Kevin Spacey’s house of bards in London.
ambition and bigger than me.”
After being run by a Canadian department store entrepreneur in the 1980s, the Old Vic, in London’s Waterloo neighbourhood, was at one point in the 1990s going to be turned into a discotheque (“I’m not against a disco season,” Spacey said).
By 1999, it was in the hands of a charitable trust, which was looking for an artistic director. Spacey, who had performed The Iceman Cometh in London, was asked for help in selecting a candidate. Instead he decided to put his own hat in the ring, formally taking on the role in 2003.
His early years were rocky. Charged with filling a 1,000-seat theatre that receives no public funding, Spacey occasionally chose work critics thought unworthy of the theatre. Amid a horrendously reviewed production of Resurrection Blues, a writer at the Evening Standard called for his resignation.
“How dare you not do Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Shaw?” Spacey said, echoing critics’ comments. “We could take all of our critics and fill one row. We have to fill a lot of rows ... The first job we have to do is to get people into this theatre. We have to do work that is exciting, diverse and that people might not expect on the Old Vic stage, and we have to reach out to a broader, more diverse and younger audience.”
Offstage, Spacey was spending most of his time fundraising, courting corporations and individuals and filing for grants to help maintain the building, with its Victorian plumbing and World War II-bombed roof. The Old Vic now has an American Airlines bar and offers cheap tickets to patrons under 25 thanks to subsidies from sponsors.
“I had to push my fundraising staff because there’s a kind of polite British thing,” he said, slipping into a fey whisper, “’Oh, we don’t want to upset them, so we thought we’d just ask for US$5,000 (RM16,000).’ Don’t ask for $5,000, ask for $25,000 (RM80,000) ... You have to be willing to be aggressive, to be direct. And I’ve never had a problem with that.”
As the years ticked by, British critics eventually warmed to Spacey, particularly his 2011 Richard III. It’s a role that fans who know Spacey for his House Of Cards persona will find familiar; Michael Dobbs, the novelist whose work the show is based upon, has said Richard III was an inspiration.
“Although some people believe that Ferris Bueller created the direct address, it actually was William Shakespeare and it actually was in this play,” Spacey said. “They’re both characters that are willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead ... and they’re both characters who are remarkable at predicting how people will react to something. That means that both of them are able to be about 16 moves ahead in the chess game.”
In releasing the documentary himself, under the banner Spacey LTD, the actor said he is taking control of a project that’s precious to him.
“I honestly believe that the industry undervalues films like this,” he said. “They slot them in a little niche, ‘Oh that’s for a very small audience.’ Maybe there’s a bigger audience for this than anyone might expect.” — Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
House Of Cards Season One airs every Wednesday at 9.55pm on RTL CBS Entertainment (HyppTV Ch 616).