Play­ing pol­i­tics

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John F. Kennedy in 1960, a hard-fought race so close that it may well have been de­cided on some du­bi­ous re­sults in Illinois and in JFK run­ning mate Lyn­don B. John­son’s Texas. Nixon, who had trou­ble adapt­ing to cam­paign­ing in the emerg­ing tele­vi­sion age, comes off as sym­pa­thetic and even heroic for choos­ing not to con­test the out­come.

It’s a dif­fer­ent Nixon than the one Spacey be­came ac­quainted with as he stud­ied for the role in “Elvis & Nixon.” To pre­pare, the ac­tor spent hours lis­ten­ing on­line to the ob­scen­ity­laden White House tapes that re­vealed Nixon’s knowl­edge of the Water­gate break-in, which led to his res­ig­na­tion.

“He was re­mark­ably grumpy,” Spacey noted as he chan­neled the 37th pres­i­dent’s rum­bling ca­dences. “The level of para­noia — ‘They are out there try­ing to get in, try­ing to get us.’ He was a man who felt en­trapped. A man who felt un­happy. The thing that was re­ally most sur­pris­ing was his use of lan­guage. ... I think that was more shock­ing than a miss­ing 18-minute gap.”

Spacey also ex­am­ined his screen test for Ron Howard when the di­rec­tor was cast­ing his 2008 fea­ture “Frost/Nixon.” (Nixon was played by Frank Lan­gella.)

“Ron Howard re­ally needed to see if the ac­tors tested could do Nixon,” he said.

“I thought I was talk­ing too slow and thought it was too much of an im­i­ta­tion. I learned quite a lot watch­ing again.”

Spacey’s por­trayal in “Elvis & Nixon” is based more on the pres­i­dent’s essence — a pub­lic man who didn’t like deal­ing with the pub­lic.

“It’s of­ten said he went into the wrong pro­fes­sion for the kind of per­son he was,” Spacey said. “You look at pri­vate pho­tos of him sit­ting in the White House, he was kind of un­com­fort­able be­ing in his own body.”

Spacey’s in­ter­est in pol­i­tics goes back to his teenage

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