren't as open to talking about it back then," says Bosworth.
A movie like Blue Crush, however, with all of its estrogen power, turned Bosworth into a positive role model for young girls. Although the press still worries over every inch that appears or disappears around her waist, Kate thinks it's more damaging to keep that sort of thing quiet. "Sandra Dee bottled so much of that up and then had to paint on a happy face," she says. "That's so sad."
Spacey actually cast Bosworth for the role, in which she ages from 16 to 26, because she looks older than her years. "She has a mature face," Spacey says diplomatically.
Keep Your Relationships Private
Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin were one of those Hollywood-royalty couples that showed up at all the events and regularly had photographers in their house to catch the happy family at home. What Dee wanted most of all, says Bosworth, was to be that happy family for real. "She wanted Bobby to sacrifice his career, and that was the problem," says Bosworth, but Darin was sick from a childhood heart problem and lived like he was on borrowed time.
Learning that lesson well, Bosworth keeps her relationship with Orlando Bloom private, and the two haven't made wedding plans yet. The actress hasn't even committed to going to college. She got into Princeton years ago, but has deferred ever since. "This is my third year of work, and I don't feel quite ready to leave it yet," she says.
Watching other old Sandra Dee movies, Bosworth found herself so mesmerized by the woman she was about to play that she would creep right up to within inches of the TV screen and try to mimic her. "I freaked," Bosworth says. "I called Kevin and I said, 'I'm not going to do a good job. You should fire me now and find somebody else. I can't do it.' He said, 'Kate' '- you know, like he does '- 'we're not doing an imitation. That would be boring.'"
She found the character instead by reading. And when she was going over old interviews and transcripts, she tried to find a place where Sandra Dee says she loved making movies. "There was not one thing like that," Bosworth says sadly. "Her day was: The car picked her up to go to the studio and she made a movie and the car brought her home. So that's a huge difference. This is my passion."