He’s developed a new competition called Jameson First Shot that will help upcoming filmmakers. As he continues to support new talent, Spacey talked to VanityFair.com about the help he got from more experienced vets when he entered the acting community.
Spacey is open about the aid he got when he was starting out. He said, “I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for first-time directors, first-time producers, first-time writers taking a chance on me. I can pinpoint through my life the key individuals that spotted me, saw me, believed in my talent, encouraged me, nurtured me, took me under their wing, whether it was Jack Lemmon when I was 13 years old at a workshop with my drama class, or Joe Papp for whom I did my very first job in New York in Shakespeare in the Park playing a tavern person and then a guard and then a messenger—I had five lines in Henry IV, Part I, it was very exciting—or Al Pakula or Mike Nichols who were two film directors who stood up and fought for me and gave me roles very, very early on.”
Spacey remembers the kind of mentoring he received early on—guidance that has stayed with him over his long career. The actor said, “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from someone who was working with me very early on. I was completely thinking about not being able to have enough auditions, and the question was asked of me, ‘Do you think you’re talented?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ And then, ‘Do you think you’re raw, undeveloped, inexperienced—do you think those things are true, as well?’ and I was like, ‘Well, yeah.’ And the person said, ‘Well, then, why do you want to go show everyone in this business what you have right now? Why don’t we just pick the things you’re ready for and start building your career that way?’ Quite often people get opportunities—and they’re just not ready for them.”
The two-time Academy Award winner notes that he often advises newcomers to take the time to really imagine what they want their careers to look like in the future. Spacey said, “It’s very easy in this business, particularly because it is so much about the youth market, to look at your career and think, if I’m 22, 23, or 24 and I haven’t made it yet then I’m over-the-hill. When in fact the history of film shows that actors really didn’t reach their stride until they were well into their 30s. So I always try to encourage people to take the long view, to take the next 10 years and build your career—because I do believe that you can carve your own luck and fate. It’s very often that people are very short-term—they want things instantly [snaps], and they want them now.”
Spacey has done well to choose his projects carefully, even if that meant not making a name for himself in Hollywood until later in his life. He admitted, “My film career really didn’t take off until I was in my 30s. I did a few things before that, but I was primarily a theater actor and I was trying to learn my craft. I looked at the history of movies as a great example of that; Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis—they all spent 10 years or more developing their craft in the theater before they ever made a movie. I think I know I would have never had a film career and been that prepared, that when I walked on a film set I knew what I was doing in terms of creating a character.”