Actor Kevin Spacey faces the first of a series of sexual abuse claims dating back decades on Thursday in New York in a trial that may come to overshadow a glittering career on stage and screen that included two Oscars and numerous other top awards.
The case against the 63-year-old American focuses on accusations by Anthony Rapp, a star of the Broadway musical Rent, who five years ago publicly accused Spacey of sexual assault when he was a teenager.
In the subsequent lawsuit now coming to trial, Rapp alleges that Spacey - whose real name is Kevin Spacey Fowler - acted to gratify his sexual desire during an encounter at a Manhattan party in 1986, when he was 14 and Spacey 26 or 27.
The trial will focus on Rapp's claims against Spacey of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to court documents, but not claims of sexual assault, which were dismissed in June because they were brought too late.
Rapp is asking for $40m in punitive and compensatory damages and he brought the lawsuit in September 2020, passing through the same statute of limitations window in New York's Child Victims Act that allowed Virginia Giuffre to bring a now-settled case against Britain's Prince Andrew earlier this year.
Spacey denies the claims against him.
Rapp's legal claims came three years after an account in a 2017 BuzzFeed story in which he said a visibly intoxicated Spacey had picked him up, placed him on a bed, climbed on top of him and made a sexual advance in a Manhattan apartment.
Spacey said in a statement on Twitter after the story was published that he didn't remember the alleged incident. "If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years," he wrote.
Rapp's accusation was first made as part of a story about an accuser known only as "CD" who was dropped from the subsequent lawsuit because he refused to openly use his real name during court proceedings.
Rapp and his attorneys have since argued in a court filing that Spacey "grazed" and touched his buttocks while picking him up and putting him on a bed while he was a "14-year-old child".
"Mr Rapp claims that Mr Fowler lifted him up, that Mr Fowler's hand his [sic] 'grazed' Mr Rapp's clothed buttocks for seconds as he did so, that Mr Fowler placed Mr Rapp back-down on a bed, and Mr Fowler then briefly placed his own clothed body partially beside and partially across Mr Rapp's," according to a court document.
Rapp testified in a deposition that "there was no kissing, no undressing, no reaching under clothes and no sexualized statements or innuendo," according to a filing. His attorneys have cited two New York state cases where men were convicted of third-degree sex abuse for "brushing" or "grazing" the buttocks of women on subway cars with outstretched hands for the purpose of sexual gratification.
But lawyers for the American Beauty actor have countered that Rapp's lawsuit should be thrown out on grounds that the law "requires" an accuser to allege "squeezing, grabbing or pinching of a sexual or other intimate part" for sexual gratification or abuse in order qualify under the New York act.
"Plaintiff's allegations amount to a claim Mr Fowler surprised him by picking him up, putting him on a bed and putting some of his body weight against him, before plaintiff 'wriggled out' with no resistance," a filing said. "By plaintiff's own admission, there was no groping, no kissing, no undressing, no reaching under clothes and no sexualized statements or innuendo."
In 2019, charges of indecent assault and battery against the actor filed by an 18-year-old accuser in Nantucket were dropped "due to the unavailability of the complaining witness" after being questioned about text messages Spacey's defense claims were deleted.
Spacey's New York trial comes amid a packed schedule of movie business-related sexual assault trials this month. In New York, director Paul Haggis is facing a claim of rape brought by film publicist Haleigh Breest while in Los Angeles, both Harvey Weinstein and That '70s Show actor Danny Masterson are facing criminal charges.
The Spacey trial could produce some unexpected witnesses. In July, a California judge in a $31m arbitration claim related to his time on House of Cards granted the actor a request to seal the names of his accusers and the "specifics" of their sexual harassment allegations. Court papers have hinted that witness from the hit series could be called to testify.
Meanwhile, the actor's career has been effectively devastated by the accusations. After being dropped from House of Cards, his role as oil tycoon J Paul Getty in Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World was reshot using Christopher Plummer. In May, jurors in the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp defamation case heard that a completed Netflix biopic of Gore Vidal starring Spacey has been permanently shelved. Spacey has also dropped out of a role playing Genghis Khan in 1242: Gateway to the West.
"No matter what the sexual inappropriateness is, if it's a violation of the law the perpetrator should be held accountable if the allegations are accurate," said Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented victims in the Boston Catholic clergy abuse cases.
"I can say that it takes enormous courage for any sexual abuse victim, male or female, to come forward to report the abuse. People who report sexual abuse should be greatly admired."