Kevin Spacey is a great actor and theater director, but I’m a bigger fan of Kevin Spacey the breathless tech evangelist. When Spacey likes a trend, he invests his time, money, and celebrity. Streaming services are the future? Spacey becomes the star of the first breakout streaming TV series. Video games are the future? Spacey stars as the villain in the most popular franchise of this generation. Virtual reality is the future? Spacey becomes an advisor at a VR startup.
Tech evangelist isn’t Spacey’s full time job. His full time job is wearing nice suits and pushing stunt doubles in front of moving trains. His full time job is making foolish detectives drop their mugs in slow-motion. His full time job eats up a lot of time. That’s why I find Spacey the tech evangelist so fascinating: he doesn’t have to care. He’s not some venture capital knucklehead or Silicon Valley scenester. He has a full life with other interests.
As an actor or an investor alone, Spacey’s notable, but as a mix of the two, who both puts his face, cash, and legitimacy on the line, he’s unprecedented. Typically actors receive too much praise, but Spacey’s side-job feels unusually unnoticed. The glory of Spacey struck me in this James Harding interview from Davos 2016. The virtual reality discussion begins around the 18-minute mark. I’ve transcribed the best chunk below.
"I am a believer. I’ve been very fortunate to go and see, right up to very recently, where it all is. And I think it’s going to be revolutionary for a whole lot of reasons. First of all, let’s just think about sports […] Imagine that you can buy a ticket to be on the sidelines of a live football match while it’s happening, and be able to go… [He mimes looking around] That’s going to happen. There’s no doubt. Or a concert, that’s going to happen. Paul McCartney did a VR thing last year. Beck did one. Quite remarkably you’re so close to the stage you literally feel you’re there.
I think [virtual reality] will end up being the natural home for capturing the living theater. Because finally we can take a three dimensional experience and retain it as a three dimensional experience. I think it will work in film. Maybe not an entire film, but I think we should try and see if there are five sequences in a movie where that device, whatever it’s going to be… I don’t think it’s going to be this forever. [He mimes a large headset over his face] This reminds me of the first cell phones. I think it’s going to be quite simple, much simpler as time goes by.
But I also think of [virtual reality] in terms of education. I mean, the classroom is probably the single space that we all know that hasn’t change at all since the beginning of time. It’s a chalkboard, seats, and a teacher up front. But imagine if we can bring the best teachers in the world into that classroom. And a student can put on a headset and suddenly be at the bottom of the ocean studying science. Or be in the Globe theater watching actors rehearsing in the 16th century. Or be in the Sydney Opera House while a concert is happening."
From there, Spacey compares his job as an actor — of walking in someone else’s shoes, wandering through other’s ideas — as a gift of empathy, and cites VR as an entry point for the average person into a similar experience. Spacey cites the words of VR designer Chris Milk, calling the medium an "empathy machine." He clearly and concisely draws a line from what he as a human cares about and the technology he wants to define the future. That’s astounding, when you consider the billion dollar corporations that sink millions into ad campaigns that never come close to such a feat.
This post first appeared on The Verge.