‘House of Cards’ showrunner Beau Willimon talks Cashew and Kevin Spacey


Beau Willimon, writer and executive producer of “House of Cards”

“House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon is more leak proof than the Obama administration. Immune to our needling, he wouldn’t even tell us whether breakout star Cashew the guinea pig makes it to next year’s third season alive. Try interrogating Willimon yourself at a Smithsonian Associates talk Thursday, or read on to see what we managed to squeeze out of him.

Spoiler alert: Willimon chatted freely about the first two seasons of the popular Netflix series. You’ve been warned.

So far, Frank Underwood has ascended from Congress to vice president to president. It seems like there’s nowhere for him to go but down.
There’s always pope, right? But, you know, the problem with pope is there’s already a pope named Francis. Francis the First. When he chose that as his name, we were all beside ourselves. We couldn’t believe it. We felt like he had stolen our plot line.

What’s the key to writing realistic and compelling characters?
If characters were purely schematic, if they only ever did what you expected of them, they actually wouldn’t be very real. Most people are a bundle of contradictions. The Threechum [see the crib sheet below] is a great example of that. Claire and Francis Underwood are definitely calculating in the way they approach politics, but it doesn’t mean that everything they do is calculated or thought out in advance. They are just as susceptible to whim and desire as anyone else. I think it’s important to see those moments, so we are reminded of how human they actually are.

Do any characters have untapped potential or unplumbed depths?
Look at that sneaky question trying to get me talking about Season 3.

No, no! I was just wondering, have any other “House of Cards” characters surprised even you?
A really great example of that was in Season 1. Rachel Posner was never intended to be a big character. She was listed as “call girl” in her first two episodes. But Corey Stoll was doing such a fantastic job as Peter Russo, I wanted to expand his story. As part of that process, the call girl came back into the story, got a name and became a fully-fledged character. And as a result, this very complex dynamic between her and Doug Stamper started to form. We never would have arrived at what happened at the end of Season 2 had we not surprised ourselves with that discovery in Season 1.

Speaking of that climactic moment between Rachel and Doug; is he going to be OK?
There’s only one way to find out.

Is Cashew in any danger?
I am thrilled that Cashew has become the superstar that he deserves to be. In reality, there’s actually two Cashews. Whenever you have an animal involved, you like to have two around in case one is misbehaving or needs to take a break to eat some lettuce. So there are two Cashews, and they were both consummate professionals and gave us great performances.

What’s it like working with Kevin Spacey?
One of the most fun parts about filming the show is in-between takes or setups when Kevin starts doing impressions. His Marlon Brando is better than any I’ve ever seen. He can do Jack Lemmon, Johnny Carson. He does William Hurt better than William Hurt does.

It looks like you’re casting a few new reporters next season. Will they fare better than poor Zoe Barnes?
Alright, well, it’s been great talking to you and I look forward to reading what you write.

‘Cards’ Crib Sheet

Francis “Frank” Underwood: A somewhat ambitious politician, played by Kevin Spacey
Claire Underwood: Frank’s wife, played by Princess Buttercup herself, Robin Wright
Threechum: The menage-a-trois between Frank, Claire and their bodyguard, Edward Meechum
Doug Stamper: Frank Underwood’s chief of staff
Cashew: A hacker’s pet guinea pig; the show’s most likable character
Zoe Barnes: A reporter, played by Kate Mara, with a penchant for putting two-and-two together while standing on the edge of subway tracks

Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; Thu, 6:45 p.m., $30; 202-633-1000, smithsonianassociates.org. (Smithsonian)

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Sadie Dingfelder is a features writer for the Washington Post Express.
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