5 of Oddball James Spader’s Oddest Roles

There’s just something about James Spader that reads… well, kind of odd. Intelligent, certainly, but also icky. He has a certain oddball appeal that often manifests in roles that are uncomfortably sexual—and, more often than not, you’re in for something mindblowing. Next up for Spader is the political drama Lincoln, in which he plays a Tennessee lobbyist, but lest you’re worried he’s gone legit, he explained that his favorite thing about the role was smoking cigars, laughing and drinking… and being naughty and irreverent. Here are some of his oddest (and some of our favorite) roles to date.

1. Dr. Daniel Jackson, Stargate
Ah, the movie that launched a thousand (or, you know, half a dozen) sequels on screens big and small. In the original Stargate, Spader plays Dr. Daniel Jackson, an obsessive academic with an insatiable appetite for ancient Egyptology who opens a space-travel wormhole device that transports him and his military colleagues to another planet and reveals a dark secret about Earth’s past. Not generally a scifi guy, Spader got to tap into his inner nebbish as a scientist whose crackpot ideas prove true.

2. E. Edward Grey, Secretary
As attorney, Mr. Grey, the reluctant dominant in an S&M match with submissive Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Spader conveys both power and perversity. They’re both misfits, and yet this Sundance Film Festival standout is a genuine love story, albeit an unconventional one that may make you question what that exactly means.

3. Graham Dalton, Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Impotent yet sex-obsessed, tongue-tied yet fraying, Graham gets women to talk about sex so he can get off to it. You can see the gears turning in his complex inner machinations—and yet, as odd as he is, there’s a sort of integrity to him that’s wildly appealing. “I’ve got a lot of problems,” Graham tells Ann (Andie MacDowell). “But they belong to me.” Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 indie was a smash success at the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes, and paved the way for future Spader weirdness (and sex).

4. James Ballard, Crash
Controversial? Um, yeah, you could say so about the David Cronenberg thriller that correlates sexual release and extreme vehicular violence. Drawn into a world of car-crash fetishism, Ballard passes the thrills along to his wife (Deborah Kara Unger), and the two find a deeper fulfillment to their marriage through it.

5. Robert California, The Office
Yes, his performance on Boston Legal was Emmy-winning, slimy and smarmy, but that’s nothing compared to Robert California, a.k.a. Bob Kamazakis, who is both slimy and smarmy and just plain bizarro in a way that breathed some much-needed life into the waning seasons of a venerable sitcom.