Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright
Conniving politico Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) isn't facing term limits just yet. Days before the release of House of Cards' Season 2 — Netflix will start streaming all 13 episodes on Feb. 14 — the Washington, D.C., thriller secured a third season pickup. Executive producer Beau Willimon recently spoke with TV Guide Magazine on the show's return, how Netflix treats the drama and how he reacted when President Obama declared himself a fan.
TV Guide Magazine: House of Cards could continue for a while. How far have you mapped this into the future?
Beau Willimon: The way I approach each season is, "Let's not keep any great ideas in reserve. Let's use them all." By the time it's the end of the season, we have no more ideas — in some ways, no idea how to keep the show going. We might have some notions of where it can go. Treat every season as though it's your last, don't hold anything back.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the big difference between Seasons 1 and 2?
Willimon: If Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is one of the reasons you liked Season 1, you'll see a lot more of her in Season 2 and learn a lot more about her. There's a core to the show, which you hold on to, but you're looking in every episode and every season for ways to expand and surprise yourself and the audience.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you pay attention to audience reaction?
Willimon: There's stuff to be learned from that. But I don't use it as a rubric for writing. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. If you allow that all to seep in too deep then you run the risk of pandering.
TV Guide Magazine: What was your reaction when Obama said he wished D.C. ran more like it did on House of Cards?
Willimon: My first reaction was, "How cool that the president of the United States watched a few episodes of House of Cards." And then my second thought was, "Wow, he's a busy guy, I wonder how much time he spends watching television." Washington right now is one of the most polarized governments we've had probably since the Civil War. I think a lot of people are frustrated with the gridlock regardless of what side of the aisle they're on. And there is something about a Francis Underwood, who can overcome that gridlock in order to achieve something. I actually have a lot of sympathy for our politicians in Washington, because I think all of them wish that more could be achieved than is being achieved. But the nature of politics is compromise. And when you have parties that aren't willing to compromise with each other in any way, that can prevent even the most optimistic and forward momentum types from being able to achieve what they'd like to.
TV Guide Magazine: Is Frank really great at improv, or did he have a plan in place that went remarkably well?
Willimon: I think it's closer to improv. I like to think of politics being much more like jazz than some well-orchestrated fugue. A lot of politics is about reacting to the unexpected and making it work for you. Francis is always thinking two or three steps ahead and hopefully two or three moves ahead of everyone else. But that doesn't mean that the world is going to conform to his plan. Often times, an opportunity is either that or a liability. It can be both.
TV Guide Magazine: Was Peter Russo the moral center in Season 1?
Willimon: It's interesting to think about Peter as a moral center. Here's a guy who's an addict, who neglects his children, who cavorts with prostitutes, who cheats on his girlfriend. It's very easy to want to bifurcate the characters on the show into those that are either likable or morally responsible and those that are not. But whenever we approach these characters, we do it from their point of view. And Francis doesn't see anything evil or wrong in what he's doing.
TV Guide Magazine: In Season 1 you briefly touch on Frank's attraction to a friend from military school. What's the takeaway from the hint that Frank may be bisexual?
Willimon: I hope that you see another layer of this guy. That he is capable of deep affection and, possibly, love. That there was a time before this ascent began where he was a lot more like the rest of us.
TV Guide Magazine: Are there ever real-life political moments you can't resist putting in the show?
Willimon: No ripped-from-the-headlines. That's not our game.
TV Guide Magazine: How detail-oriented are you on the set?
Willimon: I want to make sure that every level of the show from the macro to the micro is as accurate and authentic as it can possibly be. Sometimes you have to fudge the rules. But whatever we can be as accurate as possible, that's always the aim. It matters.
TV Guide Magazine: You're meticulous with detail and completely hands on. But is there a point where you have to let go?
Willimon: Always. Any form of collaboration is ultimately a process of letting go. And the script is just the beginning. Then a director becomes involved and production design, you have wardrobe, your actors are going to bring it to life. I'm there on the set working with the director and actors, but if I didn't open myself up to their thoughts and their instincts, then really all you're asking people to do is paint by numbers. And that doesn't make for a good TV show. You want their unique thoughts and voices. You want to make the show deeper and more expansive.
TV Guide Magazine: How important is it to keep the storylines timeless and stay away from real topical subjects?
Willimon: The show's not really about politics, it's about power. So I'm interested in the dynamics more than I am the specifics of a policy issue.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you hear from people who are just now binging the show?
Willimon: I think audiences in general have been pretty good in self-regulating in terms of spoilers, either avoiding them if they don't want to encounter them or being respectful of audiences who have yet to have the experience that they have.
TV Guide Magazine: How would you describe the relationship between Frank and Claire?
Willimon: We're trying to do something very radical, which is dramatize a successful marriage. The reason their marriage is successful is because they make their own rules. It's unconventional, unorthodox but it works for them.
TV Guide Magazine: Will I ever eat ribs as tasty as Freddy's?
Willimon: For your sake, I hope you do. Freddy's BBQ joint is one of my favorite aspects of the show. Because it's yet another side of Francis. You get to see him as one of us, a guy who has his spot where he feels comfortable, where he likes the food and he knows the owner. That's something we can all relate to.
TV Guide Magazine: Why February 14?
Willimon: I know. How romantic. Now you don't have to shell out a couple hundred bucks for that candlelit meal. Just order in Chinese and watch.
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