The Post-Hope Politics of ‘House of Cards’

The New York Times succumbs to the Dread Overthink. (But what the hell – better minds have done it too.)

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HOUSE OF CARDS creator Beau Willimon, who’s a helluva writer & not nearly as pompous as this article is.

by Adam Sternbergh

At 6:45 a.m. on a September day in Baltimore, when the heat was already loitering in the 80s and would eventually flirt with 100 degrees, Beau Willimon, the show runner for “House of Cards,” finished his first — or maybe second, or actually probably his third — cigarette of the day and stalked onto the show’s outdoor set. Every set of a TV show is a little reminiscent of a ragged Civil War camp, with its provisional tents and huddled groups of conferring higher-ups and wandering assistants tending to disparate needs. But on the “House of Cards” set — temporarily erected in a small park adjacent to a block of Baltimore townhouses — this feeling was heightened by the presence of Willimon, with his facial hair that might be best described as “sort-of mutton chops”; his beeline intensity; and, of course, that name: Beau Willimon, which seems perfectly suited to a brass plaque in the South somewhere, commemorating a particularly brave or foolhardy general. His hair was an unkempt pompadour, and he wore an untucked work shirt, unlaced work boots and jeans with a back pocket so tattered that it barely cradled his wallet, a situation that at least three people, including me, felt moved to warn him about it, though he waved each of us off in turn. He had the haunted look of a man who’s worried about something much more important, and he’d only just arrived on set.

Jodie Foster — she of the two Academy Awards — was directing this particular episode. Like many movie stars, Foster is tiny, and she wore flip-flops and a ball cap and a bandanna looped round her neck. She was talking with the director of photography about a shot that involved the politician Francis Underwood exiting his townhouse with his wife, Claire, walking down their front steps and mounting an outdoor lectern to address the assembled Washington press corps.

It was a tricky shot to orchestrate, as it entailed positioning complicated light-reflecting panels and corralling a few dozen notebook-wielding actors playing disheveled Washington reporters, as well as a dozen or so more extras playing various cops and Secret Service security, and Kevin Spacey, of course, who plays Underwood, and Robin Wright, who plays Claire.

As Foster and the D.P. stood across from the townhouse figuring out logistics, Willimon walked hurriedly across the small park to interrupt them. He was very concerned about the placement of the stanchions, those metal poles with velvet ropes clamped to them that are used everywhere to herd people, and that were being used here to corral the fake press. They’d been arranged in a U-shape facing away from the lectern, and Willimon felt compelled to point out that they wouldn’t be arranged that way in real life.

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