Stars respond to subtle suggestions that their characters are monsters
(This story contains details about “House of Cards” Season 1, but not Season 2, which begins streaming today on Netflix.)
Kevin Spacey sat for a roundtable with reporters a few days before the new season of “House of Cards.” He explained how his character, Frances Underwood, is a bit like Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson. Just as Lincoln made deals to abolish slavery, Spacey explained, Frances must occasionally twist arms in order to –
“But Frank is a sociopath!” one reporter interjected.
“That's your opinion,” Spacey said evenly.
Another reporter called out, “He kills!”
Such are the passions ignited by “House of Cards,” in which Frank did indeed kill someone, alcoholic congressman Peter Russo, in Season 1.
TheWrap followed up with Spacey about his Johnson-Lincoln comparison. What seems to separate Underwood from those two, we ventured, is that they both made deals in pursuit of high-minded goals. Frank seems to act in the interest of Frank. We asked point blank: Is Frank evil?
“If it was 1955, and Lyndon Johnson was in Congress, and you would have asked that same question of him, you wouldn't have known that in 10 years he would have passed Civil Rights,” said Spacey. “We just have to realize that not everything has been revealed about these characters.”
It was a very Frank kind of answer: The best way to find out if I'm evil after all is to elect me president and see what I do. But there are also artistic reasons Spacey can't think of Frank as evil.
“It's not my job to judge the characters I play,” he said. “It's your job. “If I were to do that, I'm afraid I would wear that on my sleeve. And my job is to not label a character as evil or a psychopath, because first of all, those are impossible to play.”
Robin Wright, who plays Frank's wife and partner in scheming, talked about her character in a separate roundtable. We asked: Though she may not set out to harm anyone, Claire Underwood is at least indifferent to how her actions affect others. Isn't that kind of profound insensitivity the real manifestation of evil?
“I don't think she's evil,” said Wright. “‘Cause I can't think that. No way. She's very diligent. And divisive and decisive. And that's all I need to think about. She gets the job done.”
But don't evil people always do evil in the name of getting the job done?
“It's the ends determine the means,” Wright explained. “Right? It's basically intention and goal. And we have Frances and Claire. There's a mutual gain to be had for this empire Underwood. And it's an enterprise. Just like the head of Google or freakin’ Skullcandy — let's take headphones for a minute. They're going to have competitors. They're going to have roadblocks. So if those roadblocks are in the way, we can't get around them, we've tried this way, we've tried this machination… that roadblock needs to be removed so we can continue our motion. And that's the only way we can envision. … That's Machiavelli. That's ‘The Art of War.’ And somebody has to lose for someone to gain.”
At some point a reporter — the same one who called Frank a sociopath — pointed to something Claire does in the first episode of Season 2.
“I'm not allowed to say anyting about Season 2, because it's not out yet,” Wright said. “So I don't know that what you just said is true.”
It was clever, composed, and a little bit evil.