WHEN Kevin Spacey frequents a fast-food joint, it is usually in preparation for a new role. A patron of The Ivy or Le Gavroche, two of London’s finest restaurants, the actor’s name is associated with good taste, not a bad diet.

In American Beauty, as Lester Burnham, he flipped burgers and watched from the drive-through window as Annette Benning, his adulterous wife, chomped on her lover, while his co-worker cooed to her: "You’re so busted." On Tuesday evening it was Spacey who was "busted" as a junk food fan, but one at least, whose company remained first class.

The photographs of Kevin Spacey, the star of LA Confidential and The Negotiator, standing in a McDonald’s restaurant in Blackpool, with Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, were startling, to say the least.

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The presence of Clinton was easily explained. A guest of the Labour Party conference, he had spent the day praising his old pal Tony Blair, and because his appetite for food outstrips even his appetite for that for which he was impeached, he was always going to wind up somewhere in search of a midnight snack.

We can explain away his Steak Premiere with large fries, but what about Spacey and his quarter-pounder and fries?

His love of London has been well-documented; he helps fund a theatre company, suggested he will one day re-locate to the capital, and rescued a puppy from the Battersea Dog Home, a Jack Russell terrier mix, named Mimi, whom he now refers to as "my British bitch". But what exactly brought him to Blackpool?

The answer was, of course, Big Bill, a bosom buddy for the past eight years and the man with whom he had just spent the previous five days touring Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa to raise awareness of AIDS and visit health centres funded by the Clinton Foundation. En route back to the States Spacey simply decided to tag along.

The Labour Party machine was unaware of his arrival until the morning itself, which may explain the absence of Peter Mandelson, a close friend of Spacey, at their midnight feast.

A life-long Democrat, Kevin Spacey is among the new generation of politically astute Hollywood stars. While Rob Lowe spent his younger years having sex with under-age girls and being videotaped at a party conference, Spacey once wrote speeches for John Anderson, a third party presidential candidate, and has campaigned for each Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

When other Hollywood stars turned their back on Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair, Spacey was vocal in his defence: "His personal life is uninteresting to me. For the $40 million spent by Ken Starr on his investigation we learned what was nobody’s business but that of the man himself, his family and those adults who were involved." Last Christmas he entertained Chelsea Clinton at the London premiere of The Shipping News, while four years before he organised a special performance of The Iceman Cometh for the president and first lady.

The friendships of Kevin Spacey, like his culinary tastes, are elements of his life he prefers to keep quiet.

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"The less an audience knows about me, the better I can do my job," he said.

Privacy is a crucial ingredient in the actor’s recipe for success and has always produced tension during the movie’s promotion. His perfect scenario was Se7en, in which he took the role of the serial killer John Doe on condition that he receive no billing, as he believed audiences familiar with The Usual Suspects would suspect his character and ruin the surprise. "The bonus was that I was in a movie that made more than $400 million worldwide and I didn’t have to do a single interview," he said afterwards.

The trigger for his hostility was an interview he gave to Esquire magazine in 1997 which was tagged on the cover as: "Kevin Spacey has a Secret" and implied he was gay, while marshalling not a shred of evidence beyond his apparently single status and decision to play a homosexual character in Clint Eastwood’s film, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.

His response was to release a statement describing the article as "dishonest and malicious" and that "this mean-spirited, homophobic, offensive article proves that the legacy of Joseph McCarthy is alive and well". Two years later, he gave an extensive interview to Playboy in which he confirmed his heterosexuality and branded the article as "not true. It’s a lie".

When asked how it had affected his love life, he replied: "Most of the women I know haven’t heard about the article. If they have, they know not to believe what they read. Then there are a few women who think the article might be true. It’s a challenge for them: They want to be the ones to turn me around. I let them."

Despite his insistence on enjoying a long-term relationship with a woman, with whom he has discussed having children, the rumours persist.

AN ACTOR who can be both competitive and provocative on set, Kevin Spacey Fowler was born in 1959 into a household which burned with artistic frustration. His father, though he longed to be a published novelist, made a living, between bouts of unemployment, as a technical writer, at one point compiling the instruction manual for the F-16. When not writing reams of jargon on widgets he locked himself in his study with his muse.

As Mr Fowler was a strict disciplinarian, Kevin and his brother and sister were given penmanship classes on Sundays, and when he began to rebel during his teenage years - in one incident he burned down a hut in their back garden - he was despatched to Northridge Military Academy.

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Spacey lasted only a year. In the same week that he received a leadership award he was expelled for hitting a fellow student with a tyre during a fight. At the age of 16 he discovered his forte when he starred in a high school production of Arthur Miller’s play, All My Sons. "It was the first moment in my life when I realised I could have an effect on people," he said.

The theatre launched Kevin Spacey’s career and remains his first love. Today he is a board member of the Old Vic and catches Concorde to attend the London meetings, but 20 years ago, after spending two years at the Julliard School, New York’s famed acting academy, he had to work as a shoe salesman between roles.

At one point he was given an office job by Joe Papp, director of the Shakespeare Festival, who after catching one of his performances in an off-off Broadway production, fired him on the grounds that he should be an international star, instead of a filing clerk.

AN INITIAL step from stage to screen was when Al Pacino saw him perform in Lost In Yonkers, for which he won a Tony award, and insisted he be cast in a small role in Glengarry Glen Ross. Success in the acclaimed TV films about the lawyer, Clarence Darrow, and the TV evangelist, Jim Bakker, helped secure his reputation as a name to watch. But his potential was not fully unveiled when he was cast as the criminal godfather, Keyser Soze, in The Usual Suspects, for which he won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1995. It was followed with an Oscar-nominated performance in LA Confidential.

The golden statue came to rest in his palms again in 1999 - this time as best actor - following his performance as Lester Burnham, a spiritual successor to Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman of Death of a Salesman, in American Beauty.

His versatility as an actor is not without its cost. An Alpha male, like Clinton, he likes to compete, and other male actors are viewed with suspicion as competition. When filming The Negotiator, a Hollywood blockbuster, with Samuel L Jackson, his co-star said he acted with a certain arrogance and that he would often attempt one-upmanship. Neither Peter Mullan or David Hayman, who starred with Spacey in An Ordinary Decent Criminal, about a Dublin gangster, found him entirely sympathetic, suggesting he was often reluctant to share how he would handle a given scene.

Richard E Grant went further in his published diaries, With Nails, by recording a day on the set of Henry & June: "Spacey was on a rant because he didn’t get any close-ups during his scene and has been in heated consultation with his agent and manager."

While Spacey may dismiss Grant’s penmanship as a "crock of sh*t" there is at least one other actor who has cause to dislike him. Unfortunately, that happens to be Val Kilmer, the least personable actor in Hollywood. As a fellow thespian at Julliard, Spacey is said to have borrowed a sum of money from Kilmer’s father on the grounds that he had used up his student loans. Kilmer insists the sum was "like $18,000" of which his former friend repaid only $1,000. Spacey said the sum was $800 and that it has been repaid.

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The dilemma is that while almost no-one has a good word to say of Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey is held in high regard.

Like his buddy Bill Clinton, he is particularly good with women. While filming The Shipping News, he took extraordinary care of Dame Judy Dench, in her first film role since the death of her husband, organising weekend breaks away from the Nova Scotia set to New York to see Broadway shows. Behaviour of which Bill Clinton would no doubt approve. After the show, he did not, however, take Dame Dench to McDonald’s.


* As a teenager Spacey was sent to military school after he burnt down a hut in the back garden of his parents’ home.

* While working as a struggling actor in New York he read biographies of his heroes such as Jack Nicholson, Henry Fonda and Spencer Tracey to see at what age they became famous.

* Spacey initially tried to make a career as a stand-up comic and still does a hilarious impersonation of Christopher Walken.

* A life-long Democrat, he once wrote speeches for John Anderson, a presidential candidate.

* He enjoys a pen friendship with Katherine Hepburn, who once came backstage to praise him on a theatrical performance.