Kevin Spacey makes a great villain. We were remembering this recently when some basic cable channel was playing Se7en, and he of course won his first Oscar for playing Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects. And holy shit were we reminded again last night at the U.S. premiere of Richard III at the Curran Theater as directed by Sam Mendes originally for the Old Vic in London. We haven't seen enough of Spacey in recent years, and it's because he's been holed up across the pond working on projects like this, and we can tell you right now he hasn't lost an ounce of his signature creepiness, or his acting chops.
The man unleashes some serious rage in the role of Richard III, the hobbling, hunchbacked king who clawed his way to power and only held it briefly from 1483 to 1485. But as brief a figure as he may have been in England's history, he was a fascinating, made-for-the-tabloids, ruthless villain whose two-year-reign was drenched in bloodshed, and whose defeat and battlefield murder marked the end of the Middle of Ages. Shakespeare refers to him repeatedly, through the mouths of other characters, as "a bottled spider" and a "poisonous bunch-backed toad," and yet Spacey's performance is so much more than mere Machiavellian villain. He is a disabled, discarded human being who chooses villainy because the world has so shunned and ignored him. "I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days," Spacey seethes in the opening act, and we then watch as a master performer oscillates between wit, loathing, sarcasm, charm, seduction, and persuasion.