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 theatre roar in a film that introduces audiences to his second career on the stage as he tours the world with his company's production of William Shakespeare's historical play Richard III. (The show, which was part of The Bridge Project, came to Hong Kong in 2011 as part of the 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival. A South China Morning Post review says the American actor was the star, "shining through almost every scene and handling this mentally and physically demanding role with aplomb".)
Spacey, 54, who will step down as the artistic director of London's The Old Vic theatre next year after a 12-year tenure, says 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," he says with a smile. "'Like, why do you do theatre, and why did you go off and run this theatre for 10 years? I don't get it. And isn't theatre boring? Why don't you just do movies and make a lot of money?'"
The documentary, directed by first-time filmmaker Jeremy Whelehan, gives a behind-the-scenes look into the production, play and tour of the transatlantic theatre 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 recently opened in New York and is available for online download, as well as playing limited runs in other US cities. It opens in Britain on June 9. It follows the project's final production through rehearsals and its tour to places such as Beijing, Doha, San Francisco and Greece's ancient amphitheatre at Epidaurus.
Shakespeare's play dramatises Richard's bloody advance to the throne, all with a black-comedy turn. For the role, Spacey dons a hunchback and affects a club-footed gait to mimic the antihero's crumpled physical appearance.
Front and centre in the film is Spacey's love of theatre. He especially relishes the stage as the ultimate actor's realm, whereas film and TV belong to directors, editors and producers. "I think for the actor, working in film, you learn how to work in two- to three-minute segments," he says. "But in theatre 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, is animated speaking about the stage.
"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 says. "In the theatre, 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 particularly poignant moment comes when the play travels to Doha during the Arab Spring popular movement that ousted regional strongmen after decades of power.
"I actually based one of my costumes on Gaddafi," Spacey says about the long-time 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."
Spacey's screen career has caught a second wind in middle age as the star of Netflix's popular political thriller House of Cards, and 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 says. "But I was ready this time and that's because of the theatre."