Kevin Spacey

The Life of David Gale

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

Back in action after an 18-month rest, Kevin Spacey is busier than ever. He recently announced his appointment as artistic director of London's Old Vic theatre; he launched a website for would-be screenwriters; and presented a movie at Sundance in January which he produced and acted in ("The United States of Leland"). We caught up with him at the Berlin International Film Festival to discuss his latest acting role, in Alan Parker's death row thriller "The Life of David Gale".

You play an anti-death penalty activist in the movie. What is your position on the issue?

I don't have one. I have studied the subject, and I even played one of the great characters in US legal history, Clarence Darrow, who was an advocate against the Death Penalty. I have also looked at all the statistics of whether it is really a deterrent and how much money it really costs to put a single person to death. It's up to about $5m in just the State of Texas alone. Gosh, we sure could use that money for a lot more productive things in our country. On the other side of it, I've never had my sister murdered. So how am I supposed to know how that feels?

David Gale is on death row. Did you speak to people actually in that position?

I read a lot of books and I watched a lot of pretty frightening interviews, but I just didn't feel it would be necessary for me to have gone to death row. Alan [director Alan Parker], on the other hand, did go.

Have your views on the issue of the death penalty been changed by your involvement in this film?

I have come away from the experience grappling with both sides of the issue. It's clearly an uncomfortable issue in the United States. We've gone from hanging to the firing squad to electrocution to putting a person to sleep. So we've clearly been moving towards a more humane way of dealing with this. Maybe a movie like this will get people to have some open discussion about it as opposed to the sort of polarising debate where one side doesn't listen to the other.

Finally, will your involvement with the Old Vic mean we'll see even less of you on screen?

I'm lucky if I find one movie a year that's worth doing, and when I do find one, it usually only takes 20-30 days to shoot. That's not a hell of a lot of time in terms of commitment, so the idea that running a theatre is going to demolish my film career is nonsense. My life will change, because I want it to change; and also because this is something I'm committed to doing and that I believe my life has been leading towards.