BBC NEWS  (UK)
BBC Breakfast with Frost
May 8, 2005

Artistic direction

On Sunday, 8 May, 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed Kevin Spacey

DAVID FROST: Now when the Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey decided to bring his star status and his personal commitment to one of the most revered theatres in London, The Old Vic, it was the realisation of a long held ambition for him. Not content with making films alone, he was determined to use his talents to help revive the fortunes of this historic theatre – not just by giving some remarkable performances recently but by directing new plays, attracting new audiences and braving the critics. Kevin Spacey joins me now. Kevin, good to have you with us.

KEVIN SPACEY: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: And was it really, as you said somewhere, a dream of yours since the age of 13 to run a theatre?

KEVIN SPACEY: It was. When I was around that age my best friend at the time and I dreamed of building a theatre on a piece of land in California, and we were going to call it the Trigger Street theatre, which now happens to be the name of my production company. And so from as far back as I can remember the idea of being able to have a kind of workshop, I think after ten years of making films one of the things that you fall into is travelling to other countries, going to other places, having kind of a life that you don’t really have a home base and I think a lot of actors – I’m one of them – kind of love the idea of being in one place, having a home. And for me to have that home be The Old Vic now for the next, probably, decade, for the foreseeable future as we build this theatre company, is quite exciting.

DAVID FROST: And in fact that’s the thing that people ask and that’s very interesting you say that – for the foreseeable future, decades and so on and so forth – you are here for the, you are here for the long run.

KEVIN SPACEY: Oh yeah. I, I mean I’ve always believed that in order to start a sort of new theatrical beginning, which is what we’ve tried to do here in this first season, you have to take the long view. You have to look at it in a sense of it might take five years to really build a company, and know who your actors are, and know who your directors are – you can’t do it instantly, and I think it has to happen in a rather organic way. And then the task will be to take the audience that we’ve built in this first season, which has been, for our money, quite remarkable. You know we’ve had more than a quarter of a million people coming to The Old Vic this year in just our first three productions, and now we hold for The Philadelphia Story – the second highest advance ticket sales in the history of the West End for straight plays.

DAVID FROST: Really.

KEVIN SPACEY: So, we’re on to something in terms of reaching out to an audience, which has been fantastic.

DAVID FROST: In terms of the audiences and so on, the box office and all of that, it’s been terrific, as you say. The critics so far have been a little bit more mixed.

KEVIN SPACEY: Mm.

DAVID FROST: But you’ll, you’re going to win them round or …

KEVIN SPACEY: Well I think, you know, you have to take the view that the critics have a job to do and they’ll do it and I suppose occasionally they’ll be with us or they won’t. But to us the most important relationship to develop is the one with a thousand people every night, and to see that theatre filled – night after night – with enthusiastic audiences, many of whom are from the surrounding area of Lambeth who actually have never been in The Old Vic, we’ve reached out now with our educational programme in the last eight months, brought in some 1500 families, most of whom, it’s quite remarkable to discover, they live two blocks away but they’ve never been in the The Old Vic because it, I think for them, has been a bit of an island where all those wealthy people from the other side of the river come and we want to reach out to that new audience. Now we have a ticket policy of 100 seats every performance are under £12 for under-25s, so I think that’s also a huge part of why we’re starting to build this audience.

DAVID FROST: And why did you pick, as artistic director, why did you pick The Philadelphia Story for the next one?

KEVIN SPACEY: Well it’s a great play. I mean it’s one of the great American classic plays. Of course people may remember it as a wonderful film with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

DAVID FROST: Cary Grant.

KEVIN SPACEY: I get to play the Cary Grant part in our production now which we started previews for on Tuesday night. I think it’s more than just a drawing room comedy, I think it is a play actually about something and it’s hugely amusing and, and very entertaining and we’ve got a wonderful cast of some American actors and some British actors and Jerry Zaks our director from America has done a fantastic job.

DAVID FROST: And you said once that in fact acting in the theatre not only makes you a better movie actor but it also makes you a better person.

KEVIN SPACEY: I think so.

DAVID FROST: How does that happen?

KEVIN SPACEY: I think it’s twofold. I think that when you have the opportunity to experience playing a character night after night, to work on a different part of it night after night, how you grow as an actor, what you learn about the play, what you learn about what the writing is about, the musicality of it, how you learn from an audience, is very different from the experience of making a film which is little pieces of moments where you never get the opportunity to play the whole character when you make a movie. For me doing theatre is a bit like sports. If you play tennis, it’s always the same rules and you have the same lines on the court, but you’re always working on a different part of your game. And so for us, those of us who love doing theatre, it’s an experience of, you know, we’ve just closed National Anthems at the Vic, 12 weeks and how the play evolved and grew, what we learnt from it, how extraordinary it was to do it night after night, I love that ritual of it and it is the, in a sense, the daily ritual of doing a play that I think gives you a better life. You know – and doing it for two hours a night, you have, you know the rest of the day.

DAVID FROST: Whereas, whereas the actual procedure of making a movie, even American Beauty or whatever it was, the actual procedure of doing it is a bit boring, isn’t it?

KEVIN SPACEY: It can be. It’s certainly longer hours. You know, you’re up at 5.30 in the morning in make up and, you know, you’re lucky in the course of an average 14 hour shooting day that you might get two or three minutes of film that will actually end up in the movie on that particular day. So it is a, it is strange, you have to sort of keep your wits about you and always be ready to go at any time, and be open to the discovery of when that camera rolls of trying to find those moments that, that worked in the course of the film. So there’s a lot more guess work that goes on in making a movie but when you get a chance to rehearse a play over five or six weeks, you know I just had this opportunity now to do double duty almost the closest to doing repertory theatre I’ve ever experienced, we’re performing one in the evening and rehearsing another during the daytime.

DAVID FROST: But you’ve got a movie coming up in the summer – Superman.

KEVIN SPACEY: Yes I’m –

DAVID FROST: But you’re, you’re not Superman.

KEVIN SPACEY: I am not Superman.

DAVID FROST: You’re the baddie.

KEVIN SPACEY: I am the baddie, I am Lex Luthor, which is one of the great parts, you know, Gene Hackman played in the original films and it’s a wonderful part. It’s also giving me an opportunity to take a little bit of a hiatus from The Philadelphia Story and to work with the director of The Usual Suspects, Brian Singer, for the first time since we did that film.

— NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.  — BBC News (UK) Copyright 2005, BBC & BBC News

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