House of Cards: Kevin Spacey on giving audiences the complexity they crave

The man behind calculating politician Frank Underwood tells RadioTimes.com about ditching Hollywood, the shift to television and why he doesn't give "two s**ts" about being a movie star

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House of Cards: Kevin Spacey on giving audiences the complexity they crave
Written By
Susanna Lazarus

As Frank Underwood in House of Cards - Netflix's award-winning original series - Kevin Spacey cleverly balances cold calculation with chilling ambition. A power-grabbing Washington politician who finds it all too easy to manipulate the pawns around him, his Vice President is now a heartbeat away from the most powerful man in the world without a single vote being cast.

After a hugely successful first series – co-starring Robin Wright as Frank's equally devious wife, Claire – the drama is back with all 13 episodes set to drop on Netflix this Friday. But why are we so fascinated with Spacey's cold-hearted killer? And what is the future of the Beau Wilimon-created drama? We asked Spacey that and so much more – here's what he had to say... 

On the similarities between House of Cards and Washington politics…
It’s really run the gamut. I’ve heard from certain politicians who say it’s closer to the way it really is than anyone could possibly imagine and then I’ve heard others say it’s cynical, it’s not real, it’s not the way it is. I suppose it depends on one’s point of view. It must be very interesting for the public now to be viewing a fictional Congress that gets stuff done.

On breaking the fourth wall…
It was created by Shakespeare so there is a certain Shakespearean quality. When I did Richard III I found it very useful actually having audiences to look at for nearly 200 performances – I was able to look in people’s eyes in those direct addresses which I miss. Now I’m just looking down the barrel of a lens. I try to treat the camera as if it’s my best friend, the person you would tell anything to, everything to – the things you wouldn’t even tell your wife.

On House of Cards’ popularity around the world…
It’s not so much about politics as it is about relationships and about the shifts in power. People tend to focus on the politics because everyone’s always trying to compare a fictional show to real life because it’s an easy road. If it’s a good story and you do it well then people will come out and if it’s not a good story and you don’t do it well, people will shit on it.

On being directed by his on-screen wife, Robin Wright…
She was awesome. As she was building up toward it and she was getting a bit nervous and then on that first day she owned it. She found this incredible strength and clarity and her direction was great and I think she’s going to do more of it. I know she loved it – she loved being in charge.

On Frank Underwood…
He’s capable of any number of emotions or ideas that you might have or any person might have. I don’t restrict my characters to one-liners or put them in a nice convenient box of good or bad. It’s just not the way I can work as an actor.

On our fascination with anti-heroes…
What’s happened over the last fifteen years is you have characters that are not good at their jobs, that have terrible family lives, that are anti-heroes – complex stories that are told over a long period of time. Clearly the fact that these shows have become so hugely popular is it’s what audiences want. They want complexity, they want things that take a long while to unravel, they invest in it in a way that a big superhero movie wishes people would invest in. They tweet about it, they blog about it, they talk about it, they debate it – they are so invested in characters, from Breaking Bad to Dexter. The audience has told the filmmakers and the creatives,  “give us complex stories, give us characters that aren’t cookie cutters.”

On giving up Hollywood to run The Old Vic…
I don’t give two shits about [being a movie star] because eleven years ago I moved to London to run a little theatre company and that certainly wasn’t going to make me a lot of money or put me in the papers every day. I’m not pursuing something because of status. In fact that’s why I made the decision to come to London and do plays for a decade – because I didn’t want to spend ten years doing movies I shouldn’t do, making movies I shouldn’t make, for money and prestige.

On the shift in focus from movies to television…
There is a reason why in the last fifteen years people have moved into television as the movie business started to focus on big tent-pole films and superheroes and action stuff. Those aren’t the kind of movies I make so I’m not missing out on anything. It’s been absolutely proved that some of the best filmmakers, actors, directors and writers have moved into television because the ground is very fertile and why wouldn’t you go where the ground is fertile?

On a third season and the future of House of Cards…
We’re the new kids on the block. If we have exhausted ourselves by the third season then we’ve run out of ideas. If we haven’t exhausted ourselves and we think we still have more story to tell then we’ll see where we are at that point but I don’t think any of us are interested in milking the cow until there’s nothing left. We’ve all seen series that went on too long. 

For a sneak peak of House of Cards series two, take a look at the rather awesome trailer below... 

All episodes of the second series drop on Netflix this Friday 14 February at 08:01am GMT


 


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