PASADENA, Calif. — The new Netflix series “House of Cards” has such a strong Shakespearean influence that it could have been called the “House of the Bard.”
That’s one of the reasons the project attracted A-list actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
The return of Spacey to series television has him playing House Majority Whip Francis Underwood, a Southerner with ambitions of greater power. Both he and his equally ambitious wife, Claire (Wright), are crushed when the newly elected president passes on Underwood for secretary of state. He does what any career-climbing congressman would do and begins a campaign of revenge.
Spacey came to the series on the heels of a long global tour in William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” and the switch over to this role felt like an extension of what he was doing, especially when it came to the scenes where Underwood shares his deepest, darkest thoughts with the audience by speaking directly to the camera.
“It might have been different for an actor who hadn’t just done ‘Richard III’” Spacey said.
Although the series is structured in one-hour episodes, like a traditional TV series, Spacey felt more like he was making a long movie. That’s because Netflix ordered 26 episodes and guaranteed they would all be shown. This allowed the writers to set up plot points in a fourth or fifth episode that might not be important until episode 20. And, the actors had a better idea of where their characters were going.
The series length was an attraction and a deterrent for Wright because it meant she would have to spend six months working on the project and would be off the radar of those making movies. It was the quality of the project — specifically the strength of her character — that got her past her concerns.
“The catalyst for doing the show was the character,” Wright says. “I wanted a role that was an equal and they told me that she was Lady Macbeth to him. Once I had that template, I knew exactly where we could go with the role.”