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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
An American in London
On Sunday 11 September 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Kevin Spacey

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Kevin Spacey photo: Jeff Overs
Kevin Spacey
ANDREW MARR: We're now going to go to an artist who was born in the United States and is over here. He is the double Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey who has been here now for over a year at the Old Vic, putting on a whole range of plays. He's about to embark on his second season as Artistic Director of the Old Vic.

And the star of American Beauty and Usual Suspect, is going to be turning to Shakespeare where he's going to be playing Richard II. We'll be talking about that and about his other projects at the Old Vic in a moment. But first a glimpse of Kevin in his most recent stage role, The Philadelphia Story.

[clip from play]

Kevin Spacey, you've just announced as we said, the next season. I know that you say you enjoy London. There are bits of life in London that you must find a bit rough, the press gave the shows, the first shows, a bit of a beating up. We have a somewhat more robust media perhaps than you're used to in the States?

KEVIN SPACEY: Well the truth is I walked into this job fully expecting to come under criticism. I mean, the truth is if you go back and you look at theatrical beginnings in this country, not many of them have been greeted with great fanfare. The truth is, you know, Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn and many other artistic directors who've been in the same position that I've been in have come under fire in their first number of seasons. And in some cases that continued.

I believe that the most important relationship that we're trying to develop and build is the one with our audience. You know, we have a large theatre here, a thousand seats every night to fill and we've been doing fairly well...

ANDREW MARR: The books are balancing I gather?

KEVIN SPACEY: Yes, indeed they are. I mean you know in my estimation we've had a better first season than I could have imagined from the prospective of that audience coming in and that audience becoming a diverse audience, a younger audience.

ANDREW MARR: Tell me about Richard II. Interesting choice, people say that's the play you do before you do Hamlet.

KEVIN SPACEY: [laughter] Well I don't know what I'm going to do next. You know we've got to get through previews which we begin this Wednesday. I can tell you that one of the reasons I wanted to do the play is because it's not produced all that often and also it was one of the surprisingly few Shakespearean plays that Trevor Nunn had never directed in his career. And I thought it would be for both of us perhaps a more interesting experience to discover the play...

ANDREW MARR: It's a great psychological play as well, it's a great play about breakdown and mental collapse in a sense towards the end isn't it?

KEVIN SPACEY: I think it is about a man who is a king who finally becomes a man. So it is about an internal journey that Richard goes through when he loses his kingdom.

ANDREW MARR: You're going to do it, I read, in an English accent.

KEVIN SPACEY: Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: Now I'm interested because some - I know there's great argument going - a lot of people say that actually Shakespeare's English sounded more like modern American.

KEVIN SPACEY: I have spoken to a number of our most esteemed British actors, particularly Shakespearean, who have continually said to me, relax about it, don't worry about it, if you have the emotional life going and if it's making sense it'll sound right. I'm doing my level best to be convincing as an English king so I've had a great vocal teacher, and plus the support of all the cast. And I suppose occasionally there'll be a word that will come through, but the funny thing is that I hear it before anybody else does... I know the second it comes out wrong.

ANDREW MARR: What about the other great true, I think a lot of people have homed in on is getting the great Robert Altman over here, director of M*A*S*H and Short Cuts and so many other things, to do Arthur Miller's last play, Resurrection Blues. Tell me about that.

KEVIN SPACEY: Arthur Miller had been working on this play, right up until the last months of his life. It's an astonishingly funny, I think, revealing play about things that I think both would be amusing but also will have some poignancy.

ANDREW MARR: ...political satire.

KEVIN SPACEY: Absolutely. And Altman knew Miller, wanted very much to be a part of his production. We were fortunate enough to know that Arthur knew we were in discussions about doing the play. He very much wanted it to come to the Old Vic. And so I've been in discussions over the last number of months with Mr. Altman and he finally agreed to come.

ANDREW MARR: Fantastic. And you've got an Iraqi twist as well. You're doing the Stravinski soldiers tale.

KEVIN SPACEY: Yes, well it's an adaptation of this extraordinary classic piece re-conceived in a way to tell the story from, I guess, the point of view of what it is like in the current conflict. And so it will be a combination of Iraqi actors and musicians, and British actors and musicians in both languages.

ANDREW MARR: What I find extraordinary about what you're... you're doing all this, you're running the Old Vic. You've got all the energy there. And then you sort of pop over and do Lex Luther for the new Superman show, and then pop back again. I mean what is all that about, is it about keeping one foot in the world of Hollywood, is it about bringing new audiences?

KEVIN SPACEY: Well, I mean, I've always been rather transparent about when I started, that I would continue to try to occasionally make a film. So for me the balance is right. I mean I went off to Australia for six weeks but I will be on stage 36 weeks this year doing three different plays. That's a good balance, it allows me to, I think, reach out to an audience, particularly in the Superman franchise of younger probably kids who never say American Beauty or some of the other films I've done.

ANDREW MARR: When the phone goes and you pick it up do you think "Agh, another baddie, another hostile role", because you've done a lot of pretty grim figures in your time.

KEVIN SPACEY: Yes, that Lex Luther is really funny. I mean he's funny, he's bald, and you know, it's not a baddie in the sort of, I'm not running around with an axe. I'm running around with a very, very intellectual idea about how to take over the world.

ANDREW MARR: You were also very much associated with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, a friend of those people. Are you still in contact, does a political side of your life still exist?

KEVIN SPACEY: Well in a sense that I certainly keep in contact with the former President when he comes to London. And we were very honoured to have the Prime Minister come and see The Philadelphia Story during our run. And I certainly admire what President Clinton has been doing with his Aids Foundation, with the Clinton Foundation and all the work he's been doing with the former President Bush on raising money for the Tsunami and now the disaster in New Orleans.

ANDREW MARR: Finally, committed to London here for the long haul, because you know it's as I said at the beginning, you do get from time to time a bit of a beating-up from the press, it's what the press here does. They love doing it.

KEVIN SPACEY: But you have to understand, they're doing it for a lot of people who read those things. I tend not to read them. So therefore it's sort of, it's out there and certainly one is aware of criticism, but if you're in for the long haul and what we're trying to do is to build a future for the Old Vic in which this will be a producing theatre company for generations - when you have your eye on that ball then you don't look back, you look forward.

ANDREW MARR: Well, I wish you very, very great luck with Richard II. Go back and test your accent out - get the costume on. Thank you very much.

KEVIN SPACEY: Maybe I'll come in and read the news in British if you like.

ANDREW MARR: In British! That would be fantastic. Thank you Kevin Spacey.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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