“My world exploded,” Kevin Spacey told jurors as he gave evidence during his sexual assault trial. “There was a rush to judgement and before the first question was asked or answered I lost my job, I lost my reputation – I lost everything, in a matter of days.”
The Hollywood star fought back tears as he sat in the witness box at Southwark Crown Court in London, describing how initial allegations in the US in October 2017 – which were followed by those here in the UK, leading to the London court case – created a domino effect of claims, ruining his Oscar-winning career.
Jurors had to decide whether he was telling the truth, or if this was simply another performance.
As the initial allegations emerged, Spacey was largely shunned in Hollywood; quickly erased from Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World, released in December 2017 – with Christopher Plummer reshooting his scenes as billionaire John Paul Getty – and axed from his Golden Globe-winning role as scheming politician Frank Underwood in the Netflix political drama series House Of Cards.
Last year, the star and his production companies were ordered to pay $31m (about £24m) to make up for losses incurred due to his sacking, following “explosive” allegations of sexual misconduct against crew members.
But separate criminal charges in LA and Massachusetts had been dropped in 2018 and 2019 respectively. In 2022, Spacey was found not liable in a civil trial in New York.
Now, jurors here in the UK have cleared him of any criminal charges in relation to allegations by four men, who claimed the star sexually assaulted them in incidents that allegedly happened between 2001 and 2013.
The court was told that allegations by one man were “madness”, and that Spacey had consensual sexual encounters with two others. He conceded to making a “clumsy pass” at a fourth man, but said the incident was no more than this.
‘Easy for accusers to lie’ about ‘promiscuous’ Spacey, court told
Jurors were told by the star of his determination to prove his innocence, doggedly digging through old records, boxes of photos and any evidence that could disprove the claims. And his barrister, Patrick Gibbs KC, told them the star had been “cancelled” and “tried by social media”.
It was “easy” to lie about Spacey, Mr Gibbs said: “A man who is promiscuous, not publicly out, although everyone in the businesses knows he’s gay, who wants to be just a normal guy, or at least some of the time he does – to drink beer and laugh and smoke weed and sit in the front and spend time with younger people who he’s attracted to…
“It’s not my life, it’s not your life, perhaps it’s a bit of an odd life, but it’s a life that makes you an easy target when the internet turns against you and you’re tried by social media.”
‘Does this verdict allow Kevin Spacey to be Kevin Spacey?’
Now, Spacey has been found not guilty. Does this mean he can revive his career?
“The verdict is a major victory for Spacey in clearing his name,” said US celebrity lawyer Christopher Melcher. “Although he faced four accusers who told similar accounts of sexually aggressive behaviour, Spacey steadfastly maintained his innocence.
“The verdict supports Spacey’s denials of the accusations and provides a clear path for him to return to work as an actor. Producers are able to work with Spacey because he has been acquitted, which lessens their exposure if he is hired.”
Media lawyer Matthew Dando, a partner at Wiggin LLP, said: “Kevin Spacey’s acquittal won’t change everyone’s views on what has been said and reported throughout the trial, but it may well open the door to a comeback which would otherwise have been very firmly shut.”
However, celebrity PR and brand expert Mark Borkowski is not so sure.
“Certainly the result has put a lot of the sort of noise that’s surrounded this case behind him,” he said. “The question is, does this verdict allow Kevin Spacey to be Kevin Spacey? To be that iconic actor who has oodles of talent to regain his position as one of the A-listers of Hollywood?
“Sadly not. We live in a corporate world now and raising money, getting insurance, all those other factors exist on social media, where mainstream media has not got the same power.”
Before the court case, in an interview, Spacey said there were directors and producers “ready to hire me the moment I am cleared of these charges in London”.
Despite that happening, many filmmakers might still be wary of working with Spacey knowing any project could still be “dogged by negativity”, Mr Borkowski said.
“Kevin Spacey, if he wants to move forward, will be clinging to the hope that there is a radical independent filmmaker who is fearless, who has a wonderful script and a remarkable project with a number of actors who are willing to work on the project.
“And if it gets picked up on the independent movie circuit, you know where there are, how shall we say, countries like Italy, France, around the world that don’t have the same perceptions as an American or a British audience or a German audience might have on this, there could be people who think, oh, that’s been a commercial success, let’s think about the next project.
“But it won’t be a franchise movie, it will not be Disney or Marvel coming forward to take that on. It just is something that they would feel that is too dangerous in terms of negative publicity for their brand and some of the values that they project.”
The stories about Sir Elton John and Dame Judi Dench
During the trial, Sir Elton John – who was chairman of The Old Vic when Spacey was appointed – was called to give evidence, and the court also heard tales of Spacey teaching Dame Judi Dench to play ping pong; there was no avoiding the strange and surreal world of celebrity at the centre of the case.
The timings of the UK claims mostly coincided with the actor’s time working at the theatre. He was involved from 2001, and began his tenure as artistic director from 2003 to 2015. Signing him had been quite the coup, a chance to turn the venue’s fortunes around.
Alistair Smith, editor of entertainment newspaper The Stage, interviewed Spacey towards the beginning of his tenure at the theatre, after he arrived as “a sort of Old Vic saviour figure” after a period in which it struggled financially.
“Previously, there was a real threat to its future,” says Smith. “There was talk of it turning into a bingo hall or even a lap dancing club… [Spacey] coming in brought a lot more attention to it, it brought funding, it brought sponsors, and attention in the media. And so there was, when he joined, quite a lot of excitement about it.”
Spacey’s arrival was seen as a chance to revive an important theatrical institution, and people in the industry were excited to have a Hollywood star committing to London theatre.
Things didn’t start well, but improved as Spacey performed more himself. By the time he left, the Old Vic “was financially secure and had rebuilt its artistic reputation”. For a period, he had re-established the venue as one of London’s leading theatres.
Whatever the verdict, there were accounts of ‘inappropriate conduct in the workplace’
But in November 2017, shortly after the allegations came out in the US, the Old Vic said it had received 20 allegations of inappropriate behaviour made against Spacey. Only one of the claims was reported, an investigation found, but staff were “unclear about how to respond”.
In the wake of the scandal, the theatre implemented a “Guardians” programme, designed to allow employees a confidential means of sharing concerns about behaviour at work.
Despite the star now being cleared of criminal charges in the UK, the fallout from the accusations against him has still had a “massively damaging effect” on the venue’s reputation, Smith says.
“Even before this court case, this trial, the 20 allegations against Kevin Spacey that came out of the Old Vic’s own investigation in 2017, I think had raised some very serious questions about the Old Vic and how it handled having a star at its helm over that period.”
Paul Fleming, general secretary of actors’ union Equity, says that despite the verdict, “nobody who is poorly treated in a workplace should ever be put in the position of having to bring something to a criminal trial”.
He told Sky News: “There should be processes in a workplace to keep them healthy and safe. And that duty rests with the employer. I’m not convinced, six years on, that theatre producers, TV producers, film producers, have put in place robust enough systems to prevent allegations like this arising significantly after the event.”
Mr Fleming said that there has been movement since the rise of #MeToo, but not enough. “There is no doubt that there are a series of accounts of inappropriate conduct in the workplace,” he said. “Whether they’re criminal or not has been a matter for the courts. The fact of the matter is there’s a lot of behaviour that is inappropriate, that is unsafe in the workplace, that there should be processes in place to allow people to resolve them.”
For Spacey, these claims have overshadowed his once glittering acting career for six years – but all criminal charges are now behind him. After telling the court how he lost his work and his fortune, it’s likely the star will be hoping this verdict can finally signal his Hollywood return.