Kevin Spacey Brings Shakespeare To The World09:15

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Kevin Spacey is known for his work in film, for example, his Oscar-winning roles in "American Beauty" and "The Usual Suspects," and for the Netflix TV series "House of Cards."

But he also has a deep-seated love of theater. Spacey has served as the artistic director of British theater company Bristol Old Vic for the past decade.

A new documentary, "Now: In the Wings on a World Stage," highlights that love. The film is showing in theaters and is available on cable, on demand, beginning today.

"Now" follows the Bridge Company, which Spacey formed with Sam Mendes, director of "American Beauty," and Joseph Melillo, executive director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as they tour the world with their production of Shakespeare's "Richard III."

Spacey speaks to Here & Now's Robin Young about what it was like to perform the title role, and the similarities between Richard III and Frank Underwood, the character he plays in "House of Cards," which is also based on "Richard III."

Interview Highlights: Kevin Spacey

On Richard III as a character

Epidaurus, Greece as part of the Bridge Project tour. (Jeremy Whelehan)
Epidaurus, Greece as part of the Bridge Project tour. (Jeremy Whelehan)

"He's certainly one of the most iconic of Shakespeare's villainous characters. And I suppose now that I've had the chance to play it, I can understand why actors have been so drawn to it, because there is a bit of the actor in Richard III. And for audiences that may not realize that the character I play on 'House of Cards,' Francis Underwood, was in fact based on Richard III when Michael Dobbs wrote the original book and they did the original British series. That's why, for example, when I break the fourth wall in 'House of Cards,' that's something that we call 'direct address.' And while there may be people out there who think that direct address was invented by Ferris Bueller, it actually was invented by Shakespeare. And so it was just sort of remarkably fortuitous that I had just finished the run of our 10 months and over 200 performances as Richard III when I started shooting the first season on 'House of Cards.'"

On Richard III and Frank Underwood in 'House of Cards'

"The characters have certain similarities. I think that one of the things I would say about both of them are they have this uncanny ability to predict the way that people are going to respond and react to things, and that allows both of them as figures, sort of toiling their way through a political world, to be able to be about 16 chess moves ahead."

On bringing together British and American actors in 'Richard III'

The "Richard III" company on a boat cruise on the Bosphorus whilst on tour in Istanbul, Turkey. (Jeremy Whelehan)
The "Richard III" company on a boat cruise on the Bosphorus whilst on tour in Istanbul, Turkey. (Jeremy Whelehan)

"There was an afternoon a number of years after I'd begun at the Old Vic, where Sam and I had lunch in New York and Sam said to me, 'We're missing something that's right in front of us and that I think has to be a part of whatever it is we do together.' And I said 'what?' He goes, 'I'm a British director, living in New York, directing plays and doing films. You're an American actor, living in London, running one of the most important theaters in the world. There is something about that — that bridge between our cultures — that you and I are making even stronger by being where we are and doing what we're doing, that I want whatever we do to have some aspect of that.' And that is where the idea of the Bridge project was born. The whole exercise was: it doesn't matter where you're from and it doesn't matter how you sound, you can make Shakespeare come alive."

On famous people like him acting in plays

"Our job is to get them into the seat, and once they're in that seat, in 15 minutes they usually forget that they know you from this or that. And they start to accept that you are this character in this play and they go into this world. And by the end of the evening, you hope, if you've done your job, that you've just planted a seed for a young person to love the living theater."

On whether the other actors were starstruck by him

"Eventually everybody gets over that. I mean, yeah, that might have been true in the first few days of rehearsal, but I am a company man. I have always been a company man. I will die a company man. And that's why I don't want to be in a star dressing room where I'm isolated. The movies do that enough to actors. We don't need that in the theater."


This segment aired on May 2, 2014.