Kevin Spacey's come a long way since desperately sighing that he just wanted to "look good naked" as the tragic Lester Burnham in "American Beauty".
Spacey's been everywhere from the stage to the screen, from behind stage to back on the screen, all with his signature Spacey sarcasm in stride.
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In a candid interview with Harvard Business Review, Spacey talks career moves, growth and the beauty of the entertainment business itself. We broke down five of his drive-home points about what it really means to be in control of a career that's just as dynamic as it is successful.
On jumping between job roles:
I didn't want to spend another 10 years pursuing the same dream. I had done what I set out to do, and I wanted to be challenged on a different level.
After 12 years pursuing on-screen acting and succeeding tremendously, Spacey knew it was time to shake things up. Sometimes in our careers we reach thresholds where we know that our options are to either level out and stay comfortable where we are, or go in a completely different direction and in a sense, start anew again. When Spacey moved to London to direct theatre, he did just that.
I was very fortunate to have mentors who were great examples, not because they sat me down and gave me lessons but because of the way they behaved. There's a different kind of leadership in running a theater and staff, a company, productions, fundraising, educational and community projects. I learned as I went along. I read. I asked questions of leaders I admire.
Ask any successful entrepreneur, entertainer or businessperson alike and they'll probably all tell you that they couldn't have gotten to where they are now without a strong mentor. We can't learn everything on our own, especially when it comes to master company goals, job roles, even industry-specific ins and outs. Spacey is spot on here; finding a good mentor is pertinent to success, as is striking a balance between learning by their example while also being interactive. Always be curious.
Kevin Spacey at 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards after winning the award for Outstanding Performance By a Male Actor in a Drama Series, 'House of Cards' (Getty)
There's a creative team, and we make all the decisions. That doesn't mean we don't have arguments or disagreements. We challenge one another all the time. But no ego enters the room. It's all about wanting to make the best show we can. It's not "What's good for me?" It's "What's good for us?"
Spacey explains that the process of developing his hit Netflix series House of Cards is a highly collaborative effort in all of its stages. Here, Spacey sets an example for what healthy collaboration looks like and how it's crucial to creating the best possible result for a company (in his case, the best possible television show). When a group of capable, hardworking people come together to make something great happen, that shared goal has to be the overarching motivation. When you acknowledge yourself as being part of a whole instead of an individual amongst other individuals, that's when that greatness truly starts to happen.
On industry fluidity:
All I know is that I don't want to do what I've done before. I think there's a whole new world opening up in terms of how entertainment is captured and viewed, and I hope to be a part of it.
Don't stay stagnant, regardless of what industry you work in. Though Spacey may be in the ever-changing industry that is the entertainment world, every industry changes. Be aware of where you can jump, how you can grow and how you can adapt to the changes and developments that are taking place around your career, whether it's within your specific job role, company, or even industry-wide. As long as you keep your hunger for growth and development as you go through your career, you'll be equipped to handle and excel in any changes that come throughout the course of your career. Be open.
I look at these young people and see myself. I know what they're going through. I understand their desire and ambition and all the questions they have. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what success I achieve, I don't want to ever be out of touch with that.
Stay humble and remember the person that you were when you first began your career, no matter how successful you may be now. Spacey's ability to put himself in to the shoes of younger actors who are standing where he once stood is the quintessential quality of a strong leader: the ability to innately relate. Being a strong mentor or leader doesn't mean simply delegating tasks or rattling off advice; it takes patience, it requires understanding and empathy. As his mentors did for him, Spacey knows that the best way to lead is by example.
Oh, and on where he'll go next:
Vegas, baby, Vegas.
Us too, Spacey. See you there.
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