TAMPA — Two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey had a ready, rowdy answer Saturday when asked how he feels about Hollywood and Bollywood creatively edging together.
"Well, it's about (expletive) time," he said, prodding whoops and applause from nearly 300 VIPs during a centerpiece event of the International Indian Film Academy awards weekend.
"The fact that you're in Tampa just means you're getting closer to the West Coast."
Billed as an acting "master class," the 80-minute session was more of a casual conversation with Spacey and actor Priyanka Chopra, subbing for Vidya Balan who didn't attend the IIFA weekend after plugging this event during a visit in March.
Arriving on a festooned stage in a Hilton hotel ballroom, the stars ignored yells from a security guard and a gatecrasher. A laudatory montage of clips from Spacey's career soon drowned them out.
"That was very exciting," Spacey said when the sizzle reel's bombast ended. "If this is how you produce the awards, that's a good thing." He planned to attend IIFA's gala at Raymond James Stadium Saturday night.
Spacey, 54, was loose yet conscious of a cultural gap; for example, making sure everyone knew Jack Lemmon before launching an anecdote. An accomplished impressionist, Spacey tossed in a little Bill Clinton here, Al Pacino there, and Lemmon congratulating him on a second Oscar, with a vulgarity making observers wince and Spacey sheepish.
Much of the conversation centered around Spacey's Web television series House of Cards, apparently a hit in India despite Netflix being unavailable there. "You're all stealing it," he mock-chided, sly as the Washington D.C., shyster he plays on the show.
Some of Spacey's most trenchant comments about his craft were inspired by differences between acting in movies, on stage or television.
"That camera doesn't know it's a TV camera, doesn't know it's a film camera, it's just a camera," he said. "You can do good work, great work in front of it. It's about what you do, how you prepare to get there.
"I've had a little problem over many years, (hearing) there's something called film acting and something called theater acting. I actually think there's just acting and it's either good or it's bad.
"There's a lot of people who make a whole lot of money teaching film acting, and most of them are full of (expletive) … The way you learn is to actually look at yourself on film. It takes a while to learn what you can do, and what's required of you."
Spacey used the occasion to plug a new documentary titled Now, focused on a 10-month world tour of Richard III, staged with the cooperation of London's Old Vic theater where Spacey has been artistic director since 2003. While he gladly shared familiar stories about Oscar-winning movie roles like Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects and Lester Burnham in American Beauty, it was clear that performing before live audiences keeps his thespian heart beating.
"Theater is the actor's medium," Spacey said. "Film is the director's medium, and the editor's medium. I don't think it's an actor's medium at all. And no matter how good I might be in a movie, it will never get better. Whereas in the theater, I can be better tomorrow than I was tonight.
"It's no different than if you went out and played eight nights of tennis. Yes, it's the same game. Yes, it's the same rules. But it's a different game every time you're on that court."
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.