Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey made an emotional return to the public eye on Monday night with a special honorary event organized by Italy’s National Cinema Museum in the northern Italian city of Turin, attended by Deadline.
For the actor, who has been keeping a low profile since a string of sexual misconduct accusations in 2017 derailed his career, the evening marked his first major public appearance in more than five years.
“My heart is very full toward the Museum of Cinema for having had the “palle” (balls) to invite me tonight,” he said to applause as he accepted the museum’s Mole Antonelliana lifetime achievement award.
He thanked the museum’s director Domenico De Gaetano and head of international relations Marco Fallanca for putting on the event.
“By presenting this award, they are making a strong defence of artistic achievement and for that, they should be applauded,” he said.
Some 400 guests gathered in the vast atrium of Turin’s Mole Antonelliana architectural landmark, which houses the cinema museum, including a clutch of friends who had made the trip to Italy to support the actor.
“I just want to say how grateful I am to my friends and my colleagues and my friends’ friends and colleagues who have flown in to be here tonight… I am moved by all of you being here,” he said.
Spacey paid special tribute to manager Evan Lowenstein who was also in attendance.
“There is one person I must point out tonight because when you have a best friend like I do in Evan Lowenstein, life can be pretty special and working through any challenge is worth the effort. Evan gives me so much advice, counsel, perspective,” he said.
“It’s almost impossible to tell you what he has done,” continued the actor. “He has not only stood beside me. He has stood in front of me when I needed to be led, and behind me when I needed to be shoved. He is a remarkable man, and it is his ability to take whatever setbacks we faced and somehow pick it up and keep moving forward.”
Spacey also alluded to Lowenstein’s wife Lucie Lowenstein and their four children.
“It’s not just what he does for me, it’s what I am able to witness that he does for his wife and their four incredible children and his countless friends who seek his advice.”
After receiving the award, Spacey shared a raft of anecdotes about his 40-year-career in a Q&A-style masterclass, moderated by De Gaetano, going behind the scenes of landmark performances in films such as The Usual Suspects, Seven, L.A. Confidential, American Beauty and House Of Cards.
Spacey credited his mother with having turned him on to acting through her love of the arts and cinema.
“She used to take me to the cinema in Santa Monica. It’s still there, the Nuart,” he recalled. “It was where I discovered Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey and all these amazing films and genres.”
The discussion touched on his breakthrough role in The Usual Suspects, for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1996 for his performance as Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint/Keyser Söze. Spacey recounted how Singer kept the plot from the actors throughout the shoot.
“Bryan Singer said to me, ‘Do you go and watch the dailies of what you’ve shot the day before on the films that you do?’ I said,’ Yes, usually’. He said, ‘I’d love to ask you if on this movie you don’t. When I asked why, he said, ‘Because I need you to not at any moment in the course of the shooting to be second-guessing what you’re hiding and revealing and what’s going on. I need you to trust me that I will be paying attention to all of that,” said Spacey.
“It was a smart decision on his part because it allowed me to completely trust Bryan,” he continued. “In fact, I don’t know if anyone knows this story but there is a funny occurrence that happened the first time he brought the cast to watch a rough cut. Afterwards, I saw Gabriel Byrne having an argument with Bryan in the parking lot because he was absolutely convinced that he was Keyser Söze.”
Singer’s career has also been hit by allegations of sexual misconduct and the director has not worked since being fired from the set of Bohemian Rhapsody, just weeks before its completion in 2017 due to erratic behaviour.
Shortly before The Usual Suspects was due to come out, Spacey found himself hired out of the blue for the role of John Doe in David Fincher’s psychological thriller Seven.
He had been originally rejected for the part only to be called on Christmas Eve by one of the film’s producers after Fincher fired the actor who was first signed for the role.
Spacey recounted: “It was Friday then. He said, ‘David would like to get you on the plane on Sunday so you can make it here on Monday and we start shooting on Tuesday.”
Spacey revealed how he had suggested that his casting not be revealed ahead of the film’s release because he felt it would give away the plot too early on in the film if it was and that there had been up-to-the-wire negotiations on this point.
“I had just shot Swimming With Sharks, Outbreak and The Usual Suspects. I thought this movie is going to come out after those and it might be that many of these movies will be successful and my profile will be different. My worry was that if the film was billed as Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey and I didn’t show up in the first 40 minutes, the audience was going to figure it out,” he recounted.
Although the studio opposed the idea, Fincher agreed it made sense, and Spacey flew down on Sunday and began shooting on Tuesday as planned.
Quizzed on which directors he had most loved working with, Spacey rattled off a who’s who of Hollywood names.
“Anyone in the film community would have been honored to have known someone like Mike Nichols (Heartburn), or Alan Pakula (Consenting Adults) or Bryan Singer or Clint Eastwood (Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil),” he said.
Spacey singled out Fincher’s directing style, revealing the filmmaker was “notorious” for doing endless takes, which would sometimes leave him questioning his ability as an actor.
“I realized that one of the things David does is that he is just beating the acting out of you. He’s getting you to a point where it is so clean and delivered with such speed,” he said.
Talking about other influences on his career, Spacey evoked his immense respect for Jack Lemmon, whose performance in Billy WIlder’s 1960s classic The Apartment had fed into the development of his character of Lester Burnham in American Beauty.
When Spacey won the Best Actor Oscar for the role in 2000, he thanked Lemmon in his speech.
“I got off stage and my phone was ringing. I looked at my phone and it was Jack Lemmon. ‘He said, ‘Hey listen, asshole, you’re a son a bitch.’ I was like, ‘I just thanked you’. He said, ‘That’s fine. I won my first Oscar in 1963 and it took me 11 years to win my second. You did it in the four, you f**ker.”
Asked whether he had been prepared for the fame that followed in the wake of that award-winning decade, Spacey acknowledged he had initially found it bewildering.
“There is no class or night school for how to negotiate becoming someone who is well-known. Before you know it, you have assistants, staff, publicists… people who tell you don’t go out that way, there are people that way. You end up leaving through a lot of backdoors. It can be isolating.”
Spacey said he had learned to enjoy the fame in recent years and come to appreciate the fact that people often wanted to talk to him because his work had moved them.
De Gaetano also asked Spacey about his time as artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre Company in London from 2003 to 2015, without touching on the sexual assault accusations against the actor, alleged to have taken place during this period, which he has denied.
“It was one of the most important decisions I ever made at a time when I really needed to make it,” he said. “Movies are a wonderful experience but you shoot with a number of actors for a number of days and then you don’t see them again and then you might see them at the premiere.”
“The biggest difference between theatre and film is that no matter how good someone might be in a movie, they’ll never do it again. It’s frozen. Whereas in a play… you also see your fellow actors grow and change and you’re also in front of a different audience every night. It’s not static. It’s alive.”
The masterclass in Turin marks the first leg of an Italian trip that will see Spacey travel to Rome in the coming days for the world premiere of Franco Nero’s detective tale The Man Who Drew God, which marks his first feature credit since 2017.
“Franco Nero is a remarkable talent and such a big star here. A couple of years back he invited me on to his film The Man Who Drew God,” said Spacey. “I am so grateful to him for offering me the film, making me feel part of the experience in such a joyful atmosphere. He is a wonderful raconteur and I am enormously grateful to him and I will see him in a couple of days.”
The actor declined to talk to the international trade press during his time in Turin but did speak to a handful of Italian outlets including local news agency Ansa.
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