In Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, David Spade plays a washed-up, one-time kid actor who stumbles upon a potentially career-revitalizing role. In order to prepare for an audition -- which requires him to play a "normal guy" -- Dickie hires a family to provide him with the childhood he never had.
Spade didn't go to such lengths preparing for his role. "I really don't do the Mike Myers route, where I put on 200 pounds of latex," he explains. "Other actors can disappear into their [characters], which are nothing like themselves. I just play variations on myself." Dickie's mother leaves him after his sitcom is canned and his career derails. Spade's father left when he was 4. "That was the roughest, when I look back at my problems," he says.
But the parallels end there. Dickie was an industry vet at the age of 12; Spade entered showbiz when he was 19. Dickie, at 35, is a has-been who makes a living parking cars; Spade, at 39, is a TV (Saturday Night Live, Just Shoot Me!) and movie (Tommy Boy, Joe Dirt) star still somewhere near the top.
"We started with this funny, angry child star," he says. "But when we did the story, it needed to go somewhere. So, it turns kinda sweet at the end."
In one of the film's best scenes, Dickie attends a poker game with other former child stars Danny Bonaduce, Leif Garrett, Barry Williams, one of the Coreys, and the guy who played Screech on Saved by the Bell. Williams, who was Greg on The Brady Bunch, antes with props -- like Marcia's braces and the tiki idol sported in a special three-part Hawaiian adventure -- emphasizing their current eBay value.
"I talked more about their [past careers] than they did," Spade says of his castmates. "I felt kind of invasive, but I wanted to know about that stuff. I'm just glad they came. I didn't want to pick at it too much. But it was hard not to say, Remember when you were really great?"
And stick around for the closing credits. They are accompanied by a "We Are the World"-type sing-along, featuring a bevy of former kid stars, including Erin Moran, Maureen McCormick, Todd Bridges, and gubernatorial hopeful Gary Coleman. Spade says it was a late, inspired nod to the movie's motivation. "It was tricky," he says. "Some of them didn't want to be in the movie, because they thought we were going to make fun of them. They got scared if I asked them. But when they heard [the movie] was sympathetic toward them, more wanted to do it."
Spade can't help but empathize with the once-famous kid actors. "These guys really aren't angry," he says. "But some of their egos are still there. At one point, they were all at the top of their game. They thought it could never go away. It must be weird.
"I hope this doesn't happen to me. I can't go and be a carpenter, like Harrison Ford. This is all I know how to do."