Last week in Los Angeles, we have the opportunity to talk with Kevin Spacey about his new season of House of Cards, and his passion for reading Spanish authors. He doesn’t speak Spanish but appreciates to learn about our culture through the words of great writers.
Q: Is Hollywood getting more and more difficult? You seem to work happier in TV
A: Look, it’s a funny thing, on the one hand all of us spend a good amount of our time complaining about the kind of films that come out and talking about how, for example, violence is dealt with in major mainstream movies. What I find interesting is that, y’know, people talk about a film of this nature being uncomfortable or a burden, and I find it sort of, y’know, it’s a bit subjective. Why isn’t it equally disturbing or upsetting when you see bodies flying across rooms with more gore or blood than you could possibly imagine? And I think maybe the—movies should not only be escapism, they should provoke and they should provide questions. If not, at least attempt to skewer the ground for some answers. And I think the terrain of this movie is serious because it asks an audience, and it also asks the characters to explore their own inner workings and try to come to grips with events that we all read about, y’know, we all hear about not just in this country but around the world now where we’re shocked or puzzled. And yet nobody ever really tries to get to the bottom of why these events occur.
Q: How gratifying is it to know that your participation can get a movie made that otherwise would not get made?
A: It’s the only—I mean, to me it is the only thing that I’m supposed to do with all the good fortune that’s happened to me, is to be able to—and some degree, y’know, sort of give back in some way to these kids who gave him so much. Well, in a way that’s exactly what my production company was set up for because I was taken under the wing by some incredible, great people who taught me a lot when I started out, gave me chance. I wouldn’t have a career in film if it weren’t for first-time directors, second-time directors, first-time writers. So that’s kind of—if I have a mandate at all at Trigger Street it is to try to continue to encourage that kind of atmosphere where you give an opportunity to somebody who hasn’t had it before
Q: Is the fact that your name alone can get people to listen proof that there’s something wrong with how stories get heard in Hollywood?
A: Well, there’s always people out there who have a dream and a desire to tell a story. Sort of like the Antique Road Show, everybody thinks that that thing they have up in the attic is really going to be worth something. And there’s always going to be a wall between that dream and that desire and the ability to get it done. Y’know, we created Trigger Street.com which was really an answer to the frustration I felt as having gotten to a place where I was now working professionally, I was known, I had made a name for myself and yet suddenly I got cut off from a pipeline of talent because when you get to a certain point you’re advised you can’t take that script that somebody hands you in a coffee shop, y’know. That unsolicited thing, you can’t take it because, y’know, we live in a very litigious world.
Q: Once in a while. Can movies really make a difference?
A: Absolutely—Look, any time we find incredibly inspired or moved films or moments in a movie, how many times we have walked out of a film feeling uplifted, I absolutely believe that that’s true, just as a I feel there must be an effect when you go and see a movie that’s, y’know, horribly abusive and violent for its own sake, or for entertainment’s sake. I think it does had an effect. And I think that, y’know, film is a remarkably powerful medium. The hardest thing about film these days is finding your audience and having enough of a campaign out there that can compete in a largely tent-pole world.
Q: Why did you and your producer partner, Dana, want to take this on?
A: I've been producing movies for a long time, and the first film I produced was a film called swimming with sharks, in which, oddly, I played a very abusive studio boss. I never imagined that one day it would actually become true, that I would become a studio boss, I hope that I won't be an abusive one, and I've had some pretty good fortune in producing films that were character driven dramas, films that I really thought were important and valuable to make, like The Social Network and Captain Phillips, and these films were made for budgets that were much more reasonable than the sort of big films that the studios have really focused on over the last ten years. I mean, since I was really focused on making movies in the late 90s and the early 2000s, before I went to London to run the Old Vic, these were the kind of movies that I was attracted to and that I had great success in, but now studios really are focused on the Marvel kind of world, and the action figures, and I think audiences really love character driven drama, and I think it's proved by the fact that television has become such an incredible, fertile ground for both artists but also for audiences. So there's a kind of wheelhouse that Dana and I have had success in, and I think that those films that can be made under 50 million, we believe there's a vacuum both in terms of an audience wanting those kinds of movies, and filmmakers wanting to make those kinds of films. So this gave us an opportunity to, in a sense, grow our company to the point now where the company has been purchased by Relativity and now I've become the Chairman and Dana's become the President, so that we're in a position now where we can greenlight films and get movies made without having to go through the process that we have gone through before of trying to convince executives at studios that this is a good script, or this is a good director, or this is a good writer. So we've never been on this side of the table, and it was an incredibly exciting opportunity for us.
Q: How does it feel to be on that side?
A: Well, you know, being Chairman, I've found it's very important, you know. I'm actually not a suit, you know, I'm a jumper, so I have to work up to being a suit, I guess. It's very early days, we don't officially take over until February, so we're really learning the lay of the land and looking at what their slate of films that they intended to make are. We may make some of them, we may decide not to, look what our slate is and what we may bring along with us and what we may let go of. So there's a lot of work to do, a lot of understanding, a lot of people to meet, obviously, it's a place that employs many, many, many people, but I'm incredibly excited.
Q: Well you were a pioneer, of course, with House of Cards being produced by, you know, yourselves and Netflix back in 2013. Did you realise the kind of impact it was going to have back then?
A: No, I think you can never really know going into something what the response is going to be, but I can say this, that for about eight years, Dana and I had been talking about the fact that we absolutely believed that if any of these companies that had made a gazillion dollars in being a portal for content, and whether that was going to be Google or Yahoo or Netflix, if they wanted to compete they were going to get into the game of creating their own content. So it didn't surprise me that somebody actually finally stepped up. What surprised me was that I was involved in it and that they stepped up as significantly as they did, because they made a very serious commitment, you know, to do two seasons of a television series without a pilot, it had never been done in the history of television, and even though there was a lot of talk about, oh it was crazy, it was a crazy deal, they could never make their money back, actually when we ran the numbers, all Netflix had to do to break even was get 575,00 more members, and in the end they had about 17 million. So it did alright.
Q: Well, I think if you just use the Netflix model, it's quite clear that-, I mean how many people here binge? Are you binge watchers? Binge, binge, yes. Binge.
A: I think what that proves is that we have essentially, I hope, demonstrated that we've learnt the lesson people didn't learn. Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in at a reasonable price, and the chances are they won't steal it. It doesn't mean that there isn't piracy, there probably always will be, but I think we can take a bite out of piracy, because why would you go and buy a worse version of something when for seven or eight bucks you can get the best version of it in terms of quality, as well as the ability to watch all the other programs that a network like Netflix has, and I think that is true. Audiences have shown us they want that power, they want to be in control. You want to watch three episodes? Watch three episodes. You want to watch the whole thing over a weekend? Which I think is amazing-, because you know, there's always this sort of comment that people don't have a long attention span. I'm like, if you can watch an entire two seasons of Breaking Bad over, like, a weekend, you have an amazing attention span.
Q: You are a ferocious reader, have you ever read a Spanish author
A: Tons, yes. I do love Borges, is his anniversary this year, I read Don Quixote, Lorca, Garcia Marquez. In terms of Spanish culture I do love the work of Pedro Almódovar, Buñuel, Iñarritu all of them are a great representation of the richness of the culture.