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Spotlight: Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey has won two Academy Awards

In a 1998 interview with London’s Evening Standard, Kevin Spacey quipped: ‘It’s not that I want to create some bullshit mystique by maintaining a silence about by personal life, it is just that the less you know about me, the easier it is to convince you that I am that character on screen’. Comparatively little is therefore known about this double Oscar-winning actor. However, as the current Artistic Director of The Old Vic in London, Spacey remains one of the most influential people in the theatre world.

Kevin Spacey Fowler was born in South Orange, New Jersey. During the early stages of his life his family moved around constantly due to his parents’ irregular jobs, however they eventually settled in California. During the early stages of his education, Kevin Fowler was quite a troublemaker – he was sent to Northridge Military Academy after he set his sister’s tree house on fire, but he was then thrown out after he threw a tire at a fellow pupil. He then moved on to Chatsworth High School, where he discovered an outlet for his tendencies: performance.

During this time, Kevin Fowler took on the surname Spacey as his stage name. Whilst still at Chatsworth, he also tried out for the stand-up comedy circuit, performing in bowling alleys amongst other places. In 1979, Spacey joined the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied Drama until he dropped out in 1981, desperate for real work.

Spacey’s professional debut was as a messenger in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, performed in 1981 as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival. In 1982, Spacey made his Broadway debut as ‘Oswald’ in Henrik Ibson’s Ghost, and from then on his career started to gather momentum. In the late 1980s however, Spacey’s theatre career began to be overshadowed by his film career, which would ultimately make him a household name. Despite this change, he still impressed on stage, and he won a Tony award in 1991 for his performance as ‘Uncle Louie’ in Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers.

Spacey’s film debut was a small part in Heartburn (1986), however he gained an avid fan base from playing the criminally insane arms dealer ‘Mel Profitt’ in the US TV series Wiseguy. Spacey developed a reputation as a character actor, playing numerous sinister and villainous roles. In 1995, his performance as the creepy ‘Verban Kint’ in The Usual Suspects launched him into the celebrity A-List, and he won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. 1995 also saw Spacey make a surprise appearance in Seven alongside Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, however his name did not appear in the credits as he refused billing, saying he did not want the audience to be waiting for him to appear. In 1996, Spacey made his directorial debut with Albino Alligator. Despite being well-received, the film performed dismally at the box office, and Spacey returned to his acting career, eventually playing Lester Burnham in American Beauty (1999). Spacey won wide praise for this role and was awarded his second Oscar for it, this time for Best Actor.

In 2003, Spacey made a dramatic move back into theatre as he was appointed Artistic Director for The Old Vic theatre in London. He promised to bring in big name talent and to appear on stage himself, and he has so far delivered that promise. Since joining The Old Vic he has starred in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Dennis McIntyre’s National Anthems and Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story. In 2006, he suffered a major setback when Robert Altman’s Resurrection Blues received a critical panning, forcing it to shut after just a couple of weeks. However, he recovered from this with a series of successful productions and big name actors taking to the boards of The Old Vic, including Jeff Goldblum, Laura Michelle Kelly, Eve Best and, more recently, Tom Hollander.

Kevin Spacey’s career has been unlike other actors. He has had exceptional highs and dismal lows, but his talent and dedication have never been questioned. During his time at The Old Vic he has come under intense and often unjustified scrutiny from the media, who have repeatedly slammed his work. However, The Old Vic is now creating some of the best theatre in London and ultimately the audiences have backed Kevin Spacey over his critics, and for good reason: you don’t win two Academy Awards without being an exceptional performer.

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