A power-hungry politician makes a triumphant return to Washington. Mark Sanford? No — House Majority Whip Francis Underwood…aka actor Kevin Spacey.
When we last caught up with the Oscar-winning actor in January, he was launching “House of Cards,” a multi-chapter political drama on Netflix. Four months later, the show is a hit and Spacey the darling of Washington’s political intelligentsia — even starring in the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner opening gag reel. So the actor’s appearance Tuesday at the Motion Picture Association of America was filled with obsessed fans hanging on his every word.
Well, maybe every other word. Spacey is a lock to play Rahm Emanuel based solely on the number of F-bombs and other expletives casually dropped over the hour-long interview with Chris Matthews. There were a few nods to Spacey’s career and other roles, but the night was really all about politics.
“Steny!” shouted Spacey as the Maryland congressman attempted to slip unobtrusively into his seat. “Ladies and gentlemen, Steny Hoyer!”
The former whip and his fictional counterpart said that real politicians are nothing like the Machiavellian characters on the show. “I like to think the whip Kevin plays is not me,” said Hoyer.
“It’s not, Steny,” reassured Spacey.
Hoyer went on: “You know, one of the phrases that I hate the most is when people say, ‘Well, that’s politics.’ It is a rationalization for doing things that they know are not acceptable — except what they presume in the contexts of politics.” Hoyer called the show “extraordinarily entertaining” but plays into the “public presumption of a more venal politics than I’ve found — and I’ve been at this business 44 years.”
(Obligatory disclaimer: The three men were quick to praise all the decent people in their chosen professions: “The big names, the big ones, are great people,” said Matthews. “It’s the middle-level people who are lucky to get a slot who are obnoxious.”)
But make no mistake: Underwood is a tough, ruthless guy who’ll do anything to get ahead. His initials are no coincidence, explained Spacey: “He was largely based on Richard III, a little bit on Iago. I’m not so sure he’s based on Macbeth, because I don’t think there’s much hesitancy in him as a character.” Spacey and head writer Beau Willimon decided to make Underwood from the South to mimic the lyrical language of the original British series — and a Democrat because “Democrats in places like South Carolina have been really tough and strong and interesting and powerful through a long period of history.”
And, as Spacey put it, his character “gets [stuff] done” — unlike the real-life deadlocked Congress, said the actor: “It definitely seems like it’s broke. It definitely seems like people are on to the fact that it’s broke. And maybe the only way we’re going to fix it is to really fight to take the money out of it.”
Until then: Season 2 of “House of Cards” is already in the works. More irresistible catnip for political junkies. As a Capitol Hill policeman complained to Spacey during the White House Correspondents weekend: “You sucked three days out of my life!”
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