And as you say in the film, this production was the most demanding experience you’ve ever had.
Kevin Spacey: And that’s just a nature of the beast. It’s a very early play of Shakespeare’s and so he hadn’t yet started working on the device he did in later plays, where he gave the leading actor breaks. So, this play, there’s just no breaks. You’re in so many scenes that you barely have time to go backstage, catch your breath and drink some water. By the nature of it, it was quite demanding.
How long did you rehearse it for? How much preparation goes into not just learning the text, but the subtext of each scene?
Kevin Spacey: We rehearsed for six weeks, but it’s also this thing where it’s not frozen in time. So, it’s not like you learn it and you go out there and are doing it again and again and again. It is live, it is constantly changing and growing, and your fellow actors are growing. I often use the analogy of tennis. Every time you go out and play tennis, it’s a different game. Yes, it’s the same rules but it’s a completely different game.
In the text, the audience is like a co-conspirator of yours and fuels your performance. Did you have to adjust your performance based on how participatory the audience was reacting?
Kevin Spacey: That’s the nature of it. It is about that relationship. In some places, audiences were quite boisterous and very responsive and they laughed at all the humourous things. Other audiences were quieter and more attentive. And also we pay attention to the running time to the play. Oh, we’ve added 11 minutes to the show. We better take off six tonight and another three tomorrow. You’re constantly looking at how the play is expanding and growing and changing and moving. The audience, the place you’re in, has everything to do with how your performance goes.
Richard III deals a lot with political corruption. You put on this production during a time when there was a lot of political change in the world. How was the reaction different in Beijing, rather than New York or Australia?
Kevin Spacey: I thought it was fascinating that we were being allowed to go into the National Theatre in Beijing and do this play. We were in a place like Doha [in Qatar], where they have a royal family that has been there for a very long time. All over the world, there were interesting places where we were doing the play in front of interesting audiences. They all would have a different perspective. The thing that we were interested in, mostly, was to make this 450-year-old play feel immediate and modern. Images that Sam decided to put into the production, people were watching on their television sets. The Arab Spring ignited while we were in rehearsal.
Throughout your career, you have played many cunning, witty villains, from Verbal Kint to Richard III and Francis Underwood to Jack Abramoff. Why do you love playing the villain? What is it about these roles that appeal to you?
Kevin Spacey: It isn’t the way I see. I don’t categorize characters into one syllable. These are fully-rounded characters that I don’t judge, I just play them. I think if I were to count on ten hands the other parts that I play that don’t fit in that category, you could equally ask me why do I like those characters. I’m attracted to things that are challenging and fun and interesting, and it certainly seems that audiences enjoy them as well. It’s as much about an audience as it is about the particular jobs that I’ve been offered when I’ve been available to do them. Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I wanted to do that, it was available and it came along at that time and I said yes.
What is up next for you, either on the stage or screen?
Kevin Spacey: Well, I’m about to go into rehearsal for a one-man play, back at the Old Vic at the very end of this month and into June. I’ve never done a one-man show, so I don’t know what to expect. We’re also doing it into the round because we’ve reconfigured the Old Vic into a theatre in the round. In terms of corpsing [trying to make other actors break character and laugh], there’ll be nowhere to hide. [Laughs]
This is the play about Clarence Darrow?
Kevin Spacey: Yes, it’s a play that Henry Fonda created in the 1970s that John Houseman directed. And I’m looking forward to doing it because I’ve had the change to play Darrow on two other occasions. It’s nice to tackle his life again.
After playing Richard III, are there any major theatre roles, in Shakespeare or otherwise, that you would be interested in portraying?
Kevin Spacey: I’m not really somebody who covets parts or has a bucket list for roles. I tend to choose things because directors want to direct me in them. I think I’ll just wait until my next director says, “I want to see you tackle this.”
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Mr. Spacey very much for his time. Be sure to check out NOW: In The Wings of a World Stage, as it’s now available on most VOD platforms and in select theatres.