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For Spacey, publicizing the movie became his way of giving thanks to the teacher who opened his world to acting. Spacey's mentor, Robert Carrelli, says he "stole" Spacey from another high school (in his senior year, no less) to get him into the drama program at Chatsworth High in suburban Los Angeles. Under Carrelli, the young Spacey got involved not only in acting but also in directing and set design with classmates Mare Winningham and Val Kilmer. (As a tribute to another mentor, his great-uncle, English actor John Graham Spacey, Spacey dropped his last name, Fowler.)
"We get different kinds of mentors," says Spacey. "Like angels, they're brought into our lives to teach us something we didn't know or to help us see the world in some new way. Having those experiences from 14 to 18 changed my life. Now I'm paying it forward." Besides his continuing work with Camp Broadway, aimed at getting students to the theater, he is acting as host at a benefit for retirees at the Motion Picture and TV Home in Calabasas, Calif., this month.
Paying it forward isn't so easy for most of us. Leder says she's still looking for her life-changing good deed--although good box office for Pay It Forward would be a start. "I hope this movie makes the world a better place. I hope it starts a human chain of goodness and kindness," she says. "We sure need a good dose of it." And--this is something parents, teachers and Congressmen can agree on--so does Hollywood.