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Kevin Spacey: Studio 54, Lost Gigs, That Threesome and 16 Other Things Left Out of THR's Cover Story

A stand-up routine that included tap-dancing and Johnny Carson impressions, the "Independence Day" role that initially was written for him and other tidbits from Spacey's past.

Kevin Spacey: Always Ready
Miller Mobley
Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey is no shrinking violet.

Hot off two high-profile seasons of Netflix's House of Cards, with a third set to begin filming later this spring, the two-time Academy Award winner has several thoughts about arching out the ideal career. In his past, that meant leaving Hollywood at his prime to run the Old Vic theater in London rather than riding "the gravy train" with lucrative film offers, as he suggests his representatives described it.

Now, with the Hollywood heat shining bright, it means being particularly selective about what he will and will not do. Spacey says he's been clear with his reps about his lack of availability, much less interest in certain roles: "Unless it's Martin Scorsese, and it's a really significant role, f--- off."

The actor sat for a wide-ranging interview in mid-March with The Hollywood Reporter that resulted in an April 2 cover story. Over the course of the reporting process, which entailed a desert drive, a three-hour tennis match, a lengthy lunch and a dozen or so interviews with past and present friends and colleagues, there was a lot to be learned about Spacey. Below are 19 things, including that time he conned his way into Studio 54 and the part he almost played in Independence Day, that didn't find their way into the cover feature.

THR COVER: Kevin Spacey on Why He Won't Play Carson, the Right Way to Say 'F--- Off'

1) When Spacey was young and trying to make ends meet, he had a mix of jobs, including selling shoes, installing ovens and doing stand-up. The latter often entailed a variety of impressions, including personal favorite Johnny Carson. Recalls Independence Day writer-producer Dean Devlin, with whom Spacey has been friends since high school, of his pal’s comedy routine: “I used to do stand-up in New York, and every once in a while Kevin would come to our gigs, and when he did we’d always interrupt our show and say, ‘Oh my God, Johnny Carson is in our audience tonight.’ He’d come on stage and do Johnny, but he’d always wear tap shoes, so somewhere in the middle of it he would break into a tap-dance routine. It was absolutely hilarious.”

2) That Carson impression came in handy at nightclubs, too. Devlin says he’ll never forget the day that Spacey, then just a broke Juilliard student, called to say they’d be going to Studio 54 that night. “I said, ‘Kevin, they don’t let guys like you and me into Studio 54,’ and he goes, ‘No, no, we’re getting in,’” says the producer. The two arrived and Spacey pushed to the front of a long line. He started doing his Carson impression for the doorman, telling him that his name should be on the list under Carson Productions. The doorman took one look at a young Spacey and said, “And who the hell are you?” His response: Kevin Carson, Johnny’s son, and he was there to see a band who would be on that night’s show. Without a Carson on the guest list, the back-and-forth continued until the doorman finally said: “Alright, if you’re from the Carson show, what floor at NBC is the commissary on?” As quick on his feet then as he is now, Spacey fired back: “Fourth floor -- can we go in now?” And they did. Adds Devlin, “I turn to Kevin and go, ‘How do you know where the commissary is at NBC?’ And Kevin says, ‘I don’t know and he doesn’t know either.’ ” Spacey did it again in the VIP line, finagling their names onto a list that would get the pair invited to every meaningful New York social event -- gallery openings, nightclubs, plays -- for the next couple of years.  

3) When an actor wins the best actor Oscar, his next step typically is to sit back and watch the offers come in. Not Spacey. After nabbing an Academy Award for American Beauty, he picked up and moved to London, taking himself largely out of the game in favor of a decade-long position as the first American to run the Old Vic Theater. Ask him about the decision now, and he’ll tell you he didn’t miss much by way of rich film opportunities during his time away. “If I was ever going to run off for 10 years, I couldn’t have picked a better decade,” he says, noting how the desirable roles today are not in film but rather on TV, which is where House of Cards has him focused. He continues, “I’m glad I’m not out there fighting for the four or five really good film parts that Brad or George or Leo are going to end up doing because they’re going to get those parts before I am.”

4) Among the by-products of Spacey’s convincing performance as Francis Underwood on House of Cards is that he’s often asked if he has considered a future in public office. Though he’s lent his support to candidates (he stumped for both Ted Kennedy and friend Bill Clinton) and causes (public arts funding), he insists he has no political aspirations. “I like to get things done, to have a goal and achieve it,” he says as matter-of-factly as Underwood would. “And you can’t get anything done in politics these days. I’d be incredibly frustrated and probably murder people. I guess I'd have that in common with my character.” Plus, at this stage of Spacey’s career, he believes he can have greater impact through his eponymous foundation and other philanthropic efforts. (He’s currently organizing a Kevin Spacey Foundation charity tennis tournament in the Hamptons for August.)

5) According to Spacey, Tom Hanks still is bummed he didn’t land the part of Lester Burnham in American Beauty, a role that won Spacey the Oscar in 1999. (Ironically, the studio balked at casting Spacey, but director Sam Mendes insisted.) But he says he’s told the Captain Phillips star he shouldn’t be bummed: “He got to play the great congressman Charlie Wilson [in Charlie Wilson’s War], which was a part I definitely wanted to play, so we’re even.”

PHOTOS: Exclusive Portraits of Kevin Spacey

6) But not everyone was excited about American Beauty for Spacey. Though he won’t name names, the actor says there was an agent at the time who warned that the screenplay was about a pedophile. “I read it and I was like, ‘No, it’s about a guy who’s attracted to a young girl, but he actually makes the right choice,” he says, noting that reps rarely spend much time with the material before weighing in. “Some of them don’t read and some of them just read a copy or a synopsis because to actually read would mean you have to care.”  

7) Spacey doesn’t take his job on House of Cards lightly. He’s been known to do extensive research before filming begins, including ordering more than a dozen books on the Civil War to prep for season two’s reenactment episode. He's sought out real-world politicians (including majority whip Kevin McCarthy) with whom to consult on multiple occasions, and works very closely with [showrunner BeauWillimon on scripts, too. 

8) He has directed two plays at the London theater The Old Vic, and now he’s eager to helm an episode of House of Cards. His co-star Robin Wright got her shot last season -- “She sort of found this incredible confidence, and the day she started it was like, ‘OK girl, go,’ ” he says -- and Spacey hopes he’ll get his opportunity in season three. He is a producer on the show as well.

9) Spacey has been known not only to identify but also to promote young talent, whether that be actors (he’s often credited with discovering Colin Farrell on the London stage) or employees. Spacey has his onetime assistant Jeremy Whelehan directing his forthcoming doc, Now: In the Wings on a World Stage; and Dana Brunetti, another former assistant, runs his Trigger Street Productions. Says Brunetti: “For someone like me to be able to go from being the guy who gets his coffee to being a two-time Academy Award nominee [for Trigger Street’s The Social Network and Captain Phillips] says a lot about Kevin.”

10) He's no fan of distracted theatergoers, particularly those who snap pictures or, worse, try to snag a video of his performance. For his stage production of Richard III, Spacey's castmates got him a laser to shine in the eyes of those who tried either. “People would suddenly think that there was a sniper gun on them, and they’d put their f---ing cameras away,” says Spacey, adding: “I used it often and loved it.”

11) In early May, Spacey will self-distribute his documentary, Now, about the staging of his globe-trotting play Richard III, in theaters and for download on his KevinSpacey.com. According to Mendes, who directed Richard III, Spacey has been toying with different, innovative distribution models for some time. At one point during the process, Mendes remembers the actor had tried to do a live transmission of the play on YouTube, but the plan proved too complicated.

12) Don’t bother asking him to assess his work on House of Cards. He says it takes him years before he can distance himself from the filming process and form an opinion. “When I’m watching it, I’m remembering, ‘Oh right, we shot in that hotel lobby,’ ‘Oh yeah, and there was that f---ing crazy woman,’ ‘There was that actor who didn’t know his f---ing lines,’ or ‘There was that camera that f---ed up and it was a really hot day and I was sweating my guts out,’ ” he says, noting: “It takes me a long time to be able to divorce myself from the experience and just see it for what it is and the way an audience might see it.”

PHOTOS: The Many Faces of Kevin Spacey

13) If Devlin had his way, Spacey would have been cast as the President in his 1996 film Independence Day. He had written the part specifically for his high school buddy, but then the studio -- convinced Spacey wasn’t movie star material -- balked and Devlin rewrote the role for Bill Pullman. “Kevin had started to become very well known for doing villain parts and we thought it would be fantastic if you were actually thinking that the President is going to turn out to be villainous and the surprise is when he makes the big speech and gets into the plane and leads the troops into battle. I thought, ‘Well, there’s no one else who could pull that off like Kevin can,’ ” recalls Devlin. “When we couldn’t get him and we got Pullman, who I love, it had to change. Pullman is just so lovable from the first second, so we just abandoned that and decided to just make him the most lovable President in history.”

14) Forget the Nielsen ratings. Spacey believes we're only five years away from knowing exactly what people are watching on their TVs. “I mean, 20,000 boxes represents 500,000 people. Really?” he says dismissively of the Nielsen sample that is used currently to measure a TV audience. He continues: “And I’ll tell you this: it will dramatically affect advertising rates, and that’s why they’re f---ing scared.” (As for Netflix's decision to keep its viewer metrics to itself: "It's entirely their choice," he says.)

15) Spacey has fast become the poster boy for Netflix, both on camera and off. As he's done before, he praised the streaming service for entrusting the creatives and remaining hands-off in the process. (The latter was a theme of his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival this past summer.) “I’m not fighting crazy studio people. You know, people who want to put their fingers in the pie and question why we’re doing everything. ‘Why is your tie like that?’ ‘Why are you wearing that?’ ” he says, making clear that he and his team have been able to tell the story that they wanted told. “It’s a perfect situation.”

16) The actor has grown increasingly picky about what parts he will and won’t take: “I’m not going to play somebody’s brother,” he says, dismissively. “I did that for 10 years in these little parts I played here and there. It’s not worth the time it takes to do it.” That said, he does keep a running list of the actors and directors with whom he’d like to work. High on the list: Woody Allen (Spacey pitched himself via a letter and a Netflix subscription) and Martin Scorsese. Others include Ed Norton, an “extraordinary actor” with whom Spacey has never worked, and Sam Rockwell.  

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17) You don’t need to spend much time with Spacey to hear him reference the late Jack Lemmon, a role model, co-star and father-like figure in Spacey’s life. Other Spacey idols include Katharine Hepburn, with whom he exchanged handwritten letters, director George Cukor, writer-director Garson Kanin and actress Ruth Gordon. 

18) Though Spacey’s House of Cards has helped make “binge viewing” part of the vernacular, he insists he’s not much of a binge watcher himself. “There’s no time to binge,” he says, referencing his globetrotting lifestyle. On his list of small-screen favorites: Breaking Bad, Dexter and FX’s American Horror Story, on which his House of Cards castmate Kate Mara once starred. He often finds himself watching old television, too. “Suddenly there’s an old Columbo on and I’m like, ‘Aw, c’mon. He’s f---ing awesome,’” Spacey says, adding of another favorite: “I grew up watching The Wild, Wild West. That was my favorite show in the world.”

19) About that House of Cards threesome. Spacey along with Wright and Nathan Darrow (Edward Meechum) were first consulted about the infamous scene ahead of season two, and all three actors were "immediately game," according to Willimon, who acknowledges he went through several drafts to make it feel like a "tender," "organic" moment. The topic of Francis' sexuality first had been explored in the college episode of season one, and this scene was designed to expand on that. "I always thought of Frank as someone who has no interest in labels, who doesn’t approach attraction or sexual appetite in sort of columns. He's attracted to different people for different reasons, and when he is he will act on it without guilt, regret, shame or apology," says the showrunner of the plotline. "Slowly but surely, one of the things we’ve been exploring over two seasons was a growing friendship and closeness between Francis and Meechum. It just seemed the right moment in the story without lots of bells and whistles to explore the human side of these three characters and give them a moment to simply be themselves outside of and away from all of the political gamesmanship, where we spend most of our time." 

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com
Twitter: @LaceyVRose