Kevin Spacey the actor came to town on Saturday night, along with Kevin Spacey the crooner, the comedian, the impressionist, and the political commentator. He charmed and wowed at a private dinner at the Mandarin Oriental hotel that raised funds for his foundation, which mentors and provides scholarships for young artists and supports DC’s Only Make Believe, a nonprofit that brings arts programs to hospitals and care facilities.
His 140 guests included a power crowd of money, influence, and media stars as well as the House majority and minority whips—the GOP’s Rep. Kevin McCarthy was there for cocktails and the early part of dinner, while the Dems’ Rep. Steny Hoyer worked the room between the entrée and dessert—even while on Capitol Hill their colleagues pushed or pulled toward a possible government shutdown.
The congressmen’s comings and goings were not lost on Spacey, who plays a House whip on Netflix’s Emmy-winning series House of Cards. “As you know I’ve been trying to bring together the two houses,” he said. “Kevin McCarthy was here, and just as he left Steny Hoyer showed up. It seems that part of the problem is they’re not quite in the same room at the same time.” He paused for the laughter and charged on: “They are here to enjoy themselves and they have nothing to worry about except perhaps the shutdown of the government, whether to trust Iran, and whether there will be a third season of House of Cards.”
Earlier, during cocktails on the hotel’s lawn, Spacey joined McCarthy for a photo op, the kind of real and pretend match-up both Washington and Hollywood love.
The shutdown was clearly on the minds of those assembled. “Are you essential?” Jessica Straus, a lobbyist for the Dish Network, asked Dave Grimaldi, chief of staff to FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, at the Ovation network’s table. Grimaldi said he is not. “Actually, I’m loving being nonessential,” he confessed. “It means I can pick up my kid at school.” An aide to Vice President Joe Biden, who begged to remain anonymous, turned out to be the only essential at the table.
But there was plenty of time for fun. Hoyer, a widower, was spotted occasionally holding hands with Christine Taylor, communications chief for Ron Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings. (No doubt they are just good friends.)
Spacey spent time with Andrea Mitchell, Eden Rafshoon, and Greta Van Susteren, and closed in for a group hug with his House of Cards castmates Jayne Atkinson, Michael Gill, and Michael Kelly, plus Netflix executive Peter Friedlander and director John David Coles. He embraced Chris Lemmon, son of the late actor Jack Lemmon, who was a mentor to Spacey, and for whom the dinner was in part a tribute.
At least one guest suggested a scene that should be included in House of Cards. AT&T’s Lyndon Boozer (whom Spacey called “Lyndon Baines”), the son of LBJ’s personal assistant, had an idea for a scene set in the Senate dining room. Spacey listened patiently, and ribbed Grimaldi with: “I don’t know the acting chair of the FCC, but I know a guy who acts like a chair.” Was that a cryptic Clint Eastwood/Barack Obama reference? He didn’t say.
Spacey sat for dinner between McCarthy and MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews. Also at his table were McCarthy’s son, Connor, a sophomore at Georgetown University; Kathleen Matthews, Van Susteren and her husband, John Coale; Matthew and Nicole Mellon; and Lemmon and his wife, Gina. The menu was poached Maine lobster on an heirloom tomato and avocado salad, slow-roasted tenderloin with Dauphinoise potatoes and vegetables, and a dessert trio of crème brûlée, chocolate hazelnut tart and fresh fruit tart. The wines were from California—a 2011 Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc and a 2011 Fisher Vineyards Unity Cabernet Sauvignon.
Spacey stuck mostly to tea, sipping one hot cup after another to warm his vocal chords for the main event, a “Kevin cabaret” with a set list out of the Great American Songbook. Spacey was backed by the Capital Focus Jazz Band, made up of local high school—and one middle school—musicians, who caught rehearsal time, they said, at various area locations where Spacey was shooting House of Cards’ second season.
Between songs Spacey talked about the success of his TV show. “I think this new Netflix distribution model has made something of an impact,” he said. “It’s certainly something to get Washington to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes.”