Despite the pedigree of the producers behind the show, "House of Cards" is first and foremost an actor's piece.
Despite not being in attendance, director David Fincher's presence loomed large. "Fincher told me early on: Cast well and get the hell out of the way," Willimon recalled. Against the odds, all eventual cast members turned out to be both Willimon and Fincher's first choices. And the individual roles are vital. Spacey may be the face of the show, but he made it a point to thank Willimon for "writing incredible roles for women." And those roles, for Wright, Mara, Jaffrey, and Connolly, cover a wide range. Wright's Clare Underwood is tough but "respects anyone who gets the job done" -- even Mara's Zoe Barnes, a journalist entangled in a morally compromising relationship with her husband.
Being a reporter "is just who she is," Mara explained. "That she's determined and motivated are the more important aspects of her to understand." Jaffrey, meanwhile, as a female Chief of Staff, takes particular pride in both her character and even the more questionable motives of those around her: "All the characters have the confidence of their own convictions." Connolly's Christina Gallagher, girlfriend of troubled Congressman Peter Russo, is, by contrast, extremely ethical but equally animated. "She's strong in her moral center, if less optimistic," she explained.
Christina's skepticism is fueled by the men she sees both thriving and collapsing around her. Kelly explains his and Spacey's characters' motivation thusly: "Doing bad for the greater good." Willimon added that, like President Lincoln before them, "they are doing unconstitutional things to save the constitution. Politics are inherently contradictory." "Francis is a version of extreme American individualism," Spacey said of his character.
Hoping to establish Underwood's demeanor straightaway, Willimon wrote the show's opening scene, in which Underwood kills a dog that has been hit by a car, only to receive some wary comments about the brutality of such an essentially merciful act. Ultimately, they went with opening as planned and Willimon got his movie star entrance out of Spacey while instantly outlining the show's thorny moral territory. "If you're not down with the dog getting killed in the first 20 seconds then this isn't the show for you," Willimon joked.
Real life politicians have been not only supportive but surprised by the show's accuracy.
"That it's remarkably close," Spacey said when asked about the feedback he's received from members of government. In order to facilitate this accuracy, Spacey spent time with both the current and majority whip in an effort to research his character and the political lifestyle. "The fringes are being explored, content-wise," Stoll said. But as they shot the first season of the show during last year's Presidential election, and the cast and crew watched the daily news after shooting had wrapped, they began to see the parallels and potential of their own narrative.
After seeing some of the things that were transpiring in Washington, Spacey realized that "our storylines aren't that crazy!" Again referencing President Lincoln, Spacey reminded that history often repeats itself, that "in the end he did what he had to do to get a piece of legislature through." Spacey obviously doesn't condone the actions of his character, but he nonetheless remains optimistic about what these revelations might mean for our current administration.