Hollywood A-lister Kevin Spacey talks to Jeananne Craig about NOW: In The Wings on a World Stage, a documentary which follows the stage tour of Richard III.
There are moments in his new documentary film where you forget that Kevin Spacey is a world-famous, Oscar-winning star.
NOW: In The Wings On A World Stage follows the actor on his 10-month international tour of Shakespeare’s Richard III as he marvels at the cities he visits – from Beijing to Doha - and jokes around with his cast mates backstage.
At other points, however, you’re reminded that this leading man isn’t just a jobbing actor, but a fully fledged A-lister.
When the play, directed by American Beauty’s Sam Mendes, comes to Italy, Spacey takes the transatlantic troupe on a luxury yacht trip along the stunning Amalfi Coast. His co-stars, one of whom has never left the United States before, cannot believe their luck.
Spending months together in close quarters in nine different cities, the cast ‘became a family’, says Spacey, who is currently back on stage at London’s Old Vic (where he’s been artistic director for the past decade) in the legal drama Clarence Darrow.
“There is something about the ritual of coming to work every day, with the same group of people, and you’re all up for what you’re going to do that night, or that afternoon. You’re not doing it for money – you’re doing it because you love it,” the California-raised star explains.
“The act of coming together every night and joining to share a story with an audience, and that they then become part of that experience, is one of the most powerful things that an actor can ever experience.”
And woe betide anyone who breaks that spell. Hours after we meet, he reprimands a theatregoer whose mobile phone rings during an important courtroom speech, warning: “If you don’t answer that, I will.”
The 54-year-old has a commanding presence which we see put to good effect in Richard III, and on screen as the ruthless politician Frank Underwood in the hugely successful Netflix series House Of Cards.
He credits the late Jack Lemmon – who became his mentor after the pair appeared on Broadway together, early in Spacey’s career – with instilling in him the importance of leadership.
“[What] Jack always believed, and he passed down to me, was that when you’re playing the leading role, it’s not just a leading role, it’s a leadership role. You can have a lot of influence on the environment, by doing your best, and always being there and always being ready and always being prepared, because that’s what a company needs to see.”
He adds: “And part of doing all those things I just described is having a great time, being a bit of a prankster and making people laugh. To never forget that what we do is play, what we do is pretend, and what a remarkable thing we get to do with it.”
Despite the evident close bond forged between the Richard III cast, Spacey had no problem adjusting back to day-to-day life after the tour.
“I’m the kind of actor that when I hang up the costume at night, I hang up the whole experience.
“You miss individuals, you miss people, you miss coming together as a company every day, but the nice thing about having the film NOW is, particularly in the company of Richard III, it’s captured this experience that we had all over the world. It’s really kind of wonderful to have that on film.”
Besides, just three weeks after the final curtain call on Richard III, Spacey was on set for the first series of House Of Cards. He’ll soon be reprising his role as Underwood for the third series of the show, which is a remake of the 1990 BBC political thriller.
He’s also filmed a sequel to Horrible Bosses, the 2011 comedy in which three friends plot to murder their managers.
But for all the high-profile screen roles, the stage keeps luring him back. He’ll continue working at the Old Vic until autumn 2015, and there’s no doubt Spacey will still tread the boards for years to come.