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10 Things We Learned From Robin Wright About ‘House of Cards’ Season Two

10 Things We Learned From Robin Wright About 'House of Cards' Season Two

If Kevin Spacey’s conniving “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood is Richard III, then his equally imposing wife Claire, played by Robin Wright in a Golden Globe-winning turn, is Lady Macbeth. Claire is Frank’s beautiful and terrifying partner in crime, his confidant in the pair’s ruthless crime up the D.C. political ladder. In the second season of the Netflix drama, premiering this Friday, February 14th in its 13-episode entirety, the stakes are much higher for the Underwoods as Frank ascends to the Vice Presidency and Claire takes a more public role by his side — while having to contend with the sacrifices she’s made over the years for their ambition. This season also finds Wright taking her first turn behind the camera as a director, something she said she’d love to do again when she stopped by New York last week for a press day for the series. Here are 10 highlights from her roundtable with journalists.

Robin Wright loves directing. Wright made her directorial debut on this year’s season of “House of Cards,” and she’s eager to continue. “I love it. I want to keep doing it. I kind of want to stop acting.” Then, to the laughs around her, “Not kidding. I’m such a control freak, that’s the truth of it. And being in this business for almost 30 years, I’ve been biting my tongue for so many years on sets… it’s nice to be at the helm of the ship, because you’re actually allowed. You’re granted clemency to direct.”

Many directors take the wrong approach to coaching actors. Wright also believes that having experience as an actor helps in directing other actors. “A lot of directors don’t know how to direct actors because they’ve never done it before, and it’s actually fiercely destructive to say, ‘Have more energy,’ or ‘Be sadder.’ ‘I can’t fucking play that, what are you talking about?’ It warps your brain because you are a puppet as an actor, in a sense, and you want to try to achieve the direction given, and that is virtually impossible. You can’t play a descriptive word like that. ‘Be evil.’ Give me a scenario, give me a story, give me what would allow me to portray evil. Give me an idea, a reference of some kind.”

But David Fincher can pull that approach off. Wright says that the famously demanding director works in a style of his own. “He does something different with me than he does with everybody else, and that’s why he’s a great director. He picks up on the nuance of the person, that aura that you are vs. you, and he knows how to get it out of you. With me, he just yells out, funnily enough, those descriptive phrases, and he doesn’t call cut. ‘Don’t cut! Say it like this! Say it like you wanna kill your mother! Say it like you’re about to fart!’ He just throws things out at me so fast that I don’t have time to think.”

The characters’ motives are sometimes born out of collaborative brainstorming. Wright says that the actors have a general sense of where their character’s arcs are, and that Fincher, writer Beau Willimon and the cast members brainstorm on set to let Willimon’s team of writers incorporate their ideas into the script. “We don’t really know, and then we surprise ourselves with our character. Things will come out of me that I never suspected Claire would do. ‘Wait, that could work, and that could connect to episode 10, when (mumbles) happens!'”

Acting is like biology. “You’re delving into the whys and hows of humankind, just like you would watch a monkey. Why does he swing over there, why does he make that sound? It’s no different. You dissect the human being to figure out how to portray it.”

Claire isn’t evil. Despite her character’s calculating nature, Wright doesn’t see Claire as purely evil. “I can’t think that. No way. She’s very diligent, and divisive and decisive. And that’s all I need to think about. She gets the job done.” As for Claire’s allowing others to suffer for her ends: “No, the ends justify the means. Right? They’re going to have roadblocks, so if those roadblocks are in the way, they have to be removed so we can continue our motion. That’s the only way I can envision. That’s Machiavelli. That’s the ‘Art of War’, and somebody has to lose if they’re to gain.”

Claire and Francis have an unspoken agreement as to the power balance in their marriage. Regarding Claire’s plot against Francis in season one: “There’s an addendum to the end of the nuptials they have. ‘I do for you, you do for me. I do for you, and you don’t do for me, when I did it for you three times? OK, I’m gonna do for me.’ I think they understand that agreement. And his ego got the best of him, and she showed him that’s not okay. Mommy’s not happy.”

Power isn’t pretty. “That word is so wide, it’s so deep. What is power? What’s its worth, what’s its purpose? It’s power when I see my kids grow up, when their moral compass shows through. We’re doing a fictional political drama. That kind of power is transparent, and it’s very Shakespearean. It’s about greed. You’re tapping into what is the backdrop of politics. It is greed and power, because that’s the only way to get your fucking bill passed or get something on the agenda. It’s never changed in politics. Kevin and I were talking about it, and you can call it what you want, ‘It’s evil, and it’s corrupt.’ Well, you guys can pick whatever you want as us as characters, but some of the greatest leaders have been the most progressive who others thought were evil. Johnson passed three civil rights bills. Martin Luther King, what he must have had to go through, who he must have had to shame to get to where he was on that march.”

Those Shakespeare comparisons aren’t just a critical invention. Speaking of Shakespeare, there have been a number of comparisons of ‘House of Cards’ to the Bard’s most famous Scots, but Wright says there’s a key difference. “He’s not Macbeth in any shape or form, because he doesn’t have a doubt, and he’s not weaker than Lady Macbeth. The way it was displayed to us long before episode one was written was, ‘You are Lady Macbeth to his Richard III.'”

For the Underwoods, the pleasure is in the climb. “We don’t allow boredom. We could be here one more season, and then it’s over, or we could be here four. We have to temper and pace ourselves. I think if we’re just decided to never be bored as a couple, then you always have something to play with.” Claire and Francis also enjoy the chase for power as much. “I think that’s sex for them.”

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