By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kevin Spacey, the two-time Oscar-winning actor and star of one of the most talked-about online streaming shows "House of Cards," leans forward and says that even in his lofty status among Hollywood actors, he still has a personal point to prove.
With new documentary "Now: In the Wings on a World Stage," Spacey lets his personal passion for theater roar in a film that introduces audiences to his second career on the stage as he tours the world with his own company's production of William Shakespeare's historical play "Richard III."
Spacey, 54, who has been the artistic director at London's the Old Vic theater since 2003, said his choice to cut back on his Hollywood career and devote his time to the stage, struck many as a self-defeating project.
"A lot of people looked at me like a dog that's sort of a little puzzled," the star said with a smile. "'Like, why do you do theater, and why did you go off and run this theater for 10 years? I don't get. And isn't theater boring? Why don't you just do movies and make a lot of money?'"
The documentary, which is directed by first-time filmmaker Jeremy Whelehan, gives a behind-the-scenes look into the production, play and tour of the trans-Atlantic theater group, the Bridge Project, a three-year venture between Spacey's Old Vic, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and director Sam Mendes.
"Now: In The Wings" opens in New York on Friday and is available for online download on Friday, rolling out to Los Angeles movie theaters next week after playing limited runs in other U.S. cities. It opens in the United Kingdom on June 9.
It follows the project's final production through rehearsals and its international tour to places such as Beijing, Doha, San Francisco and Greece's ancient amphitheater at Epidaurus.
Shakespeare's 16th century play, based on England's medieval King Richard III, dramatizes Richard's bloody advance to the throne, all with a black comedy turn. For the part of Richard, Spacey dons a hunchback and affects a club-footed gait to mimic the antihero's crumpled physical appearance.
Front and center in the film is Spacey's love of theater. He especially relishes the stage as the ultimate actor's realm, whereas film and TV belong to directors, editors and producers.
SHAKESPEARE MEETS ARAB SPRING
"I think for the actor, working in film, you learn how to work in two- to three-minute segments," he said. "But in theater you have to be up there for three hours - and you have to do it once. You can't have a second take."
Spacey, who won a best actor Oscar for his role as an unhappy suburban father in Mendes' 1999 film "American Beauty," became animated speaking about theater, likening playing the same role nightly to an athlete improving his game.
"I always try to remember that no matter how good I might be in a film or a television show, I'll never be any better. It's frozen," Spacey said. "In the theater, I can be better. I can be better tomorrow night than I was tonight."
During the company's 10-month world tour over the course of 2011 and 2012, a particular poignant moment comes when the play travels to Doha, the Qatar capital ruled by a monarchy, during the Arab Spring popular movement that ousted regional strongmen after decades of power.
"I actually based one of my costumes on Gaddafi," Spacey said about the longtime Libyan ruler who was killed in 2011.
"Suddenly the Arab Spring was happening and it was sort of incredible to be in places where you could go home and on CNN and you could watch the very images we were evoking on stage."
Although Spacey's screen career has caught a second wind in middle-age as the star of Netflix's popular political thriller "House of Cards," he credits his move back to the stage for helping him with the role of ruthless politician Francis Underwood, which is coincidentally based on Richard III.
"I wouldn't have been ready for 'House of Cards' 10 years ago," he said. "But I was ready this time and that's because of the theater."
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Shumaker)