Kevin Spacey for “21”

He’s an Oscar winner, a film producer, artistic director of London’s Old Vic and a major Hollywood player. Kevin Spacey can effortlessly segue from one to the other, from Superman to the London stage to playing a darkly sardonic and manipulative M.I.T professor Micky Rosa in the new, glitzy Hollywood thriller, 21.

In this exclusive interview with Paul Fischer, Spacey talks about his juggling of these various tasks and whether or not we will see him once again as cinema’s ultimate villain, Lex Luthor.

Question: Was it this character, or this book that appealed to you?

Spacey: Well, it started with the story. I always thought that this story would be right for a film, and my business partner, Dana Brunetti, who, with a co-producer, we’d started hearing rumours about this, about a decade ago, and could never find any real evidence about it. It was sort of like an open secret in Boston, but we couldn’t get anybody on the record about it, and we even tried to write a treatment at one point, and that ended up in a drawer. And then about five years ago, Dana was walking down a New York City street, and he saw a Wired magazine with the cover story, “The MIT students who went to Vegas and made millions.” pulled it off the stands, and called me. Then, we ultimately tracked down Ben Mezrich, who’d written the article, and it was in connection with this book, which was going to come out about a month or two later, then at some point, made it to Los Angeles, and they optioned the book, and then we sold it to MGM, but didn’t know at that moment that, behind closed doors, MGM was being sold. So we went into a kind of holding pattern, until finally, Sony looked at the slate that MGM had, and decided to pull two movies out; one was James Bond, and the other was ours. And here we are, lo and behold, all these years later.

Question: Did you always intend to be in this film, or was it just your intent to produce it, eventually?

Spacey: No, I mean, it wasn’t until there was a script that I thought “This role could be really fun,” and ultimately, I think I felt, because it was taking so long, and it was such a slog to get the movie done, that I felt a responsibility to being a part of it, and being supportive of it, in as many ways as I could. And I also thought it was a really fun part.

Question: What do you draw on to play a character like Micky Rosa — if anything, or is it just the book, or is it your imagination, or what?

Spacey: Well you go through a lot of discussions, and you certainly have an idea as to how you want this character to feel, and I’m certainly glad that, even though he has certain, I would say, Machiavellian qualities, I’m in a movie in which Lawrence Fishburne is scarier than me. [LAUGHTER] That ain’t a bad thing. But part of it was sitting down and talking to some of the team members, and doing a couple of research trips to Vegas, and really learning how they did it, and understanding as much as I could, without a math brain, about counting these cards, and then trying to figure out, how can you best illuminate that onscreen, and make it understandable to an audience, to follow how the brain works. And I knew that I wanted the character to have a kind of charm, and humour, and I saw the movie last night, really, for the first time completed, because once I knew it was in good shape, months and months and months ago. I’m really happy that I had a chance to experience it last night for the first time.

Question: How tough is the research on this? I mean was it easy, or challenging for you to fathom the incredible cerebral logistics of the way these guys count these cards?

Spacey: Well, for me, it’s just hopefully where acting comes in handy [LAUGHTER] because I failed basic math, so I’m suddenly the guy who can completely embrace claiming to understand this, but the thing is, with the guys who actually count the cards, they’re really kind of blasé about it. They’re like, “Yeah, we did that, and, we did this,” and it’s like, “Yeah, but you won $600,000 that night!” “Yeah, yeah, no, it was a good night.” [LAUGHTER] They’re all kind of blasé about it.

Question: How do you do it? I mean, you have the Old Vic, you have your production company, you’re a working actor, how are you able to juggle all these responsibilities?

Spacey: Well, I think I’m able to juggle them because from, I think, perhaps, somewhere in my family lineage, there was a multi-tasking gene there that got passed down. My mother was quite remarkable with being able to spin lots and lots of plates in the air, but the truth is, it really comes down to having a remarkable staff, both at Trigger Street, having Dana Bernetti running the company while I’m in London, and at the Old Vic, having a remarkable and dedicated group of about 50 people who believe in the ethos of what we are as a company, and I’m also a big delegater. I believe once you hire people, and you believe that they’re the right person for the job, you trust them, and you let them run with the ball. I think that inspires people to motivate themselves, and to get the job done, and I have not been let down by any of those people in a number of years. It’s not that I do it all alone, and I’m a one-man band, but I’ve got an extraordinary group of people, both on the ground in London, and on the ground in Los Angeles that help me keep all these plates from crashing to the floor.

Question: What is your next venture in London? What is your next theatrical venture?

Spacey: Well, I’m back onstage tomorrow night with Jeff Goldblum in Speed the Plow; we’ll do that until the end of April. In Spring we’re doing Pygmalion, and by May, we’ll have announced our season for next year’s work, and so that will start my season five, which will start in September. I’ll be there for a number of more years, and my hope is to be able to continue to establish the company as a real destination venue for audiences, and to raise enough money that my successor won’t have to spend as much time fundraising as I do.

Question: I understand that Bryan Singer is about to meet with his writers to do a new draft of Superman?

Spacey: I hear that, that is exactly what’s happening, and I would suspect that if the movie’s going to go forward, and I don’t know any more than you do, that it probably will be sometime in 2009.

Question: And you are quite keen to go back on board as Lex Luthor, aren’t you?

Spacey: I’m signed to go back on board. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, no, my deal was a two-picture deal.

Question: Well, they’ll sign your life away the way they do these big franchise movies.

Spacey: Yeah, but it was the first one I’d ever did, and, quite frankly, but I’d do it again, with Brian Singer after 10 years, since Usual Suspects was a complete pleasure, and I loved it, and so I look forward to being able to get another crack at it.

Question: What about your next film project? What else is next for you there?

Spacey: Well, I did a number of things that are on the ball, but at the moment, it’s a little difficult for us to know until we know that the Screen Actors Guild won’t go on strike. So we’re all in a bit of a holding pattern. It’s difficult now, apart from the Bond movie, it’s difficult to get them going, to get the green light, when we don’t know whether the Screen Actors Guild will go out on strike, or not. So, hopefully, in the next couple of months, things will settle themselves out, and we’ll know that, and then we’ll be able to go forward on a couple of ideas that we’ve got for the next couple of months.

Question: Well, if they do go out on strike, you’ll always have the London stage, right?

Spacey: [LAUGHS] Exactly.