Hollywood's Kevin Spacey has been confirmed as the inaugural artistic director of the newly formed Old Vic Theatre Company, which will launch its first season of productions at the historic London theatre in autumn 2004 (See The Goss, 4 Feb 2003).

At a press conference held this afternoon at the Old Vic, Spacey - flanked by Old Vic supporters in the form of directors Howard Davies, Stephen Daldry and Lord Attenborough, actress Judi Dench, singer Elton John (Chairman of the Old Vic Theatre Trust who, with Spacey, is hosting a high-profile fundraising concert tonight - See News, 28 Jan 2003), Old Vic CEO Sally Greene and the company's newly appointed producer David Liddiment (who has worked in TV for the past 27 years) - expressed his excitement for the project, which has been more than two years in the planning.

Spacey has been an active supporter of the Old Vic since he memorably tread its boards five years ago in Howard Davies' award-winning Almeida production of The Iceman Cometh but, speaking today, he said his love affair with the theatre goes back further. "My introduction to the Old Vic began much earlier than 1998 when I was a small boy. My parents took theatre trips from America to London starting when I was around seven years old. I remember seeing Shakespeare and other productions on the Old Vic stage," he recalled. "To have grown up to act on the stage itself was a dream come true. To find myself in the role of director of the Old Vic theatre is beyond my wildest imaginings."

The next year and a half will be spent in further planning and fundraising - with tonight's concert expected to raise £500,000 alone - ahead of the Old Vic Theatre Company's first season starting in autumn 2004. Although no details of productions have yet been confirmed, Spacey himself has committed to performing in no fewer than two per season and will also direct. He promises an "innovative" programme that will include new plays as well as revivals and "Shakespeare on a regular basis".

Given the pulling power of both Spacey and Elton John, a high celebrity count will also be expected at the new Old Vic. When asked how many of his fellow Hollywood stars he expected to lure to the stage, Spacey said "lots and lots", though he said that would be tempered by an equivalent search for new talent and the stars of tomorrow.

Commenting on Spacey's appointment today, Sally Greene said: "Kevin Spacey is easily one of the most extraordinary stage actors of our generation. It is a wonderful testament to British theatre and the Old Vic that he wants to take on the direction of this new production company. His energy and enthusiasm for the Old Vic intoxicates me." Elton John added: "I cannot overemphasise how much he is going to give to this theatre. He is so passionate."

Spacey says that, though he has no intention of giving up his highly successful film career - which has brought him international fame and acclaim for the likes of American Beauty, LA Confidential, The Shipping News, The Usual Suspects and The Negotiator - he confirmed that there would be fewer films in future and that he would be moving to London ("I'm an Anglophile, let's face it," the American actor confessed).

When asked why he wanted to make such a significant life and career change, Spacey reiterated his overall love of theatre. "There is something so pure, so simple about theatre. No matter what advances we have in this world, as long as there are people with stories to tell and people who are willing to listen, theatre will have a place."

To read the full text of Spacey's statement today, click here.