Kevin Spacey Talks Working With Jack Lemmon, Samuel L. Jackson

12:07 PM PST 04/10/2014 by Hilary Lewis
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Kevin Spacey speaking at Wednesday night's Museum of the Moving Image salute.

The star, who was honored by the Museum of the Moving Image, spoke to THR about his ongoing belief in digital distribution, and "House of Cards" colleagues Dana Brunetti and Beau Willimon shared what it's like to work with the actor as a producer.

Kevin Spacey was the toast of New York at a Museum of the Moving Image gala celebrating the actor Wednesday night.

The two-time Oscar winner delivered a funny, touching speech at the 28th annual salute, filled with anecdotes about The Usual Suspects and Jack Lemmon, among other stories, along with Spacey's impressions of Lemmon and Bill Clinton.

Before Spacey accepted his award, a glass bowl that he pretended to bobble as if he were going to drop the fragile prize, many of his famous colleagues paid tribute to the actor.

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Samuel L. Jackson, Denis Leary, Spacey's producing partner Dana Brunetti, House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kate Bosworth and Penn Badgley all turned out to support Spacey and say a few words on his behalf.

Later, Spacey weighed in on their remarks, sharing stories about working with them and the many clips of his work that were shown throughout the evening.

"I haven't seen most of those f---ng clips since the like screening of those movies when they first came out," Spacey said during his f-word-filled speech. "And so, I'm having kind of a 'Wow, I haven't seen that f--ing scene in … 25 years.'"

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Among the clips screened were scenes from Spacey's first Oscar-winning performance in The Usual Suspects and The Negotiator.

Before his Usual Suspects co-star Chazz Palminteri introduced the clip from that film, he said there's still confusion about exactly who Keyser Soze is. Spacey announced that Palminteri's character is not the film's villain, but recalled that during the movie, director Bryan Singer had done such a good job of telling all of the actors different things that when they screened it, Gabriel Byrne was "so pissed that he was not Keyser Soze that he took Bryan Singer into a parking lot to have an hourlong argument."

In addressing Jackson, Spacey recalled doing both A Time to Kill and The Negotiator with him, noting that both films have stood the test of time and to this day, people still come up to him on the street asking if he and Jackson are going to do a Negotiator sequel, something Spacey said maybe they should do.

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"You know why? Cause they'd pay us a lot of f---ing money now," he said while leaning into the microphone.

Leary, meanwhile, made a brief appearance to praise -- and kind of roast -- his pal.

"When people talk about great actors, they talk about Daniel Day-Lewis," Leary began to laughs from the crowd. "And he's not here tonight."

Leary added that while Daniel Day-Lewis stays in character, Spacey does not, launching into one of his famous impressions (of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon or William Hurt) while waiting for scenes to begin.

Badgley also talked about his experience of working with Spacey in Margin Call, which received a lot of attention for its successful day-and-date theatrical and on-demand release.

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Earlier, Spacey, who has been a big advocate for Netflix and is self-distributing an upcoming documentary about his experience doing Richard III, told The Hollywood Reporter that he really believes in those new forms of digital distribution, even for movies.

"I absolutely think it's the future," he said.

During his speech, Spacey raved about the experience of working with Willimon on House of Cards.

"If I were ever to dream about having a relationship in a television series with a head writer, it would be this relationship, because this has been the most profoundly fun, collaborative, challenging … and where you push me to, and the kind of questions you ask and the back-and-forth has made the experience of bringing Frank Underwood to life one of the most extraordinary experiences I've ever had," he explained.

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Earlier, Willimon told THR that Spacey's role as both an actor and a producer on the series helps on both sides of the camera.

"He's a real leader on set. He is involved when it comes to scripts, when it comes to big decisions, when it comes to how we're going to envision a season," Willimon said. "Most importantly, though, I think he bridges the creative and the [producer] side. He knows what we need in terms of production but he also knows how the decisions we make in production will affect our cast and crew and it's great to have that sort of insight."

Although a recent tax-credit dispute has raised the question of whether House of Cards will film its upcoming third season in Baltimore, Willimon wouldn't reveal whether he thought that would be resolved.

"We've made Maryland our home and we love shooting there," he said.

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Spacey's producing partner Brunetti told THR that his colleague is good at maintaining a divide between being a producer and an actor when he's taking on both roles.

"The lines do cross occasionally but not any time that it turns into a problem, so he's very good at understanding both roles and positions," Brunetti said.

Meanwhile, during his speech, Spacey told Brunetti, "The best decision I ever made was hiring you."

"Dana was my assistant for a number of years, and I quickly realized that he was a guy who was so much more qualified than the guy f---ing walking my dog and getting my laundry," Spacey explained, noting that Brunetti did a good job with the laundry and dog-walking.

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He also recalled how he told Brunetti to move to LA and run their film company, Trigger Street Productions, while he went to London to be the artistic director at The Old Vic theater.

"I went, 'Hey, Dana, so, look, why don't you come to L.A. [Brunetti lived in New York at the time] and run the film company? OK? And here's what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna go to London to run a theater company for 10 years. Good luck!' " he said. "It was not funny at the f---ing time. Now it's slightly funny."

Spacey ended his speech by talking about his relationship with his late friend and mentor Lemmon. After first meeting the legendary actor during a workshop when he was 13, where Lemmon told Spacey he should move to New York and become an actor, Spacey crossed paths with Lemmon again, 12 years later, when Spacey managed to talk his way into auditioning to play Lemmon's son in a Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Spacey got the part and spent a year of his life working with his idol, whom he'd later collaborate with on other projects, including the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross. But it was Lemmon's personal philosophy about helping others once you've become successful that Spacey said still sticks with him.

"He said, 'If you've done well in the business you want to do well in, then it is your obligation to spend a good portion of your time sending the elevator back down,'" Spacey said imitating Lemmon. "That is why the logo for my foundation is the universal button you push to send the elevator up. So there isn't a day that goes by when I'm not enormously grateful for the people that believed in me and gave me a chance. And I know in my heart that if we all just keep a little bit of a Lemmon clause in our hearts, we're going to be OK."

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