Kevin Spacey at JW3 in Hampstead: ‘Why I gave up on Hollywood to manage the Old Vic’
- Credit: � Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013
Oscar winner Kevin Spacey has spoken about why he chose to walk away from Hollywood at the height of his success to embark on a new career at London’s Old Vic theatre, during a talk at the JW3 centre in Hampstead.
Eight weeks after the arts centre first opened, the accomplished actor, director and producer became the most high-profile speaker yet to grace JW3’s stage, when he recounted stories of his career to an enthralled audience on Monday.
In conversation with the BBC’s creative director, Alan Yentob, Mr Spacey spoke of his early career as an actor before achieving worldwide fame in films such as The Usual Suspects, Seven and American Beauty, for which he won a best-actor Oscar.
Mr Spacey said: “American Beauty had just opened and I thought, ‘Well, this went better than I hoped’. But I also thought I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years pursuing the same dream.”
Years earlier, in 1991, he had made a “deliberate decision” to spend the next decade attempting to build a career in film. The new challenge presented itself in London.
“I got up to go for a walk and it was about two in the morning and it was misty,” said Mr Spacey.
“So I called a cab and he asked, ‘Where to?’ and I hadn’t thought about where to, so I said ‘To the National Theatre’.
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“So I drove to the edge of the Thames and looked at that concrete building and I thought about what it means now and where Olivier was in his career when he decided to start the National Theatre. And then I walked the five blocks to the Old Vic. I sat in the park across the street and looked at that building.
“From the time I was 15 I dreamed about running a theatre, what an exciting thing that would be.
“I was looking at the Old Vic and it was like a light bulb went on. I was like, ‘You’re on this committee to find an artistic director [of the Old Vic], you should do this.”
He presented the idea to the board, although he could not start in the job for a number of years, and the deal was done on the condition that news must not leak to the press. The decision remained secret until 2003.
An accomplished storyteller, Mr Spacey more than once credited the place of serendipity in his career.
As a boy he was lucky enough to attend a theatre workshop with his idol, fellow US actor Jack Lemmon, who told the young starry-eyed Spacey that “he was a touch of terrific, a born actor”.
Later, after he left the Juilliard performing arts school in New York without completing his course, Mr Spacey would make his own luck by relentlessly pursuing a part in Jonathan Miller’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, starring alongside none other than Jack Lemmon.
Mr Spacey will embark on another new beginning when he leaves the Old Vic in 2015 to concentrate on his Kevin Spacey Foundation, finding and developing new talent around the world.
Questioned by an audience member about the future of theatre, he said: “People have always said the theatre is dying. I don’t think it’s dying. I think that it’s not easy.
“I think we’re going to be looking more and more to individuals, corporations, foundations and trusts to fund theatres. I also think there’s a lot of very wealthy theatre owners and people who have incredible success with musicals who ought to share some of that wealth.”
He encouraged the fledging JW3 centre to reach out to the community and “bring people in”, revealing he had been persuaded to appear by JW3 founder Dame Vivien Duffield.
Mr Yentob said of the centre in Finchley Road: “I think it’s great, it’s a beginning. The fact that it’s exceeding expectations, the fact that there was an audience and a well-informed audience tonight – there were some superb questions – I think this is a very good start. Now they must make it their own.”