“So,” drawled Alan Yentob, “a roomful of Jews, is it?”
He was right — nearly 300 film and theatre fans gathered on Monday night to see Mr Yentob, the BBC’s creative director, in conversation with the Hollywood star Kevin Spacey.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Mr Spacey, who has been artistic director of the Old Vic theatre since 2003, revealed how Jewish figures had had an influence at various stages of his career.
In his first professional job on Broadway, he shared the stage with Mandy Patinkin, addressing his entire speaking part — five lines — to the Jewish actor.
He moved on to recall his hungry pursuit of the British theatre director Jonathan Miller, who was directing Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night on Broadway.
So desperate was the young Spacey to make contact that he crashed a private cocktail party where Miller was a guest. His desperation was fuelled by the fact that the star of the play, already cast, was Jack Lemmon, his childhood hero.
Miller gave him a chance and Spacey played one of Lemmon’s sons on stage for a year, all the time learning from the star and honing his skills.
His series of well-honed anecdotes covered his collaboration with the British-Jewish director Sam Mendes, who directed Spacey in the Oscar-winning film, American Beauty.
But in the grand theatre tradition, he saved the best until last. He was asked if he had ever considered a remake of any of Lemmon’s films.
"No,” he responded, before reconsidering. “Actually, the only film I would want to remake is The Odd Couple. But Neil Simon [the playwright] thinks I should play Oscar [the slob played by Walter Matthau in the original version].”
The Jack Lemmon part of the pernickety Felix Ungar, Spacey said, ought to go to Jeff Goldblum.
The JW3 event, billed as the flagship of the opening season of the new community centre, was confined to members only, with demands for seats so high, a ballot had to be held.