Kevin Spacey has a gift for music and mimicry, so it's surprising that after a decade as artistic director at the Old Vic he hasn't picked up an English accent.
"And I'll tell you why I haven't," the actor bellows over the phone. "Because my friends would kick my ass down the street if I did!"
Spacey, 54, is promoting NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage, a documentary about taking Shakespeare's Richard III from London's Old Vic to cities all over the world. The company has both British and American actors.
The movie is a special presentation at 60 Cineplex theatres right across Canada on May 15 (and you can also buy it and watch it online right now).
If you're thinking you'll stick to Spacey on television in House Of Cards, then you need to see this new movie — because playing Richard III is partly how Spacey developed the villainous character of Vice President Frank Underwood.
Now: In The Wings On A World Stage is an entertaining and educational 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes in theatre. Richard III includes Spacey and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall), as well as actors such as Gemma Jones, Annabel Scholey and Jeremy Bobb. The documentary follows the production through 10 months and nine major cities around the globe.
There's a lovely moment in Spacey's film (he produced and financed it) when a spectator at Richard III admits to never having seen a Shakespearean play before. "I came because of Kevin," says the fan.
"It's the way it tends to happen now," the actor says, modestly. "People love Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad, and they are flocking to the Broadway theatre where he's currently playing Lyndon Baines Johnson." (Cranston is in the play All The Way.)
"And his attitude is the same as mine — we don't care why they come, but our job, once they get in that seat, is to give them an experience they won't forget. And make the theatre thrilling and exciting for them, so that the next time someone invites them to a play, they may not make a face. They might actually go."
Spacey has always said that theatre was his first love. The Juilliard-trained actor's career began in theatre, and he never left, even as he simultaneously built a film career that includes two Oscars and such films as The Usual Suspects, Se7en, L.A. Confidential, American Beauty, Horrible Bosses and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
In 2003, Spacey walked away from film at the height of his career to take over at the prestigious Old Vic. The move attracted plenty of naysayers, but success has given Spacey the last laugh.
"One can never take the cynicism one comes across in life too seriously," he drawls. "None of that conversation or criticism really, as far as I was concerned, had much merit. I was into the Old Vic and I made a 10 year commitment, and I figured that eventually, people would realize I was still showing up for work every day. And that we were trying to build something that would last long after I'm gone."
He adds, "I'm very grateful for the work I've had in the last decade. I think it's made me a better actor and a better company man. And it's helped me prepare for something like House of Cards."
How did he get to be such a risk-taker?
"I have always believed that the risk takers are eventually rewarded," he says.
"Lots of times somebody had a crazy idea about doing this crazy thing that everybody else thought was too crazy — and then we get a movie like Apocalypse Now. Or who would have thought, 15 years ago, that a TV series about an overweight mob boss who suffers anxiety attacks, would become a phenomenon?
"Sometimes it's the crazy people who turn out to be not so crazy."
When his tenure at the Old Vic ends in 2015, "I won't be going anywhere," says Spacey. He'll continue to do both theatre and film, and he'll continue to live both in England and the U.S.
"I think I'll be part of both worlds for sure."