Parkinson (UK Television)

Parkinson – March 8, 2002. Guests are Dame Judi Dench, Rory Bremner and Kevin Spacey. Kevin is the last guest …

Michael Parkinson: Now my final guest tonight, tried his luck in the brutal world of stand up comedy before embarking on a career in acting. He proved there is ‘life after death’ by winning two Oscars and becoming both a bankable star and consummate actor. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome… KEVIN SPACEY.

[The audience gives a loud and cheery applause as Kevin walks down, greets the other guests/host before sitting down in the hot seat.]

Parkinson: Welcome Sir.

Spacey: Thank you, very much, yourself included.

Parkinson: In fact, I think that of all Americans I’ve met and talked to on the show, you seem to be the one who settles in most easily in this country. I mean, some give the impression of looking immediately fully flying back home. You don’t. You seem to fit in.

Spacey: Well, I was fortunate that when I was growing up, my parents used to come to England quite a lot. My father was in the war here based as an army officer, as a medic actually and had spent a great deal of time here as well as in Scotland. [To Dame Judi: Your favourite place.] So when I was young, round 7 or 8 years old they would make trips here and they would bring all the children…so from a very early age I began to have experiences here…going to the theatre, a great deal, they really exposed us to a kind of British way of life. For me, it’s always been quite natural to come here.

Parkinson: And that continuing life affair about the culture or the theatre and that sort of thing…you find here.

Spacey: Well, I had great fortune here. I first came and did a play here in 1986, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, in which I had the great fortune of playing Jack Lemmon’s son. We played here for about 5 and a half months and then more recently I was here at the Almeida for a production of Iceman Cometh which we then transferred to The Old Vic. So, I’d been here quite sometime and it feels quite natural to me…it’s almost like a second home.

Parkinson: LDJ is quite a significant play in your career isn’t it? I mean that was a start for you, basically…

Spacey: Yes…

Parkinson: …tell me the story…wonderful story about how you actually got the audition for that part.

Spacey: For many, many months, I’d tried to get an audition for the play and I was just beginning in the theatre and I couldn’t get an audition …wouldn’t see me, my agents couldn’t get me in… So, I found out that Dr. Jonathan Miller, who was directing the production, was going to be giving a series of lectures in New York on ‘The Afterlife of Plays’. I got myself a pair of tickets to go and I went very nervously and he gave this great, amazing, fantastic lecture. The place was packed; I just kept thinking through the show, you know, “how am I going to meet him?” I don’t wanna go back stage and go [deep voice] “Hi, I’d like to be in your play!

[Everyone laughs]

I thought I… it’s got to happen the right way and sitting next to me was a rather elderly citizen, she was asleep through most of the lecture. And I was thinking and sorta looking around and noticed sticking out of her handbag was an invitation to a cocktail reception in honour of Dr. Jonathan Miller. I thought to myself, y’know [sniggers] “she tired!”

[Audience laughs and claps]

Spacey: …so, I pinched it and very quickly moved seats. I went to this cocktail reception, walked in with my invitation. Dr. Miller was sitting at a table next with Kurt Vonnegut on one side, Norman Mailer on the other, and Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags, and Mr. and Mrs. Filthy Rich!

[Everyone laughs]

Spacey: I thought there was no way I can get over there, but once Kurt Vonnegut got up and went to the men’s room. Didn’t come back. So, I beelined for this chair next to Dr. Miller. I started down and started chatting to him about how great his lecture was. He made a great opening line to me…[Deep voice] “So what brought you to my lecture? I was curious of what would bring young people to my lectures!” And I said, “Well, [snorts] oddly enough, Eugene O’Neill brought me!” And he said, “Is he here? I’ve always wanted to meet him!

[More mirth from everyone]

Spacey: I told him the story of how I’ve been trying for 8 months to get an audition and he wrote down the hotel he was at, gave me his card, said to get to him “directly“. Two days later, I had my first audition for the play, and then 5 months later, I auditioned for the play with Jack Lemmon because he had the approval over the cast of who played his sons.

Parkinson: And he’s your hero too, ain’t he?

Spacey: He was a big hero of mine. I actually met him when I was 13, and I’ll never forget this audition because we did about 4 scenes together. I wanted this part so badly and I was relentless with Jack. I just toppled over his lines and I drove through his pauses. You can just literally feel something started with us at that moment and at the end of the audition he walked up to me and said [Jack Lemmon impersonation] “You know what? I never thought I’d find that rotten kid, but you’re it!

[Audience chuckle and applaud]

Parkinson: I wonder what he would think now?

Spacey: Well, I was incredibly fortunate when I met him… when I was a young theatre student. I went to a seminar, I asked him for his autograph, and asked him some questions about what I should do if I was serious about being an actor. And he gave me some great advice. You know, lo and behold there I was being 26, able to work with my idol.

Parkinson: Was that a generation of screen actors… Lemmon was part of…were they the people that inspired you to perform?

Spacey: Yeah, oddly enough. I mean I like contemporaries and certainly grew up admiring a lot of actors working that were working at the time, but I’m a buff of the older movie stars, and so I really grew up admiring Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracey…really one of my favourite actors of all time. Just to watch the trajectory of their work, how they learned about film, and almost every one of the actors I’ve admired really came out of the theatre. And so I took that advice and that was really the lesson for me.

Parkinson: You’ve got the base …I’m sure a lot of people want to become film stars…don’t they? They want to be stars rather than….

Spacey: I think it was Katharine Hepburn, who said in her day there were a lot of people who were trying to become great actors, and a lot of people who were trying to become movie stars.

Parkinson: [chuckles] Yes.

Spacey: …Y’know, if it happens along the way it becomes you become successful in film. For me the thrill is to always go back to the theatre and I know this is true for Judi as well. There’s just nothing like doing plays, and what it does to you, and how it fulfills you. People who think it the same thing every night don’t…don’t understand… it’s a little like sports to me. Y’know, if you like playing tennis or any game, every time you get up it’s a different game. The rules are the same. The lines are the same. But you’re always working on a different part of the game. Working on a different angle, coming out of it in a different way.

Parkinson: What about…let’s talk about this film now that you’ve made with the lady on your left [Dame Judi] there…and this relationship, this blossoming and blooming of this relationship. She tells me that you cheat at ping-pong by the way!

Spacey: No, it’s her who cheats at ping-pong!

Parkinson: Oh! [Laughs] She cheats at ping-pong!

Spacey: Which, anyway she does!

Dame Judi: No, I get it in first! [Giggles]

Spacey: Let me tell you what she does! She tries this little act that she does, which is if you make a great move, and I occasionally, would make just a great move! She’ll go, “Well if you’re gonna play like that, I don’t wanna play anymore!”

[Everyone laughs out loud]

Spacey: And you’ll go, “Well that’s a good move!” And she’ll go, “I know what it is, but I just simply don’t want to play like that!” She tries to psych you out, and then she does some great move, and goes “ah-ha!

Parkinson (to Dame Judi): Is this true? This can’t be true!

Dame Judi: Simply not true!

Spacey: Ha!

Parkinson: Of course not! And tell us also; there was this saga, the on-going saga of the glove. Now, perhaps you [Dame Judi] set up the story and then Kevin can finish it because… the glove, tell us about the glove.

Dame Judi: As he did! [Chuckles] I’ll tell you very, very quickly about…otherwise we’ll be here all night. The glove is something that happened at Peggy Ashcroft’s 80th birthday at The Old Vic. Tim Pigott-Smith, they did a scene from Jewel in the Crown and came off playing that person called Merrick, who has a kind of wooden hand. And he had a glove on. And I…we were doing Anthony and Cleopatra at the time, at the National with Tony Hopkins and he was playing Cesar, Tim Pigott-Smith… and I’d happened to say misguidedly “There’s something strangely attractive about that hand… [Snorts] you know, glove like that! Something strangely uneasy that makes me!” And of course then, I cooked my goose coz the next night, Cesar comes down, and I get suddenly reverted by the fact that there’s this leather glove on again! So then this leather glove starts to appear everywhere!


Dame Judi: Everywhere! In the basket with the snakes, everythingit’s there! So then I take it, then it goes back to him and arrives in his loo one night, in his bed, on stage, all across the world! And then of course, we’ll all in New York, Kevin and Tim Pigott-Smith, one side of the street on Broadway, he on the other in two different plays and I get it [the glove] to him when the President goes to see them.

Parkinson: Yes, you get the…

Spacey: President Clinton came, and so it appears that night our show, then went back to Amy’s View, and so, when I discovered that I was going to get to do The Shipping News with Judi, I immediately called Tim Pigott-Smith on the phone and I said, [sinister voice] “Send me the black glove!

[Huge laughter and applause]

Parkinson: [Chuckles] And…

Spacey: So, the glove arrives in Newfoundland and I…I very carefully studied the script because I don’t believe it ever appeared on a film set before. And I want to pick the moment when the black glove would arrive on the film set. So, Judi has a scene in The Shipping News where she goes to an outdoor loo…and it’s just a pretend loo, just a set, a little y’know, it was an outhouse essentially. She thought, I wasn’t working that day but in fact I was…I had dug a hole underneath the loo…and she does a scene where the shot is about like this [over the headshot]. So, she pretends to takes her pants down, but she doesn’t. And she sat on the hole and I had the black glove…


Spacey: …on a stick! And I began to… just gently pop it! [Pretends he’s holding an imagery stick] And of course, the consummate professional that she is, she tries to continue the scene…this was during a take! And you can see it on film, we don’t use it on the movie but we got the outtakes, she literately goes, “oh!


Spacey: And then she tries to continue the scene and then I started to really… [Pretending he’s pushing the stick up the hole] and…[sniggers] then she got up and looked in the hole and all I heard was, [impression of Dame Judi] “Oh, no! Not the dreaded black glove!!!

[Laughter and a very loud applause]

Spacey: And of course, the great thing for me is, the revenge doesn’t come down on me – it’s Tim Pigott-Smith who’s going to get it! Oh, he’s gonna get it!

Parkinson: [snorts] He’s going to get you!

Spacey: Somehow, somewhere, she’s gonna top…what happened…

Parkinson: We’ll keep you informed!

Dame Judi: (to Kevin) You’ll be very, very surprised!

[Kevin and everyone laughs at Dame Judi’s cunning remark. A clip of TSN is shown is shown shortly afterwards].

Parkinson: Judi doesn’t read scripts. You do presumably?

Spacey: I do read scripts but I read then in a particular way which is…if I think it’s a great story, then the role is either obvious to me, or I’d say, very often, very embarrassing phone call I make. And this actually happened on a film I did called K-PAX [which is opening here in a few weeks]. I…I got that script and I thought this role of Prot was this fantastic part. I loved it! I picked up the phone, and I said, “This role of Prot is so good…” And my manager said, “That’s not the part.” I said, “That’s not the part?” They said, “No, Will Smith’s playing that part. They want you to play the other role.” And that has often happened to me now, for whatever what reason that…that film didn’t get made in that way, and it came back around. But, I find that it’s kind of innocent for me to judge it as a story.

Parkinson: Yes. It’s a strange part [TSN] for any actor to play because it’s a dead part? Isn’t it? Here’s a man who was bereft of any kind of emotion, of any kind of reaction.

Spacey: Well, he’s a man who has, but the time you have met him in the film has gone through a pretty abusive relationship with his father. He knows really no relatives at all, no sense of himself; he has no sense of whether he has a place in this world. I actually think that there are more Quoyles in this world than there are other kinds of characters that I’ve played, in films…who are ironic [click fingers], fast-talking, glib, and y’know have great sorta senses of humour. I think that for many people, y’know just trying to get through the day, trying to think, figure out how do you fit in this world. Very often people fall into their professions. And as it turns out when Judi’s character convinces him to move to Newfoundland, to start a new life after a series of things happen where he’s left a single father. He goes there, and very slowly, very gladly begins to find a place for himself and actually ends up falling into journalism.

Parkinson: It’s a fascinating story and what about Newfoundland itself? I’ve never been to Newfoundland and I don’t know many people who have actually, apart from you two. But is a strange bereft landscape isn’t it? It’s odd.

Spacey: Well, we had a good time. I mean, I have to say despite the weather and it is… the Newfies even joke they have 4 seasons – fall, winter, misery and summer. [Laughs] And we were pretty much in misery; we never quite got into summer. But despite that and the disadvantages of filming a movie under those weather conditions coz you’re just constantly chasing the weather. You never knew quite what you were going to be shooting from day to day. We did have a lovely time, we stayed in this place called The Fisher’s Loft, which was like a dormitory for us. I was on the bottom floor with the ping-pong table, Judi was upstairs, Lassë was above us, our director, and my dog running up and down the stairs. And when you’re in a place that’s as isolated as that…you are in some ways forced to come together and we really did become quite close in that environment. It sorta pushes you all together. The people were incredibly nice and I think that the film manages to capture the landscape of Newfoundland, which is absolutely majestic.

Parkinson: You were also a stand-up comic.

Spacey: Yes, Sir. [Bill Clinton impression] “Yes, and I’m glad to see my friend Tony Blair is here tonight!”


Rory Bremner: [Tony Blair impression] “It’s lovely to have you here too!

Spacey: [as Bill Clinton] “Well…I miss ya…I miss ya!

Parkinson: And doing impressions as well?

Spacey: Yeah, I did. I started out doing impressions. I just had an ear for it when I grew up and so I did stand-up comedy. I did it in unusual places…some of the famous places in Los Angeles, which is where I grew up, but I also played some odd places like bowling alleysat midnight talent contests…which is…you’ll know what it is like when you’re doing your best material and all you can hear is the sound of bolwing pins being knocked over! And it’s not going as exactly as you hoped. But I found it great fun and it really wasn’t until I hosted Saturday Night Live that I had a chance to really sorta do impressions in a public way, now. It really great fun!

Parkinson: Do you enjoy doing impressions?

Spacey: I do! It’s really fun and each time I work with someone, I love to be able to sorta get them down. Sorta, one kind of thing… [Does Dame Judi] “Oh, please!”

Parkinson: [amused] …that’s Judi, is it?

Spacey: [as Dame Judi] “Oh, please!”

Dame Judi: [Laughs] …is that it?

Spacey: Yes. [As Dame Judi] “Stop it!”

Bremner: He does a wonderful…have you heard his Katharine Hepburn?

Dame Judi: I have…

Bremner: Ahhh…it’s awesome!

Parkinson: Katie Hepburn came to see you in the play we talked about.

Spacey: Katharine Hepburn came to see a LDJ; she came back stage and knocked on the door. I opened the door and her head came bobbling around the corner…I was so stunned to see her, and she said, [Katie Hepburn impression] “My god! You must be exhausted!” [Laughs]

[Laughter and clapping]

Parkinson:Lemmon and Hepburn… the other great mentor of yours…is Pacino, Al Pacino.

Spacey: Yeah, Pacino…actually I did a film with him that was all most like a documentary that we did about Shakespeare called Looking for Richard.

Parkinson: Yeah, I saw it. And fascinating film that…

Spacey: It was a great experience and we did that because we done Glengarry Glen Ross as well, and it was really because, Al had come to see a Neil Simon play I did on Broadway. And watched this play, and then recommended me to the director Jamie Foley. [Al Pacino impersonation] “Oh, I think he be good! Let’s have him! I got what? Can I have a cappuccino?”


Spacey: And so we become great friends. He’s an extraordinary man. Are you all right?

Parkinson: [laughing hysterically] I love that! “Cappuccino!” That’s marvelous!

Bremner: Is there a more interesting one? The older actors? I mean it’s difficult like this generation now, you kinda think, well as you said there now movie stars rather than interesting people in their own right…

Spacey: Well, there are something, there is…I think it true that British too, y’know, I mean you got O’Toole, Harris, Burton and so many that…

Bremner: [Roger Moore a.k.a  James Bond, impression] “We’ve also got Roger Moore…”

Spacey: Who was that?

[Dame Judi laughs]

Bremner: [RM impression] Roger Moore.

Spacey: Oh, my, my!

Bremner: [as Roger Moore] Incredibly, intelligent actor!

Spacey: Very good!


Dame Judi: A cast of thousands isn’t it?

Parkinson: It is! [Laughs]

Spacey: [as Sir Ian McKellen to Dame Judi] Yes, it is! And of course, her favourite Sir Ian McKellen!


Spacey: [as Sir Ian McKellen to Dame Judi] So, nice to see you here! [Laughs]

[Laughter and a big applause]

Parkinson: O’Tooles’ lovely, we adore it!

Spacey: Well actually we’re quite fortunate when we had the premiere for Shipping News, we made it a benefit for The Old Vic. Which is a theatre, I’m very much in love with and wanna help revitalise because, it is a theatre that’s sustained itself for as many years it has, without any assistance from the government. Y’know, the National Theatre gets about a million pounds a month but The Old Vic sorta sustains itself. And we did The Shipping News as a benefit for The Old Vic and I was quite pleased that Peter O’Toole came, showed up in support. He played The Old Vic, a couple of years back. We convinced him to get back on stage in Jeffery Bernard is Unwell, which he had a smash success in. And I secretly flew in from America to see him…we had been really badgering for him to get back on stage, finally he did. And I came back stage in his dressing room and he saw me, said, [as Peter O’Toole] “Spacey! What have you got me into now! I’m exhausted and it’s only opening night!!!”

[Laughter and loud applause]

Parkinson: The distinction of people like O’Toole, and a very favourite of mine…I’ve interviewed 3 or 4 times – Jimmy Stewart. But it was when he opened his voice; you almost started laughing because you know it can’t be true!

Spacey: I know.

Parkinson: He actually does speak like that!

Spacey: I used to do him, I haven’t done him in a long time but I used to do him in my act. [Jimmy Stewart impersonation] “Urm, urm, urm, urm, urm, urm, I know you wanna hear him…I’m aware of that!”


Spacey: But I haven’t done him in a while.

Parkinson: Let’s just look at more points at this multi-faceted career of yours…song and dance. I mean you are a frustrated song and dance man…that comes through very clearly [chuckles] in the research. But I just wonder if…if…well first of all…first of all…where did this love come from? Was it again watching the old movies?

Spacey: Well, it was partly my parents because when we grew up we had music playing in the house all the time. In fact, my Father had this extraordinary collection of 78 records. So, I grew up listening to Peggy Lee, Bing Cosby, Frank Sinatra, all these extraordinary records which I now have since my father passed. And there in mint condition, I mean they were in just incredible condition. So, I grew up with music in my house and when I started out in the theatre, in high school, I did a lot of musicals. I did, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Oklahoma, Dames at Sea, Damn Yankees…a lot of musicals. But then I went off to New York and studied to be an actor at Juilliard and I didn’t do a musical. It’s only really recently, in the last 6 months that there have been a couple of benefits…one we did here at The Old Vic for the British Victims at the World Trade Center, and an evening we did in America, a celebration of the music and spirit of John Lennon. I sang at both of those events because in the wake of September 11th, I felt…I think like many of us did…sorta helpless. You don’t feel like you know what you can do and I was hosting this one event in New York at Radio City Music Hall. Everyone was covering a John Lennon songDave Matthews and some extraordinary artists…about 4 days before the event I said to the organisers, “I really feel like I need…I need to get up and do something. I need to express myself in this way!” And so, we found a great John Lennon tune called Mind Games. And I stood up at Radio City Music Hall like I was outta my mind and sang the song in front of 6 thousand people, live television and Yoko Ono… and it was just a great thrill, and then when we came here to do the benefit at The Old Vic, we did a couple of numbers with the London Gospel Choir. And it was a real thrill…so in the right context, the right place and the right reasons…I…I really enjoy getting up.

Parkinson: Well, next time we shall get the gospel choir and royal orchestral at least…

Spacey: Only, if you play the tamarind! (tambourine?)


Parkinson: Well, I…I’ll wear a skirt…if I get to do that…I certainly would!

Parkinson: Would you mind? Could you hoof a bit? Don’t you think?

Spacey: Hoof?

Parkinson: Yeah.

Spacey: Well, I don’t know. Do you have a floor that’s worth hoofing?

Parkinson: Just look over there. Let me show you.

Spacey: Well, you hoof with me. Go-on.

Parkinson: No, I cant!

Spacey: Com’ on!

[Audience cheers and claps loudly as Kevin and Parkinson get up from their chair to the stage area]

Parkinson: I can’t!

Spacey: [points] This floor?

Parkinson: I can’t!

Spacey: This floor here? This floor here… All right, just do this.

[Demonstrates a quick tap step to Parkinson, who doesn’t follow his lead]

Spacey: No…no, just this, the toe! [He point to his left toe/foot].

[Parkinson still can’t do the step, everyone laughs]

Spacey: No, the toe! The toe, it’s the one on the front!

[Parkinson laughs with the audience. But he still can’t do the simple route]

Spacey: No, just hit your toe back and forth then heel.

Parkinson: Can…can, I make a deal with you?

Spacey: Yeah.

Parkinson: Can I watch you?

Spacey: All right.

[Kevin amazes with his spectacular ‘hoot’. The audience applauds and cheers loudly]

Spacey: No, idea, what I just did! [Returns to his chair] All right!

Parkinson: Such a clop-hopper when I try to dance. But still you can’t have everything can you?

Spacey: Yes, but its just toe, heel…its not that complicated.


Parkinson: I know, I know…its not…my excuse is I got a new pair of shoes and they’re too big for me!


Parkinson: Isn’t it pathetic?

Spacey: Absolutely fine.

Parkinson: Fine, lets just all wrap it up. So, Shipping News that’s out now, and then after that?

Spacey: I’m actually…pretty much doing what Judi’s doing. I’m taking a…taking an extended break from performing.

Parkinson: Well, you’re now in a situation where you can pick and choose can’t you?

Spacey: I’m quite fortunate to be able to keep finding great stories before somebody else steals them. Or waiting around long enough for somebody suppose to do it… to drop out of it…so, it’s been a nice run, I’ve had a great number of years working but there is always a time I think…for whatever the personal reasons are…that you need to just take a step back, take a breather, refuel and get back out of it.

Parkinson: Will we see you over here?

Spacey: Oh, I will definitely be over here, in effect, it’s my intention…the next time I get on stage, it will either begin at The Old Vic or end up at The Old Vic. But The Old Vic will be involved.

Parkinson: That’s good newsyou’re very welcome. Kevin Spacey, thank you very much indeed.

Spacey: Thank you. 

~ Transcript and pictures courtesy of Jaye.