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Kevin Spacey Talks Acting Career, ‘House of Cards’ at Netflix FYSee Event

Variety logo Variety 5/9/2017 Diane Gordon
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Emmy voters got an early look at the Season 5 premiere of “House of Cards” at Netflix’s FYSee event Monday night. The rest of the world has to wait three weeks to screen the premiere episode, which was followed by a brief Q&A with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos and Kevin Spacey.

The two men talked about how Spacey got into acting and his quest to co-star with his acting idol, Jack Lemmon, of whom Spacey does a great impression. Spacey told the story of meeting Lemmon at a Mark Taper Forum acting workshop when he was 13 years old and how Lemmon’s encouragement about his scene work was “everything I needed to hear.”

Flash-forward to Spacey at age 25, working as an actor in New York, hearing Lemmon was to star in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and Spacey was determined to play the role of Jamie in the production. Spacey recounted how he bought a ticket to a lecture the play’s director, Jonathan Miller, was conducting in the city. He then got himself into the post-lecture cocktail party, where he seized the moment and chatted with Miller and won the chance to audition. Finding himself in the room testing for the role with Lemmon, Spacey recalls, “I was f—king relentless!” Spacey ultimately landed the role.

Sarandos and Spacey also looked back at the start of Netflix’s first original series, “House of Cards,” which was also the first streaming series to win an Emmy. Spacey recalled director David Fincher’s knack for getting the best out of actors.

“Sometimes he’s just wearing you down, just beating the acting out of you, where you’re doing it with beauty and clarity.” Spacey also refuted the oft-repeated idea that his Frank Underwood character is based on Bill Clinton, all the while doing another spot-on impression, but this time of Clinton.

More memories about the first episode of the show included Spacey’s reliance on table reads because “they show what are the script problems and what are the actor problems. It’s about the rhythm of the words. Words can be like music, you have to find the beat and the silence.”

Spacey credits showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson with keeping the show on track in Season 5 after creator Beau Willimon’s departure. He noted that maintaining the same team made sense: “It wasn’t broken.”

“House of Cards” returns May 30 on Netflix.

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