Mena Suvari said she had an "unusual experience" with the now-disgraced actor Kevin Spacey while making American Beauty, the 1999 Oscar-winner that launched her career. Suvari, now 42, told PEOPLE she recalled her experiences making the film with Spacey in light of the abuse allegations he faces. The American Pie star also shared her own experiences with sexual abuse in her new book, The Great Peace: A Memoir.
While filming the Sam Mendes-directed American Beauty, which won Best Picture and Best Actor at the Oscars, Suvari said she "trusted him." However, there was one moment that stuck in her mind. When preparing to shoot a scene, he took her to a side room so they could "lay on the bed very close to one another," she told PEOPLE. "He was sort of gently holding me. It was very peaceful but weird and unusual." Suvari said she "thought of that day" when she heard of the sexual abuse claims several men made against Spacey in 2017 and 2018. "My heart goes out to anyone who suffers abuse," Suvari said.
In American Beauty, Spacey played Lester Burnham, a middle-aged man who has a midlife crisis and becomes obsessed with his teenage daughter's best friend, played by Suvari. When the movie hit theaters, it was critically acclaimed and a box office hit, although the film's status has waned in recent years due to Spacey's controversies. "It was a beautiful experience, being given the opportunity to work and express myself right when I needed I to save me," Suvari said of making American Beauty.
When the allegations against Spacey surfaced, Suvari said she was shocked. "I think with everything that I've been seeing that everyone's been going through, it's shocking," Suvari said on Megyn Kelly Today in June 2018. "It's really heart-wrenching. It's important to focus on the conversation that's happening and the healing, the victims — the right thing that's to come out of this. That's sort of what I try to hope for and focus on the most. It's something that we're truly changing and moving out of."
Actor Anthony Rapp publicly accused Spacey of sexual misconduct in October 2017, inspiring other men to come forward. When Spacey responded, he came out as gay and claimed he did not remember the encounter with Rapp. Spacey has not faced criminal charges. He has not worked in Hollywood since the allegations came to light, although he was cast in the Italian movie The Man Who Drew God.
In The Great Peace, Suvari writes that she feels "lucky" to have survived. "Between the ages of twelve and twenty, I was the victim of repeated sexual abuse," she wrote in an excerpt published by PEOPLE. In the book, she wrote that a friend of one of her older brothers raped her when she was 13. Today, Suvari is in a happy relationship with her husband, Mike Hope. They welcomed their son Christopher, whom Suvari calls a "gift," in April 2021.