Office Hours with Kevin Spacey
A few weeks ago, our girls over at Levo had the chance to sit down with award winning actor and producer Kevin Spacey to talk ambitions, risk taking and mentorship. We were lucky enough to join the incredible Office Hours interview to take notes and immediately knew we were going to trust the House of Cards actor when he told us it’s coffee that keeps his mind fresh. As well as advocating caffeine consumption, Kevin Spacey had a plethora of inspiring tips to share…
Challenge yourself and be interested in the world around you.
‘For me, it’s this constant sense of wanting to propel myself forward, to walk through doors I haven’t walked through before, that keeps me interested’, Kevin replies when asked what motivates him each morning. Elaborating on the idea that interest – rather than health or wealth – is the most important thing in life, he explains that he enjoys being interested in things that he doesn’t know, rather than things he does. Happy accidents, he says, can happen if you’re paying attention and are interested enough to look closely in the first place.
It’s important to want to strive to be the best version of yourself. Despite spending much of his life acting in films and on TV, Kevin tells us that his heart lies in theatre because that’s where there’s an exciting opportunity to get better each time he performs – once the final edit of a film has been cut and printed, that is the best an actor is ever going to be.
11 years ago Kevin Spacey made the decision to permanently relocate to London to become the artistic director of the Old Vic theatre. Having never run a company before, having never been in charge of a staff, this was a huge challenge for him. Now, having achieved the goals he set out to achieve, he’s moving on from the Old Vic, ever in pursuit of new experiences and new ways of testing himself. He wonders that music and books might be next on his list. Actively put yourself in challenging situations; ask things of yourself that you think you’re scared to do and that you’re not sure you can succeed in. You won’t know until you try.
Have faith in what you’re doing and commit to it.
Kevin Spacey describes working in theatre as ‘like walking on a tightrope’. As in life, there will always be moments when you think you might fall off, but it’s important to have faith that you won’t.
When he first became artistic director at the Old Vic he faced criticism for his modern approach from people who wanted to make sure the legendary theatre continued to uphold its classic heritage by playing the likes of Shakespeare and Chekhov. Critics even called for his resignation, but Spacey remained confident, often telling his staff ‘there are going to be people who will have very strong opinions about what we’re doing, but we’re not in the business of satisfying those people…we’ll take some heat but we have to keep our heads high; we have a ten year vision’. That resolute faith in and commitment to the vision he knew in his heart would work has since brought him phenomenal success with the theatre.
Listening to Kevin speak, the idea that wholehearted commitment and success go hand in hand is apparent in other ways too. On taking on the role at the Old Vic the new artistic director vowed not to accept any other projects that would take him away from the theatre for more than eight weeks. There is, then, merit in the notion that you get out what you put in.
Listen to your gut and don’t be afraid to take risks.
We ask Kevin Spacey how he feels about risk taking. Very simply, he replies ‘I love taking risks; I’ve been doing it my whole life’, before recounting the story of how he chose to go to a different high school to all his friends. In doing so he risked severing important relationships, but had a gut instinct that it was a risk worth taking.
Likewise he laughs that people told him he was crazy when he signed up for House of Cards, the first original online-only content that Netflix, or any other streaming platform, had ever developed. But he divulges that for a long time he had been waiting for someone to step up and question HBO’s TV monopoly, so when the opportunity arose to star in House of Cards his gut told him this too was a risk worth taking.
Does taking risks ever get any easier? Spacey admits that of course his heart still beats a little faster just before stepping out in front of people, but ‘over time you learn to deal with that better; it’s not that it goes away, you just learn to deal with it’.
Surround yourself with inspiring people and then share your success.
‘You have to surround yourself with people who are not just of a like mind, but of a nimble spirit and who bring you incredible ideas’. Don’t be afraid of being outshone by other talent: still new to the Old Vic, Spacey headhunted a guy with an impressive background in theatre education and together they achieved more than either could have done alone.
Most important though, is to make sure you return the favour, honouring the help that others gave you. ‘If you’ve done well in the business you’ve wanted to do well in, then it is your obligation to spend a good portion of your time sending the elevator back down.’ Running a mentoring programme called Old Vic New Voice Spacey says he gets excited – and if his gleeful face is anything to go by, proud – when he hears what great things people who have come through his system have gone on to do.
Spacey is adamant that all his work with the Old Vic was never for personal gain or success; from the beginning he’s had a long term vision that future generations should benefit from the tiny seed that he has planted. Ending with a discussion about how technology is changing the entertainment industry we’re left with the firm belief that Spacey passionately promotes sharing success: the internet has democratised the industry, opening up opportunities that weren’t available before and it’s important to embrace new emerging talents. After all, more platforms for content means more jobs for writers, producers and actors, and a healthy economy benefits everyone!