Screenwriter Beau Willimon couldn’t have asked for better journey in seeing his first feature film made. As he explained to us last week, his play “Farragut North” was having a hard time making it to the stage, but a couple of years later his agent decided to give it another shot, and send it out again. And good thing he did. This time, not only did the play draw interest from theaters around the country, but Hollywood came calling with George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio wanting to get involved in producing it for a feature film. The resulting “Ides Of March” found Clooney co-writing (with Willimon and Grant Heslov), producing, starring and directing the film, a lean and mean political thriller that earned Willimon his first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay his first time up to bat. Not too bad. Thanks to a boosted profile, it wasn’t long before he was drafted for another promising project, the Netflix seriers “House Of Cards” produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey (who will also star). And when we talked to Willimon last week, he already had high praise for Fincher.
“A lot of people throw words like genius around lightly, I don’t and I can truly say the man is brilliant. He’s the smartest person I may have ever met in my life and I’ve met a lot of smart people,” Willimon said. “He is a perfectionist in every great sense of the word, he’s involved at every level from the smallest detail to the core vision. And what’s incredible about the guy is that he walks into a project knowing what he wants to do and having this incredible vision and then also have the follow through and the talent and the determination to achieve it. So working with him on scripts, getting his notes and talking with him about the story and what we want to do and how we’re going to create this world has been an absolute joy.”
Based on the 1990s BBC hit political thriller, the show will star Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, the House of Representatives Majority Whip who after being passed over for the position of Secretary of State, puts a plot into motion to bring down the President. A fantastic supporting cast has been lined for the project with Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Kristen Connolly and Corey Stoll all on board as well. With Netflix already ordering up two seasons worth of episodes, it has given Willimon a big canvas to work with, and he’s glad to have it.
“The most important thing I think is that we have two seasons guaranteed, that’s 26 hours of television. We have thirteen hours in the first season and if you think about just the map of it, that’s the equivalent of six and a half movies. So you have the opportunity to delve into characters and stories that — not only in terms of just pure depth but also sophistication and complexity — you can never achieve in any film or play because there’s only so much you can do in two hours. And that’s unlike anything else out there,” Willimon explained. “It’s like being able to write something with the size of ‘Anna Karenina‘ and really have a world that is so expansive. I’m just having a blast with it, it is a lot of work writing six and a half movies in six months is no joke. But one of the great advantages that we have with this particular show is we being the writing process early so we have all of the scripts for the first season finished in one form or another. There’s re-writing or stuff to do but before we shot a single frame we know where the entire season is headed and all the actors know where the characters are headed….And to be able to have all of the text, six hundred plus stages of it on the table in one form or another before we even start shooting just means that we can have a complete vision for the first season and we’re not just playing catch up or trying to meet deadlines and letting things drop. It should feel very tight and cohesive and connected.”
Cameras will start rolling on “House Of Cards” next month, with Fincher directing the pilot. The project will certainly give Willimon another shot to explore political machinations at all levels, and he teases that this won’t play nice. “Well if you can believe it ‘House of Cards’ is probably darker then ‘Ides of March,’ it’s very much about people doing bad things,” Willimon said. “At the center of it is Kevin Spacey playing a Richard the Third type of Machiavellian character with a deep thirst for power. And is not willing to stop until he achieves it in every way imaginable. So it’s definitely looking at the political process in Washington through a very dark lens. It’s not ‘The West Wing.’ I’m a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s and I thought that was a brilliant show, but it was also a fantasy…it made politics look clean and noble and in many cases it can be. This is really a 180 degree departure from that. It gets deliciously dark and nasty.’
Dark and nasty with Spacey and Fincher? Sounds very promising, indeed. “House Of Cards” is expected to air in 2013.