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Belfast director who put Kevin Spacey on the road to stardom

By Allan Preston

Published 12/04/2016

Sam McCready
Sam McCready
Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey may play the most powerful man in the world as corrupt President Frank Underwood in House of Cards - but it was a Belfast-born director that gave him his first vote of confidence in the US when the acclaimed actor couldn't even afford to pay his heating bill.

Sam McCready (79) recalled how he took a chance on an unknown Spacey for a play he directed in New York in the early 1980s.

"In New York when actors audition, there are hundreds of them waiting right round the block with their picture," said Mr McCready, who will appear in a new play about Irish songwriter Percy French in Belfast's Lyric Theatre next month.

"Out of that I actually chose Kevin Spacey," for the role of Judas in the play Yeats in Limbo, added Mr McCready.

Decades before Spacey starred in Hollywood hits such as The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, Mr McCready said he was amazed by the young actor's dedication. "Kevin was living in an apartment and he hadn't paid the rent - he'd no light and no heat. There was no elevator in his apartment and he had to walk up four or five flights of stairs."

Despite Spacey's friends begging the New Jersey-born actor to take part-time work, McCready recounted: "He said, 'No, if I go and work in a bar I am someone who works in a bar who is a part-time actor. I am an actor and I will do nothing else.'

"Now, that was totally different from every other actor that I'd met in New York - all of them had to have a second job. But ultimately the second job begins to dominate you."

He continued: "I'll never forget him saying that even though he was living under very difficult conditions he was so focused on being an actor that he wasn't prepared to do other work.

"It's a lesson for life - when we want something we really should go for that and not be sidetracked by things that make life a little more comfortable." Although Mr McCready celebrates his 80th birthday in November, he hopes to channel that same kind of determination into his new play about renowned songwriter French.

Percy French: Melodies of Unforgotten Years features Mr McCready as the entertainer, performing songs and stories from his life.

"People would know Percy French's songs - there's nowhere round Ireland where people wouldn't know the Mountains of Mourne - but they don't know any more than that," he said.

"One of my tasks is to tell audiences about him and show them the man behind the entertainer.

"He had little sense of direction. He would arrive somewhere and have lost his luggage; he kept losing things. But he manages just to survive going round.

"He played in nearly every town and village in Ireland. He never made any money but did make friends everywhere he went.

"That's why Percy French appeals to me, I understand his drive and his not giving up. It's a recipe for longevity."

Percy French: Melodies of Unforgotten Years is at the Lyric from May 3-7

Belfast Telegraph

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