Kevin Spacey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play ruthless, narcissistic U.S. presidents on TV. But as they opened the general session at AARP’s Ideas@50+ event in San Diego Friday, the actors were charming Hollywood celebrities, sharing not only the secrets of making their shows but life lessons gleaned from their own successful careers.
Louis-Dreyfus, 53, fresh from picking up an Emmy Award last month for her portrayal of shallow, vulgar VP-turned-president Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep, pointed to the “kernel of truth” in her critical darling of a show as the reason why it’s funny. And Spacey, a two-time Emmy nominee for his House of Cards character, the murderous manipulator Frank Underwood, put on his best Bill Clinton imitation to report that the former president told him “99 percent of what they do [on HOC] is true.”
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Interviewed by broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien before an audience interested in new possibilities for work and retirement, the actors talked about some of the decisions they made that led to longevity in their careers. “I like to try things that are new,” said Louis-Dreyfus, recalling how her hit sitcom Seinfeld had at first been viewed as unpromising. “You run the risk of failure — and I have failed. But the upside is you may do something juicy and fresh.”
Failure will lead to success with persistence, both agreed. “For nine years I never got the part,” said Spacey, 55, whose movie career went on to earn him two Oscars. He talked about his post-Oscars move to London to establish a theater company at the Old Vic. “After American Beauty I was at a crossroads,” said Spacey. “I chose to do something challenging — something different. I also wanted to be a better actor, and that helped me be ready to play Frank Underwood.”
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The key to weathering life transitions, the two headliners said, is staying interested in what’s before you. Said Louis-Dreyfus: “My mother said you always have to have something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a big thing — it could be dinner.” And Spacey noted that ambitions change with time. “My priorities and interests have changed. My definition of success has changed. I’ve learned what that has meant to me.”
Photos: Louis-Dreyfus HBO; House of Cards Netflix
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