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Tribeca: Kevin Spacey on Why Theater Will Always Trump Film, and how Shakespeare Prepped Him For 'House of Cards'

By Taylor Lindsay | Indiewire April 22, 2014 at 4:38PM

"I am a theater rat," announced Kevin Spacey last night to a Tribeca Film Festival crowd gathered for a festival panel centered on the making of "Now: In The Wings On A World Stage," a documentary chronicling the first trans-Atlantic theater troupe, the Bridge Project Company, as they took "Richard the III" around the world.
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"I am a theater rat," announced Kevin Spacey last night to a Tribeca Film Festival crowd gathered for a festival panel centered on the making of "Now: In The Wings On A World Stage," a documentary chronicling the first trans-Atlantic theater troupe, the Bridge Project Company, as they took "Richard III" around the world.

After viewing the film, two things became very clear: 1) "World Stage" is no understatement, as the 20 British and American actors and director Sam Mendes traveled and performed in Greece, Italy, Beijing, Australia, New York, and beyond, and 2) that being a "theater rat" involves grueling work, vivid adventures, pain, passion, humor, and verve.

Spacey, director Jeremy Whelehan, and company members Jeremy Bobb, Hadyn Gwynne and Gemma Jones sat down following the film and talked about traveling the world, "House of Cards," and why theater will always trump film for Spacey.

Here are fun facts from the event:

Spacey Beamed the Audiences with a Little Green Laser.

During performances in theaters around the world, technology surprisingly played a key role – in bothering Kevin Spacey. Given the different cultures and countries the 200 performances spanned, subtitles were projected above the stage based on location. The actors couldn’t see them, but in Spain, thanks to the theater layout, they were displayed within the actors’ line of vision. "It was a great lesson in don’t look at the subtitles. I remember Simon Lee Phillips had a line, ‘Yes My Lord!’ and I looked up and saw ‘Si Senor!’" and he threw his hand over his eyes here in reenactment. "I was like, ‘do not look.’"

Jeremy Bobb added eagerly: "Another difference across theaters was flash photography during the show. I can’t remember – Kevin do you remember how you handled that?" As all the panelists started laughing, Spacey recalled, "There was a progression – at first I said ‘Stop it – put that camera down,’ (yes, in the middle of the play), then it was flipping them off in the balcony, because they didn’t stop. Finally when we got to Beijing, my fellow cast members felt that they’d had enough of me telling the audience to fuck off, and they got me this really cool green laser, and said, ‘Maybe you could use this.’ So I actually carried that around in my costume, and if someone was filming in the front row I’d just go like THIS… and they always thought that some sniper had them in their sights. And they put the camera down."

Bobb added, "And so, there were blind people all over China filing lawsuits over the last two years."

Being Richard Prepped Spacey for "House of Cards."

"I look at the last 10 years, where I’ve done a play every year… and I’d like to think that this decade has made me a better actor. All that work has prepared me to do the best work that I can do, and I’m pretty convinced that if I hadn’t gone and done this, I wouldn’t have been prepared for a thing like ‘House of Cards.’"

Fun fact: the 1990 BBC "House of Cards" starred Ian Richardson, the original deliverer of the famous line “You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” He too starred in “Richard III” and was an active theater company member for 15 years. Gwynne pointed out “He was a very famous Richard the III in his day, it’s the perfect preparation for that part!”

In response, Spacey dropped his voice to the southern dark demeanor of Frank Underwood and said “Well thank you very much, that’s very kind of you.”

"Theater is my primary allegiance" said Spacey, when asked about the difference between working in film and on stage. "And I’ve not only had such an extraordinary life in the theater, but I’ve also been given the incredible opportunity to have a life in film… But I always try to remember this: no matter how good an actor might be in movie, they’ll never be any better in that movie. That’s it. But in theater, we can be better next Tuesday than we were this Tuesday, we can be better infinitely. It is why we call the film 'Now.' It’s not just the first word of the first sentence of the play, it is what theater is, it’s NOW, it’s at this moment, it’s here and it’s gone. And to people who think it’s the same thing every night, I always make the analogy that it’s like tennis. You can go out and play tennis eight times a week. And it’s always the same rules, but it’s always a different game, every single time. That’s what it’s like, when we go on stage every night."

In response to a timid audience member who asked if the cast considered theater to be dying, he responded with another fervent quotable:

"The theater has always been dying. They’ve been saying that for centuries. And you know what, it just keeps limping along and doing alright. By the way, the single biggest money-making franchise in the United States is Broadway…. I think, and this is my honest opinion, as long as people want to tell stories, and as long as people want to hear those stories, the theater will be alive and well for all time.”

What’s next?

An audience member wanted to know if anyone will ever have the chance to see the Bridge Project Company’s production of "Richard III" again (watch the film – it’ll make you want the same). The answer seemed to be a sad "no." But Spacey remarked that he believes that "we’re moving towards a more creative way of capturing theater, which is of course a 3D experience and turning it into a 2D experience is always lacking. But I think that there are ways in which that's going to be looked at in the future."

Gemma Jones took the mic and said, "Your question indicates that you regret that there aren’t more film performances, which is brilliant. Because I’m hoping that this encourages more people to actually go to the theater."

Meanwhile, Spacey also announced that with the wrapping up of "Now," Sam Mendes has a goal to do the entire Shakespeare cannon for BBC as movies, with no details just yet.

And Jeremy Whelehan said, "We’re thinking of doing a sequel, it’s called 'Now What?'"

This article is related to: Kevin Spacey, Kevin Spacey, Sam Mendes, Gemma Jones, Jeremy Bobb, Jeremy Whelehan, Tribeca 2014, 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage, Tribeca Film Festival






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