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Kevin Spacey Q & A: 'House of Cards' Wouldn't Exist Without Richard III, Focus of Self-Released Doc (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 2, 2014 at 11:32AM

It's easy to assume that a documentary financed and self-released by Kevin Spacey will be a vanity project. Especially the Tribeca Film Festival world premiere "NOW in the Wings on a World Stage," now streaming, which follows the head of the Old Vic around the world as he stars in 200 performances of Sam Mendes' Bridge Project production of Shakespeare's "Richard III."
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'NOW in the Wings on a World Stage'
'NOW in the Wings on a World Stage'
Kevin Spacey as Shakespeare's Richard III
Kevin Spacey as Shakespeare's Richard III

It must be prohibitively expensive. Who footed the cost?

One of the reasons it's so expensive is the number of people. Credit is due for allowing us to be able to take this experienced troupe of actors, technicians and sets with us around the world. Sam Mendes and I pitched the idea to Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, just before the whole financial world crashed, of a three-year project with five productions with "Richard III" as the final installment. Each of those went around world, with the likes of Sinead Cusack, Ethan Hawke and Simon Russell Beale in "The Cherry Orchard" and "Tempest" etc. After the crash we were waiting for them to call and say they'd made a terrible mistake and pull out, but they never did. They were our main title sponsor in every city, where the theaters were our partners, put in an amount of money to bring us to each place. That's how we managed to make it work, with sponsors in the cities. We somehow managed to cobble it all together, and we did very well. While it was expensive, somehow all those partners managed to do something nearly impossible.

Why does everyone, British and American, use a different English accent? Did you try to meet in the middle?

Everyone in the production spoke exactly the way they speak. No one is putting on an accent. Sam and I set out with the entire Bridge project to prove that it doesn't matter where you come from or how you sound-- American, Brit or anywhere-- you can still make it come alive. I started this idea when we were talking about doing something together at the Old Vic, which spawned a series of conversations and lunches, dinners, and emails over a period of years, since 2000. "Come to the Old Vic." Naturally we wanted to do something. One day he took me to lunch in New York and said, "Something is right in front of us that we're not looking at it. I'm a British director living in New York directing plays and you're an American actor doing plays and films in London. There's something about where you and I are in our lives that is an interesting bridge between our two cultures." 

A British director directed "American Beauty," an important film about American life, and it didn't matter. What only mattered was everyone's sensibility. What could we do that would embrace that bridge? I didn't realize that at the same time, Joe Melillo was having conversations about him coming to BAM to direct plays there. Mendes was reluctant to move to one place to start a theater company. This allowed him more freedom, after running the Donmar. We had the idea of merging these two things, with 50% Brits and 50% Americans doing classic work, and tour around, with BAM and Old Vic as its home.

What impact did the different locations have on how you performed "Richard III"?

There's no question it was an interesting journey for our company, which took the opposite route of all the other companies. They had rehearsed at BAM and opened in New York and went on tour and then came back to the Old Vic. We opened at the Old Vic and in the middle we went to Epidaurus for three performances and came back and finished, then went on the tour and ended up at BAM. So it was a slightly different experience for us, documented in the film. It was unique and interesting being able to play Epidaurus, an extraordinary 14,000 seat amphitheater. It had an effect on all of us as a company going to that ancient space. It took all three performances to figure out how to play there, it was so gigantic, it took time to learn where your voice needed to be and how big and how much you could be subtle in that environment. Those performances effected us when we went back to the Old Vic. 

The gods came with us. All the different venues and theaters, some were acoustically brilliant, some terrible. By the time we got to San Francisco after Naples and and Avila, Spain, we had added 11 minutes to the show. I had to get tough in San Francisco, I remember meeting with the whole company and telling them to take eight minutes off the show. They have to pay attention to the running time. Every actor was getting longer, getting more indulgent when going for the laughter. The running time is very revealing of where a play is.

You are in 22 out of 24 scenes in the play, which you carry along with the company, as the boss, along with everything else you do. You must have been exhausted, especially with the demands of the role.

It could have been exhausting. It was certainly demanding. But it was also enthralling and energizing, because  I was taking good care of myself. I spent a lot of time figuring out what I was doing physically so I would not hurt myself. When you are working on a raked stage, from the sitting audience it looks like it goes straight up. It's raised so that we are sloped down toward you. It's not flat, it goes upward, two or three inches higher than the audience, we're raised up. The whole stage is built that way so that the actors are always off-balance. I chose to do things physically by putting my weight on one toe. I was in balance on that stage, I was playing a cripple with no physical toll. I was figuring out what to do so it didn't kill me.

There was lot on the shoulder of the actor playing Richard, but it's a remarkable company, I am so supported. We got through and shared an incredible experience together. Everyone in the company made great friends, we truly did become a family; that sensibility came through in the film. I am fortunate throughout my sometimes spinning plates in the air at the same time that I'm running a theater in London and a film company and in LA acting, that I have a remarkable staff who bring on incredible people to help who are good at what they do, and make sure I am where I need to be and hopefully be prepared.

Who came up with the idea of the doc, and who paid for it? 

Jeremy Whelehan who is an assistant director at the Old Vic and my associate producer on "Beyond the Sea," came to me saying this was a great opportunity. It seemed like a lot of people were thinking the same thing at the thing same time: "Let's document this."

I financed it and we're self-releasing the movie with no one else involved. It seems to me it's right, it goes along with my disruptive attitude about a lot of things. I wanted to start to see, as we've been seeing people doing all these self-distributions, whether it's Louis CK, what we've done with Netflix and "House of Cards," a lot of people are self-producing and promoting and putting out their own work. This was a personal thing for me. I simply wasn't willing go hat in hand for a dog shitty deal for a DVD release. 

Were you in the editing room?

Jeremy and I had great time together editing the film. During the period of time we were shooting "House of Cards" he came to Baltimore and spent 11 weeks editing what is now the final film. We had a good close relationship. 

Where did that Bunny video come from?

I had the bunny short made, after I saw the one they did on "Caddyshack" on YouTube: "Oh, that would be great, to do a bunny video of my life."

This article is related to: Kevin Spacey, NOW Behind the Scenes on a World Stage, Sam Mendes, Tribeca Film Festival, Tribeca Film, Festivals


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