By Neil Smith
BBC News Online
Sir Ian McKellen will play a pantomime dame as part of Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey's first season as artistic director of London's Old Vic theatre.
Spacey became artistic director of the Old Vic in February 2003
The Lord of the Rings star will play Widow Twanky in a production of Aladdin, Spacey announced on Thursday.
Spacey, 44, made light of reports that he had been attacked and robbed while walking his dog in a London park in the early hours on Saturday morning.
David Beckham had not paid him to get him off the front pages, he joked.
The actor revealed on Monday that his mobile phone was stolen by a young man in a park near his south London home at around 0400 BST on Saturday.
However, speaking at the press launch of the Old Vic Theatre Company's inaugural season, he joked that there was no truth to the rumour the England captain had promised to donate £100,000 if Spacey "would take him off the front pages for a few days".
"My plan is to text David myself if someone will let me borrow their mobile phone - I seem to have misplaced mine," he added.
The actor refused to comment further on the incident, despite attempts by some reporters to probe the details.
Spacey and producer David Liddiment announced four productions, two of them British premieres. The Oscar-winning actor will direct one play and star in two others.
With the exception of Sir Ian McKellen, however, no "big" names were announced.
There had been speculation that Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz had been approached to play the female lead in the company's third production, The Philadelphia Story.
But Spacey told journalists "it would be impossible to be in any discussions with any actress" until a director was named.
Spacey called Sir Ian's commitment to the Old Vic "remarkable"
"There are some beautiful women out there but this could also be a role for an unknown," he said.
"There is a responsibility to put bums on seats, but we are not into stunt casting."
Spacey acknowledged there were no Shakespeare plays in his first season but said classic works would feature in future.
"There are some remarkable Shakespearean parts I want to tackle," he said.
"But we felt our primary goal was to create an exciting season of work."
The four productions in Spacey's first season are:
- Cloaca (16 September - 11 December 2004)
A new play by Maria Goos, described by Spacey as "a writer at the peak of her game who is completely unknown outside her native Holland". Spacey will direct a cast that includes former Drop the Dead Donkey co-stars Neil Pearson and Stephen Tompkinson.
- Aladdin (17 September 2004 - 22 January 2005)
A "classic family pantomime", directed by Sean Mathias and starring Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twanky. "It's unusual that you get a sir and a dame in the same night," joked Spacey. "I've never seen a panto but it sounds fantastic."
- National Anthems (1 February - 23 April 2005)
Spacey's first acting role at the Old Vic will be in the UK premiere of a 1988 play by Dennis McIntyre. "I performed this play in 1989 and felt so strongly about it I have held onto the rights ever since," said the actor.
- The Philadelphia Story (3 May - 23 July 2005)
Spacey will act again in Philip Barry's Broadway comedy, famously filmed in 1940 with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. The actor said it would be "a fantastic and fun way to finish off our first season" but said the Hepburn role had yet to be cast.
Spacey said he would not be giving up his film career entirely, but that the Old Vic Theatre Company and his Trigger Street production company would be his "primary focus".
"I don't view coming here as running away from anything," he said. "It will be extraordinarily satisfying and bring me great happiness."
'Ready to attack'
Looking relaxed in a grey suit and shirt, and bearing no signs of the head injury he said he suffered tripping over his dog on Saturday morning, Spacey only lost his urbane cool when reporters pressed him for more information on the incident.
"Do you have a question about theatre? Do you even go to the theatre?" was his retort to one journalist.
For Spacey, it seemed, the matter was closed - though not perhaps for Mimi, the Jack Russell terrier he rescued from the Battersea Dogs Home.
When asked where the animal was, the American Beauty star joked she was "backstage and ready to attack".