Anthony Rapp on Kevin Spacey Trial Anguish, and ‘Despicable’ Lawyers
Amid the intensity of giving evidence, and last October eventually losing his $40 million civil lawsuit against Kevin Spacey, the Rent and Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp was concealing a happy secret. He and his partner Ken Ithiphol were expecting a baby, indeed entering the final stages of pregnancy with their surrogate.
Rai Larson Ithiphol’s imminent arrival (on Dec. 2, 2022) “was a light shining at the end of all of it, and it helped allow me to be totally released from the attachment to the result of the trial,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “We wanted to keep both things totally distinct and separate. We didn’t even tell our lawyers we were pregnant. But to have it going on at the same time was a source of joy for us in the middle of the ordeal.”
‘Hard to Breathe’: Spacey Accuser Says Facing Him Is Brutal
Rapp is presently performing Without You (New World Stages, booking to April 30, 2023), a gently haunting solo show (based on his 2006 memoir of the same name) in which he tells the story of the early days of starring in Rent, including the death of creator Jonathan Larson, set alongside the story of his mother’s declining health and death. There are snatches of familiar Rent songs, including, of course, “Seasons of Love”; the show—which Rapp first performed in 2008—has a moving earnestness and heartfelt honesty to it.
Despite its source material, Rapp said Without You was not difficult to perform eight performances a week—plumbing final moments and the residue of grief in a 90-minute timespan. “I’ve been doing the show on and off for a number of years. As painful and sad as some of the memories are—and some are intensely—they are also very precious and completely tied to love and intimacy, and so I feel very connected to some of the most important people in my life that I don’t get to spend time with.
“Ultimately, I feel very bathed in their light, and I get to move through it. I’m not left with it, stuck with it. I come to a place of celebration, not in a flippant way—it’s earned. I feel very alive right now doing this show,” Rapp said, “I think probably more so right now having just had a baby. The circle of life aspect so feels incredibly vivid too, the passing down of legacy and generational connection feels so strong and present. I feel really good, spiritually, doing it.”
“I think it would be harder doing a show like Long Day’s Journey into Night, or Death of a Salesman, or Othello—plays that are just so tragic and with such a lot to them,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “You don’t ever move to ‘the other side’ in those shows; you stay in the realms of despair and degradation. I think that would be harder on my psyche than this.”
Rapp is certainly embracing a lessening of the kind of tumult that engulfed his life during the Spacey trial last fall. He had alleged Spacey, then 26, had sexually assaulted him when he was 14 in 1986; Spacey denied it, and a federal court jury in New York sided with Spacey.
Spacey now faces multiple allegations of sexual assault by other men in the U.K, where he will stand trial in a criminal case authorized by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) this June. Earlier this month Spacey pleaded not guilty to seven charges of assaulting one man between 2001 and 2004. He faces five further assault charges brought by three other men. Spacey has denied the charges.
Of whether he felt justice had been served in his case, and how disappointed he felt at how it turned out, Rapp said, “I don’t feel justice was served, but I have to let go my attachment to a result. I have to trust what the jury did in whatever good faith they did it. There’s no world in which I can contemplate their reasoning. That doesn’t do any good. I have to release it. I don’t think justice was served, but I think they did their job in that they came to a verdict.”
His trial left Rapp feeling “a multitude of things. As the jury left to deliberate I was flooded with gratitude, and I really, truly let go of the result. I recognized there were a number of factors. The law is weird, the whole process is weird and I was just grateful the jury took time out of their lives to be there.”
But Rapp remains angry at how Spacey’s legal team conducted themselves.
“I feel incredible rage towards his lawyers and how they behaved. I think they behaved despicably,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “I think the legal system is incredibly unsafe for trauma. And—I didn’t expect this at all—but I feel the 14-year-old in me got to move through that experience in a way I never would have anticipated. So I feel a part of me was returned to myself. I didn’t even know it was missing, but I got to reclaim it. It’s a story I have told many times over the years, but the context of being in court provided a different way to speak about the experience. He got to stand up for himself, and I got to speak on his behalf in a way that had never quite happened before. Whatever the result was, that was more than enough.”
By “despicably,” Rapp says, he means that “this very strange dance happens in cross-examination, where they make a statement about something you did or said out of context, and you have to disprove a negative on the spot.” Rapp says Spacey’s legal team’s “big impeaching, gotcha moment” was around timing. Rapp had thought he had made the decision to go ahead and reveal Spacey’s alleged abuse to Buzzfeed in 2017 after being spurred to do so by reading Lupita Nyong’o’s New York Times article detailing her disturbing experience with Harvey Weinstein. But Spacey’s lawyers showed he had already been in touch with the Buzzfeed journalist before he had read the article.
“Somehow I had conflated that part of the timeline, which they used to claim I had been lying,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “So, on the stand, I had to say this thing doesn’t match the date I remembered, but I wasn’t making it up or intending to lie. I just didn’t have the dates right. It seems absurd to me to make such a big deal out of that detail. The human memory is a weird thing. The truth was after reading that article there was no going back in what I wanted to do. But on that little detail they were able to go, ‘Haha, he’s a liar.’”
In response, Chase Scolnick, Spacey’s co-lead counsel, told The Daily Beast in a statement: “It was no surprise the jury immediately and unequivocally found Mr. Rapp’s Kevin Spacey story was false. Mr. Rapp’s attempt to garner sympathy and attention by lying to his fans and invoking Lupita Nyong’o’s name was only the tip of the iceberg. The Lupita Nyong’o incident merely presaged the falsity of Rapp’s entire allegation, as proven most starkly by the fact that the truth of Rapp’s story required a one-bedroom apartment, when the apartment in question was and always had been a small studio. Mr. Rapp’s demonstrably false claims caused immeasurable harm to actual victims. He should be ashamed of himself.”
Rapp is not “ashamed of himself”; indeed he is proud to have spoken up for his 14-year-old self. “Trial also means ordeal, and it is an ordeal for anyone going through this,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “And I totally understand why so many people in these situations do not pursue this sort of outcome. It is nearly impossible to navigate and there is nothing that can prepare one for the process of depositions and going through all your records, and having anything that has ever been said by you. It can be completely taken out of context. Even if you correct the record that seed was still planted. It was like a nightmare scenario. How can you ever have an authentic conversation about these things? When these cases have a proper or good outcomes, it seems to me almost a miracle. There’s a cascade of circumstances that make it hard to have a fair trial.”
Rapp is grateful that New York State introduced the Adult Survivor's Act, a revival statute that allows adult survivors of sexual offenses one year to file civil claims for cases that occurred even decades ago as it was in Rapp’s case against Spacey.
“It opens up new rules of what can be admissible or not, and what can be considered or not,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “I think it’s hard for justice to be served in these kinds of cases of old events, but it’s good because without it, as a teenager the statute of limitations means you have sometimes such little time to think of these things and what they mean.”
After such a tumultuous year Rapp is “feeling older and wiser. I’m very, very grateful to have gone through this ordeal and come out the other side. I’m incredibly grateful to have this beautiful child who is growing and extremely dreamy. I am intensely grateful to be doing this show and be home on stage, getting to share the legacies of my mom and Jonathan, and be welcomed by audiences with such open minds and hearts.”
“I got overwhelmed by grief. It felt like I was drowning in it”
“Rentheads”—the musical’s most devoted fans—are very visible and audible at performances of Without You, and while Rapp appreciates their presence and ongoing devotion he is also proud the show “doesn’t just trot out” the hits. He can’t meet as many fans as he’d like afterward as Rai (pronounced “rye”) hasn’t had all his shots yet, and Rapp is being cautious about contact. “But people tell me how the show has affected them. One guy on the street the other day said he’d just been diagnosed with HIV, and the show had given him hope. Another woman had lost one of her parents and didn’t know she was coming to a show about grief.
“When I performed it a few years ago, another audience member told me their mom had died the day before, and the show had helped. I would understand if it’s too much for some people, but I’m so happy if it’s cathartic for others. I feel like I am standing on the shoulders of Jonathan in my life, and try to uphold his legacy and the example he set of telling the truth, and responding to what he saw in the world around him.”
While Without You is “overwhelming,” it is also performed—15 years and counting—as “muscle memory,” Rapp said, meaning he can “flow through its tougher areas.” He recalled a very different evening, 25 years ago when performing Rent in London’s West End on the first anniversary of his mother’s death. “I’d had a good day, I thought I was making it through. I did the show. But on my way home from the theater, I remembered that my mom had always wanted to travel more—that was one regret she expressed to me. She never got to travel in Europe. That night, after the show walking along the Thames, I got overwhelmed by grief. It felt like I was drowning in it. And so that is different to doing this show, where I know I can come up for air when my feelings rise up and crash over me. That night it felt like it wouldn’t end. I didn’t know I would come out the other side of it.”
What pervades the show, Rapp hopes, is the wisdom of both his mom and his much-loved mentor, Cynthia O’Neal, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Friends In Deed. “Also, I’m a dad now. I have become more aware of my mom being a mom. I feel I have a deeper understanding of what that was like for her.”
Towards the end of her life, just after she had her last surgery, Rapp visited his mom in the hospital. “She shared with me she maybe wanted it to be over,” he recalled to The Daily Beast. “But part of what she also said was, ‘I want to be here so I can see you kids grow up, and see all the things that will happen for you.’ As a parent now myself, that cuts to the deepest core of myself. I would do anything for as long as I can to be able to witness Rai’s life. I understood what she said in a way I never understood it before. That’s most resonant to me.”
Rapp became a parent at 51. “I did always want to be a parent but thought time had passed me by,” he told The Daily Beast. “There was a period in my early 20s when I especially thought of it, but any relationship I was in wasn’t heading in that direction. I had made peace with becoming a parent not happening. But Ken was really eager to do it. It was clearly not too late. Everything comes in the time it takes.
“One of the things Ken and I talked about was being very mindful that I will be in my late sixties when Rai graduates from high school. I know a lot of parents in their sixties and seventies, and they’re doing great. I have always been a healthy person, and I have every intention of sticking around as long as I can to be there for Rai. But my age is certainly on my mind. Ken is 14 years younger than I am. But I have longevity in my family: both my grandmothers lived into their nineties. My dad is diabetic, but is still kicking at 82.”
“It felt weirder when I approached 40 than 50 honestly,” Rapp said of aging. “Fifty was a fun number. Ken put together a wonderful dinner party for me. We were already on the surrogacy journey.” He still looks preternaturally youthful. “Tell that to my tummy,” he said, laughing, adding that besides “creaky joints” he stays in shape. “I am doing all I can to stay healthy, not just for my but also Rai’s sake, to stay a good dad.”
Parenthood has changed Rapp, he said. “I don’t think I’ve always been very ambitious. I really love working, I’m very proud of my career. I work really hard when I’m working, but I’ve never been somebody who’s been the best hustler. But I’m very aware these days of having to provide for my family—this sense of this family relying on me to make shit happen. Another thing is this Papa Bear, Mama Bear feeling. I would do anything for this child—stand in front of a moving car or anything. I did not know that was in me. There’s a fierceness to that feeling I didn’t necessarily anticipate.”
Rapp began rehearsals for Without You a month after Rai’s birth, which was a perfect window to grow into becoming a parent. You are not only “living between feedings and changes,” Rapp said, but “your brain chemistry also changes. Your hearing and sense of danger sharpen. The show takes up four hours of my day. It’s pretty manageable. The rest of my time is spent at home.”
Rapp said he had not spent much time around infants until having Rai. “I thought, ‘You can’t really talk to them.’ I thought it would be mysterious and scary. Ken had spent a lot of time around kids and is a total natural. But I quickly picked it up on that vibe of real connection, and you kind of just understand what babies want and how to take care of them. It’s been a wonderful surprise.”
The couple would like another child, Rapp said. “At least one more, we’ll see, sooner rather than later, both because it would be nice for Rai to have a brother or sister close in age to help them bond, but also…” Rapp laughed “…I don’t want to be too old.” If and when the couple have their next child, they may be more public about it, Rapp said, and they plan to use a different surrogate mother to their first.
People have been mostly welcoming and positive in their responses to Rapp’s posts about Rai’s arrival, but there was a “really intense” set of negative messages from those opposed to surrogacy. Rapp thinks homophobia was intrinsic to some of the responses, as their surrogate was carrying a child for two men, but “really it was some kind of human trafficking, renting her body, buying and selling a baby—all these things.
“But if any of the people writing this stuff had met our surrogate they would know she’s an unbelievable person. She’s incredible. We spent weeks up to the birth with her, including Thanksgiving, and her whole family welcomed us in. There was nothing untoward about this process. I do appreciate there are some cases of young women plucked off the streets and made pregnant against their will. That is terrible. But this was fully consensual, and her generosity of spirit and desire to make this possible for our family was an incredibly beautiful and moving thing to be part of.”
“Being out makes a real difference in the world”
Rent, and people’s fervent attachment to it, itself is never a burden for Rapp. “It really isn’t. Years and years ago I worked with Kelly Bishop, the original Sheila in A Chorus Line. She spoke about it with such love and affection. It was such a deep part of her soul. That made an impression on me. It is how I feel about Rent, and everybody should be so lucky. This is something I believe in with my whole heart and soul. I just feel lucky, and now to have the bonus round to be involved with Star Trek: Discovery, that is iconic in a whole other way. It’s beyond anything I ever would have thought.”
Season 5 will get underway soon. All Rapp will say “above pain of death and an NDA” is “the spirit of adventure is very much part of this season” and that he and Wilson Cruz’s characters “continue to have a wonderful exploration of what it means to be a family.” Rapp loves being part of the show, and its fans who are both “open-hearted” and the best “gatekeepers” when it comes to the show’s spirit and characters. He has friends who have worked on long-running TV shows where the atmosphere can be “hard and toxic.” Star Trek: Discovery, by contrast, “is the opposite of that,” from actors to directors, producers, and crew, the positive tone set by lead actor Sonequa Martin-Green.
“I have known Wilson for 26 years both from Rent and as a fellow out actor when there were only, like, four of us. We have an affinity, connection, and friendship.” He also likes the younger queer generation of actors like Blu del Barrio, and their “fierce, alive relationship to justice, fairness, and integrity, which is how I have tried to live my life.”
Queer characters on TV are becoming “less tokenized and much more fleshed out and enriched,” Rapp told The Daily Beast. “All the nooks and crannies of queer experience are getting more light. It’s vitally important that stories of the closet are told as a doorway to empathy. At the same time, there are so many stories other than the closet to be told, and I think that’s happening more and more.”
So many younger LGBTQ actors are out now, “from the beginning, which I fucking love,” Rapp said. “I’m so happy that’s the case, and they’re being so unapologetic. I love that. I think that’s really meaningful. There are still some folks who are scared, and that’s a shame to me. Being out makes a real difference in the world. Collective visibility unquestionably makes a difference.”
Like many, Rapp is “profoundly alarmed” by the increase in homophobia and transphobia in America, and legislation in Republican-led legislatures around both. But he also points to LGBTQ-friendly states enshrining legal rights and protections, and recalled legendary activist David Mixner talking with him about how anti-LGBTQ backlashes come as conservative responses to LGBTQ legislative and cultural advances.
As in previous eras, Rapp told The Daily Beast, “This is a last-ditch clawing back to stop progress. They know young people are incredibly queer-positive. Those who are anti-LGBTQ and doing these things are trying to stop the tide, which will always end up crashing over the walls they try to construct. The history of the world is filled with people in power using scapegoats, and one of the most vulnerable populations in the world is trans people, and they are being shit on by these people in power in the most abominable way. For me, it’s a reaction to the strength, power, and visibility the trans community has gained. It’s terrible, and I hope progress wins in the end—but it’s going to be terrible for trans people for a while.”
Next, Rapp would like to take Without You on the road, especially to his home city of Chicago and Ithiphol’s of Los Angeles. He has directed a film with close friend Noah Averbach-Katz, Type 1, about being a Type 1 diabetic, which he is very proud of and is about to launch on the festival circuit. The next season of Star Trek: Discovery is soon to start filming. At panels and conventions, fans ask Rapp if there will be a musical episode of the show. He has sung a little in one episode, and “would love to do more.”
Rapp has a few, so far unrealized, dream roles. “I would love to play Iago. Sometimes I just love a good Shakespearean villain, and he was the best as far as I’m concerned. I got this close to playing the Emcee in Cabaret; one time it went to someone else, the other time I couldn’t make it work schedule-wise. I’d really love to play it. And I’d love to direct a feature film at least once, hopefully more than one.”
He would also “love to come back to Broadway,” as being on stage eight days a week in New York is his “dream work-life balance, and Broadway is the epitome of that, and I would love to do something. It just has to be the right material, vibe, and people.”
“You never know what’s going to come,” Rapp said, his smile becoming a laugh. “If you’d told me years ago that I would be playing a documentary filmmaker in a rock opera I would have said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
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