He plays a crooked Washington congressman, runs a London theater, and follows his favorite tennis player all the way to Melbourne.
Kevin Spacey leads a transcontinental existence. The two-time Oscar winner, 53, is soon due to start shooting the second season of the series “House of Cards” (which he executive-produced), where he plays the scheming Congress majority whip.
In London, he’s celebrating 10 years as artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre, with two more to go. And in his spare time, he’s on the tennis circuit watching Andy Murray -- most recently at the U.S. and Australian Opens.
Spacey joins me for a phone conversation just before flying to the U.S. He sounds as suave as his congressman character, minus the hypocrisy. I ask if his team-up with online movie-streaming company Netflix is a comment on the state of cinema.
“In a lot of cases, the studios have started to focus more on the sort of big tent pole films and the films that are not necessarily driven by character,” says Spacey. “It does seem that when there is a vacuum, people go to a different playground.”
Good writers, actors and directors are now flocking to television, he says, while portals like Netflix are saying, “we want to compete in a bigger arena.” Netflix “outbid everybody and gave us the kind of artistic, creative freedom that we were looking for.”
Spacey sounds pretty disillusioned with the studios.
“Hollywood will make whatever makes money,” he says. “So if we return to a kind of brilliant 1970s Alan Pakula, Hal Ashby world of cinema and it makes money, how awesome, how brilliant, how great, let’s do more of those.”
In reality, smaller movies don’t get big releases, he says.
There are exceptions -- such as the trio of “not obvious” movies that Spacey, wearing his producer hat, persuaded Sony Pictures to fund: “21” (2008), “The Social Network” (2010), and to-be-released “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, about the hijacking by Somali pirates of a U.S. cargo ship.
One recent independent movie he starred in -- Oscar-nominated “Margin Call” (2011) -- is about a bank executive who gets fired and soon realizes his bosses were cooking the books.
Spacey says he was driven to do the film because “there was a period of time where bankers became the bad guys no matter who they were.” Researching the movie, he met many “just doing their jobs” who’d “pick up the paper and read about themselves as if they were all in one boat, and all deserved to be so maligned.”
“There’s no doubt there are a number of them who crossed the line, in an industry that clearly needs and needed cleanup.”
Back at the Old Vic, Spacey has been staging well-attended, well-reviewed plays in a house with no subsidy. Recent hits include “Noises Off,” “Hedda Gabler,” and “Kiss Me Kate.”
I tell Spacey that a London-based financier once calculated he was giving up $30 million a year in movie earnings by being at the Old Vic. “It’s always nice to have someone mention the monetary side,” Spacey says, diplomatically.
It’s “not something that I either know about or focus on, and who really knows,” he says. When the Old Vic offered him the job, he’d spent a decade “carving a film career,” and after the Oscar for “American Beauty” (1999), “I felt that that had gone much better than I could have possibly hoped.”
“I didn’t want to pursue the same particular dream for another decade,” he explains.
Before leaving the Old Vic, Spacey has two missions: to raise 30 million pounds ($46 million) for an endowment, and to fix the building -- “the damp and the Victorian plumbing and the roof that was never fixed in World War II after it was bombed.”
Currently, the theater needs to generate 2.7 million pounds a year to keep afloat. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is its season sponsor.
Spacey won’t be leaving London for good. “I suspect I’ll always want to be in the United States and be in Great Britain: They’ve become my homes.”
So what’s next besides “House of Cards” and the Old Vic? “I could not possibly look beyond both of those two things,” he says. What about the scripts that must be piling up on his doorstep? “The great news is, I’m really not available.”
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on U.K. theater, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater, Elin McCoy on wine, Craig Seligman on books and interviews by Zinta Lundborg.