David Zurawik

Kevin Spacey talks about going global with Richard III

If you think Kevin Spacey is something special as Frank Underwood, you should see him as Richard III.

And with the documentary “Now: In the Wings on a World Stage” debuting this week, the lines of influence between Spacey’s work in Shakespeare and “House of Cards” will be on global display.

Spacey funded, produced and stars in the film directed by Sam Mendes, with whom he worked in the feature film “American Beauty.” The 90-minute production follows Spacey and a troupe of actors that includes Gemma Jones as they take the play about the monstrous monarch on tour.

While it’s part travelogue and part backstage peek at the staging of a complicated play, the real power of this production is in the extended look viewers are given of the play as performed in stagings at theaters in Istanbul, Beijing, Naples and Brooklyn, as well as the famed Epidaurus in Greece and Old Vic in London. Spacey has been the artistic director for the past 10 years at the latter theater.

Spacey is brilliant as the deformed and deadly Richard. He moves about the stage like a wounded animal — a crouched-over, malevolent force of darkness and rage that will not be denied. And yet, Spacey also manages to evoke sympathy for the character and imbue him with a certain sexual energy, if not attractiveness, at one point.

The documentary premieres locally Tuesday at the Landmark Harbor East for one night only — and then is available for digital download starting Friday. Just as Spacey took a risk in trying a new platform with “House of Cards” appearing on Netflix rather than TV, so he is trying a new form of release for independent documentary films with “Now.” Spacey spoke Friday with The Baltimore Sun about the film; an edited transcript appears below.

Why this project for Kevin Spacey now?

One of the reasons I wanted to make the film in the first place is because a lot of times I get letters, people stop me on the street, interviewers ask, “So why did you move to London to do theater? I don’t understand why theater means so much to you. Doesn’t it get boring? Isn’t it the same?”

It’s sort of like this “I don’t get it” attitude for people who aren’t theatergoers — people who put too much value in film and television and think that’s the only place an actor should work.

So on one level, I wanted to answer a lot of those questions. I wanted to show why theater is so vital to those of us who have had some success in film — that when we look back at our careers, we see that we would never have had that success if it hadn’t been for theater, because we wouldn’t understand storytelling.

So I wanted first to capture that. And secondly, I wanted people to be able to meet a company of actors — not famous, just journeyman actors and actresses who are the heart and soul of the living theater and who become your compatriots, your family and your friends on these incredible journeys that we go through. And that’s what I’m most pleased about: that you get to know this company.

“House of Cards” was a new distribution model for TV. And now you are making and distributing this documentary essentially yourself via another kind of new distribution model. As an established Hollywood star, why are you the guy taking the risks?

It just seems to me that we are at a moment in time when there’s a tremendous explosion of creativity. You’ve been writing about television for a long time, and certainly we could say that the last 15 years of television has been a time of this remarkable, brave programming.

And as the film business started to move in the late ’90s and 2000s in tent-pole films and comic-book characters, real character-driven drama has been taken over by television. Great storytellers, great writers, directors, actors have gone to where the ground is very, very fertile.

What is also happening at the same time — and it’s happening in the theater as well — is that technology is exploding and there are these remarkable advancements on that front. And so these two worlds are converging at the same time. And you see all these emerging talents who are finding ways to get their material out there. They’re self-producing their own stuff; they’re self-releasing it. They’re having hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube, or whatever channels they might be, putting it out there on.

And it’s been incredibly exciting to be part of the new paradigm of what the Netflix model has done and how successful it’s been. And sometimes I think the industry undervalues films like this one.

How so? Can you explain?

They slot it in a certain category: “Oh, it’s just an independent documentary and it has a niche audience and that’s all.” And so you go with your hat in your hand to some film festival, and at midnight you try to make a deal with Harvey Weinstein in some restaurant. And you wind up with some deal that’s not very good, that probably doesn’t even pay the money back that you spent on making the movie. And you get a little tiny release, and it really doesn’t break through.

So I really believe in this film. I think there’s a bigger audience for it than some people might think. I believe if people like “House of Cards,” they’re going to really enjoy this, because this is where “House of Cards” started for me in terms of the development of the character Francis Underwood, which is based on Richard III. And I wanted to own this one. I wanted to put this out there on my own. I’m going to put it in cinemas. I’m going to put it online on my website. I’m going to release it in theaters in England. I’m going to put it out all over the world.

If you go

“Now: In the Wings on a World Stage” premieres at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Landmark Harbor East. For information, call 410-244-6636.

View via digital download starting Friday at