April 1, 2005
Spacey Shakespeare – Everything old is new again

IN AN AMBITIOUS PLAN to keep the classics alive, Kevin Spacey announced today that next year’s Old Vic schedule will include two lesser known Shakespeare productions. In an exclusive interview with FT, he spoke with Al Leaus about his upcoming programme.

AL:  I understand that you were first introduced to Shakespeare by Joseph Papp. How did he influence your understanding of Shakespeare?

KS:  I knew that Shakespeare was considered the best, but until I worked for Joe I could never seem to get past all that flowery language. Honestly, I had no clue what Shakespeare was all about. Joe gave Val [Kilmer] and I bit parts in Henry IV, Part 1, so that we’d be exposed to his work. Over time, the language started to make more sense and eventually I was hooked.

AL:  Your first major foray into Shakespeare was in Al Pacino’s documentary “Looking for RIchard.” What was it like to work on that production?

KS:  When Pacino gave me the opportunity to be a part of his documentary on Richard III, I signed right up. Al had great plans for that film but, unfortunately, it seemed to confuse people more often than not. He’s a great actor, but he probably should have let someone else direct the film. He got lost in details. I think he just lost perspective.

AL:  I’ve heard that you plan to model the Shakespeare programme on that of Papp’s Public Theater. Is that the case?

KS:  Yes, Papp produced two Shakespeare plays a year and we plan to keep the same schedule. Our main goal is make Shakespeare more accessible to people. I’ve spoken with Branaugh about this. He’s suggested that we mix things up and present each play from a unique perspective. It’s an idea that has a great deal of merit. Richard II is already set so we’re taking a standard approach here, but look for some exciting developments in next year’s productions.

AL:  How do you plan to shake up the mix as it were?

KS:  We’re going to turn Shakespeare on it’s ear. Give people a chance to see Shakespeare in it’s original format. The actors in the original Shakespeare productions were all men, so we’re going to have a go at an all-male production. Ian’s [Mckellen] already signed on. After playing the Widow Twanky in “Aladdin” he seems to have taken a fancy to wearing wigs and knickers. Ian mentioned this to Judi [Dench] and she called me from Australia where she and Maggie Smith are working on a new film together. They’re demanding equal rights for women. They want to see an all-female production in the offing.

AL:  Well, Vanessa Redgrave did a brilliant job as Prospero in “The Tempest” a few years back.

KS:  Well, who knows. If Redgrave will sign on, we might just have a go of it. I think it’s tricky because Shakespeare is really more of a man’s realm, but I’m not ruling anything out.

AL:  What will your approach be for next year’s second production?

KS:  As I mentioned before, we want to shake things up and get people to look at Shakespeare from a fresh, new perspective. We’ve come up with a creative concept that I’m really excited about. We’re going to do the second production in French.

AL:  In French? KS:  Really, it’s not as farfetched as it sounds. When I first ran the idea past Sally [Green] she thought I was off my rocker but, once I explained my rationale, she became a solid supporter. As you probably know, during the 17th century, French was the official court language and spoken by British nobility. As it turns out, many of Shakespeare’s classics were translated into French after his death in 1604. We plan on using one of these scripts for next year’s production.

AL:  I understand, but won’t a French language production make Shakespeare less accessible to the general public?

KS:  Actually no, and that’s the beauty of it. You see most people are intimidated by Shakespeare’s prose. By removing that obstacle, people will be free to simply enjoy the production.

AL:  But it’s going to be in French. How are they going to understand it?

KS:  Lots of people go to the opera and they don’t know the language it’s sung in. So they just enjoy the experience of the opera. It’s much the same here. We’re also planning to take this production to Le Chatelet in Paris. Shakespeare isn’t done that often in Paris, so this will be a unique opportunity for French people to see a Shakespeare play.

AL:  But it will be in French, so they’ll really be listening to a French translation of a Shakespearean play. I’m not sure that’s quite the same thing.

KS:  That’s why you have to keep an open mind about these things. As I said before, it’s time we took Shakespeare out of the box and really looked at his plays.

AL:  Interesting. Do you have any thoughts about which plays you may choose for next year’s programme?

KS:  Probably we’ll be going with one well known play and another lesser known one. “The Merchants of Venice”, “Henry VII”, “Troilus and Cassandra”, “Titus of Athens”, “Timon Andronicus”, and “Hercules” have all been mentioned, but it’s still too early to know yet.

Kevin Spacey can currently be seen in “National Anthems” at the Old Vic.

Financial Time has more with Kevin at the link w/pic.