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‘House of Cards’ creator Beau Willimon says it's impossible to anticipate real politics

Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix show
Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix show "House Of Cards."

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As the presidential campaigns for both parties enter the next stage of drama and intrigue, Frank Underwood returns to the Oval Office to reign over a fictitious Washington D.C. in the Netflix series, “House of Cards.”

Last year, The Frame’s host John Horn visited the set of "House of Cards" — near the nation’s Capitol — where executive producer and writer Beau Willimon gave him a tour and a preview of season four.

Interview Highlights

On “House of Cards” fans in the real Oval Office

We know for a fact that the President and First Lady have watched the show and are fans because they’ve tweeted about it and asked for copies. So, that’s pretty flattering. It’s also surreal to think that someone who has the fate of the free world in their hands is spending any amount of time watching television. But, from all accounts, they’re television fans. They watch a lot of shows and ours happens to be one among them.

Whenever you’re totally stuck as a writer — thinking, What would the president do? —  do you ever come on the set and sit at the president’s desk and think, What would Frank Underwood do?

I have never once sat down at this desk to either think or to write a scene, because I feel like writing is narcissistic enough act as it is. And to place oneself at the president’s chair in the act of it would just be beyond the pale. So we have a great deal of respect for the president’s chair and his desk and he’s the only one that gets to sit in it.

Do you try to tune the news out when you’re writing “House of Cards,” or do you think about it in the back of your mind?

I definitely don’t try to tune it out. We live in the real world and it’s the real world we’re trying to reflect ... But one thing we definitely don’t do is try to have a political agenda. The characters in our show — the protagonists — are completely non-ideological. They lust for power but not for a paradigm, as it were. So while they may address or take on certain causes, they’re usually doing it in a self-serving way, not because it’s rooted to a belief system. Their belief system is themselves.

You’ve worked with Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Bradley and other politicians. Do your own experiences with politicians shape the way this show portrays government and politics?

Sure, I guess to a degree. I can only draw from what I know and then what I learn and other people have told me. My experience in those campaigns was very low level. I mean, I was an advance guy, I was in the trenches. I didn’t have access to the inner sanctum. I had friends like Jay Carson, who is a political consultant for our show who was working in the inner sanctum, and I heard a lot anecdotally from him and every once in a while [he] got to be a fly on the wall for some of those inner sanctum gatherings. But, let me be clear in saying that I don’t think “House of Cards” is a reflection of all of D.C. We’re not trying to say that this is the way Washington, D.C. is. We’re taking a very specific sliver and exaggerating it to tell the story of these larger than life characters, Frank and Claire Underwood, who lust for power on an epic scale.

Either by accident or by design, your next season will be premiering in the middle of the presidential primaries. Does that matter to you? Do you think about that?

Sure, it’s relevant in the sense that there would be a certain alignment with what’s going on in the fictional world and what’s going on in the real one. Again, I wouldn’t presume to say that whatever’s going on in our story — whatever that story for season four may be — should be taken as a direct parallel or a commentary on what’s happening around us. But one can’t help from the impulse to draw parallels, right? So, you know, it’s impossible to say where we in the real world will be. I mean, the only thing I’ve really learned about politics — after this many years of being engaged with it — is that it’s impossible to predict anything. Right now we have a reality show star leading the Republican pack. I mean, who could have ever predicted that? Consistently, truth tends to be stranger than fiction.

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