David Prendeville chatted with Kevin Spacey about his role on the small screen as Francis Underwood in Netflix’s House of Cards.
Is there an actor more adept at playing masters of manipulation than Kevin Spacey? Think of him as ruthless film producer Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks or even more pertinently as the infamous Keyser Soze in Bryan Singer’s seminal The Usual Suspects. He is currently playing perhaps his most manipulative character yet, on the small screen, in Netflix’s House of Cards. In the show he plays Francis Underwood, a conniving yet brilliant chief whip who is intent on getting revenge after being passed over for appointment to Secretary of State. In keeping with a lot of other current American shows, House of Cards is the of type mature, witty and intelligent drama that we see so rarely see come from mainstream American cinema these days.
It is the first show ever to be released via Netflix streaming and Spacey felt it ‘inevitable that, what was initially a portal for entertainment, would eventually get involved in the creative process’. He also felt this innovative strategy helped the show and that it allowed its makers more comfort: ‘ One of the benefits of the partnership with Netflix is the creative process and that we didn’t have to do a pilot’. He emphasises the faith that Netflix had with the show and indeed it was Spacey faith in producer David Fincher that attracted him to the show. Spacey worked with Fincher previously on Seven and he waxes lyrical about the director’s ability, stating he is one of the finest filmmakers working today and that he constantly ‘ prods and pushes and asks all the right questions’.
Spacey says that he took inspiration for the role from him being around politics from a young age and beginning his political activity in his campaign work for Jimmy Carter, He argues that ‘ you can’t help but soak up the physicality of politics’. Francis Underwood is a larger than life character and he is played with zesty relish by Spacey. He draws parallels between his recent playing of Richard III on stage and with Francis, not least both characters’ breaking of the fourth wall and directly addressing the audience. He describes playing the role as ‘a fun moral conundrum’ but is reluctant to comment on how audiences should feel about the character saying: ‘my job is to play the role and not look at it from how the viewer may look at it.’
He has no qualms in saying that what is depicted in the show is far from fantasy saying that ‘there is a tremendous amount of what we have produced in the show that is accurate’. Spacey was coy however when pushed on Emmy buzz. Saying he was ‘honoured’ in that it could be seen as a breakthrough given the manner in which the show is aired but one could sense that winning an Emmy is not the most important thing on this actor’s mind.
With production started on season two already, we can look forward to seeing a lot more of Mr. Spacey’s and Frank Underwood’s particular brand of delightful manipulation in the near future.
House of Cards is available to stream instantly on Netflix