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Kevin Spacey Gala, Museum of the Moving Image
Kevin Spacey honored by the Museum of the Moving Image, April 9, 2014 | Paula Schwartz Photo
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Kevin Spacey Gala, Museum of the Moving Image
Kevin Spacey honored by the Museum of the Moving Image, April 9, 2014 | Paula Schwartz Photo

Francis Underwood, the malicious and duplicitous Southern Democratic congressman in “House of Cards,” is more likely to murder than to help someone, but Kevin Spacey is nothing like the character he plays in the critically acclaimed Netflix political drama.

Last night, the Oscar-winning actor rushed to the aid of Herbert S. Schlosser, the 88-year-old co-chairman of the Museum of the Moving Image, when he fainted during the cocktail hour before the gala.

Spacey had just posed for photographers and chatted with journalists on the red carpet when he saw Mr. Schlosser on the floor, awake, his head propped up on blankets. Spacey, who was in black tie, kneeled down on the floor next to Mr. Schlosser and spoke to him softly and reassuringly until the medics arrived to take him to the hospital. Mr. Schlosser, a former lawyer and television honcho, seemed alert, and he responded to Kevin Spacey, who even made him laugh.

Before the medical emergency, on the red carpet I asked Spacey how he related to his evil “House of Cards” character, Frances Underwood. 

“I relate to everybody,” he told me. “I don’t have to be like them or agree with them or think like them to be able to relate. I think it’s actually one of the things that I’ve always found most humanizing about being an actor. Because when you are forced by your very profession to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to think like them, it’s a lot harder to be prejudiced. It’s a lot harder to be tough on other people because they have a different circumstance or point of view than you do.”

Was he worried about being ribbed by the presenters, or that  some of the embarrassing details of his life might be revealed? “I hope it’s a roast, I really do,” the actor said. “It’s so much less embarrassing than a praise festival.”

I asked if he’s heard from the White House or Joe Biden on their reaction to “House of  Cards,” as Frances Underwood is a manipulative vice president gunning for the president’s job.

“I understand he loves the show,” Spacey told me. “No one has spoken to me personally from the White House, but I can understand why he might be jealous of how effective Frank is.”

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After it was clear Mr. Schlosser was fine, guests were corralled into the dining room where A-listers Penn Badgley, Michael Bloomberg, Kate Bosworth, Trigger Street producer Dana Brunetti, Samuel L. Jackson, Denis Leary, Chazz Palminteri and “House of Cards” writer-producer Beau Willimon gave glowing tributes to Spacey.

At the end of the evening, Spacey went to the stage to give his acceptance speech – the trophy is a large glass bowl – but first he asked how Mr. Schlosser was doing. “Is he all right?” Spacey asked.

He added, “I had a very nice conversation with him while he was lying on his back,” Spacey joked. “I’m glad he’s doing all right. Please send him my best.”

Assured that Mr. Schlosser was fine, Spacey joked that the reason Mr. Schlosser “fainted downstairs was because he was so excited that I was the honoree tonight.” He went on to thank Mr. Schlosser for all that he had done for the museum during its 23-year history.

In his 20-minute speech – sprinkled so heavily with f-words that it’s difficult to quote – Spacey joked, reminisced, and did his trademark voices and impressions.

First he thanked Michael Bloomberg for attending the gala. “I can only imagine how many of these f…ing things he gets invited to and now that he’s not mayor, he doesn’t actually have to come to them, so it means a lot to me.”

Spacey said actress Kim Cattrall had “the best line tonight.” He added, “She came over to me before the evening started and whispered in my ear, ‘I’m sitting on your face.’” He delivered this in a spot-on imitation of Cattrall’s soft voice and added, “For me, this was a good way to start the night.”

This was a reference to the programs on all the chairs in the dining room, which happened to have a photograph of Kevin Spacey’s face on the cover.

Spacey made funny but rambling references to many of his movies, clips from which were shown. About “The Usual Suspects,” his break out role and the one that earned him his first Oscar, he quipped, “Gabriel Byrne was so f…ing angry he wasn’t Keyser Soze.”

Kate Bosworth, who was with her new husband, director Michael Polish, co-starred with Spacey in the Bobby Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea” (2004). Spacey praised her as his co-star in the film. “I’ll never forget the day you walked into a Los Angeles restaurant. I was casting Sandra Dee. I was hiding so she didn’t see me,” he said, “and I knew in ten seconds that you were my Sandra Dee.” He added, “To see how your career and your work, where it’s gone since then, has been really incredible.”

He credited his mother for much of his success. “She introduced me to great books, great storytelling.” He added, “There’s not a day since she’s been gone that she’s not hovering somewhere egging me on.”

Spacey said there were many people instrumental in his career, but he singled out actor Jack Lemmon, with whom he starred on stage in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and in the film “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Of the later film, Lemmon nicknamed it “Gene Barry Glenn Close.” Spacey’s voice broke when he talked about Lemon. “He became my friend and my mentor and my father figure.”

At the end of the evening, most of the celebrities headed for the exit, but Samuel Jackson hung around and posed for selfies. He told me he was off to London the next day, and that he would begin shooting “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” next week.

I asked Kim Cattrall if the story Spacey told about what she whispered into his ear at the start of the evening was true. She laughed and conceded it was. “We both have filthy minds,” she laughed. “But I thought, ‘he’ll never remember that,’ and he totally did.”

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