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Poker face: Spacey is back with a new House of Cards

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House of Cards

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey and Robin Penn

Kevin Spacey and Robin Penn

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Kate Mara

Kate Mara

Kevin Spacey in House of  Cards

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

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House of Cards

Kevin Spacey is a masterful, domineering lord of on-screen villainy. Looking back at his repertoire, his standouts hail from the dark recesses – Seven's John Doe; Keyser Soze and now House of Cards' Frank Underwood; all memorable celluloid bad guys thanks to his measured, prolific interpretation.

The industry treasures the actor as a treacherous anti-hero while the audience adore him for it.

Spacey however, seems hostile to the notion that unscrupulous faux evil comes naturally.

"First of all, it's hard for me to play a character and say, 'He's so evil, he's so bad,'" he growls.

"And I go, 'Well, those aren't things that I can play'. You can't play evil. It's not an active thing."

Isn't it simply fun to play the bad guy and unleash the beast from within? He offers a withering stare. "You can't play intention. You can only play the reason someone does what they do.

"It boxes me in in such a way to think I'm just 'the bad guy'. I can't function like that as an actor.

"And actually, I love to play comedies and stuff that's far removed from someone like the Frank Underwood character."

Having interviewed the two-time Oscar winner before, this kind of cluttered response to a relatively innocuous question is par for the course.

Beneath the tailored blue/grey two-piece, deep tan and suggestively fuller hairline, lurks a biting sense of humour that made Det Sgt Jack Vincennes, the chuckling heart of LA Confidential and American Beauty's Lester Burnham the toast of awards season in 2000. He's just not exactly keen to flourish it on his sleeve today.

Perched across from me in an airy hotel suite in Central London, the 54-year-old is, however, fervently in the mood to discuss the hotly anticipated new batch of House of Cards, Netflix flagship saga of political intrigue which drops another 13 episodes today for our binging purposes.

Understandably, he can't discuss the forthcoming designs of Frank and Claire Underwood, played to icy aplomb by Golden Globe winner, Robin Wright.

"If I could tell you where it was going, I would, but I can't," he purrs. "All I can say is there will be thrills and chills and spills and turns and surprises and we hope an audience will continue wanting to watch."

Last time we checked in, Frank's devious manipulations on Capitol Hill had promoted him from House Whip to Vice President nominate via a ramped-up education bill and the blackmail and puppeteering of troubled congressman, Peter Russo.

There was also his clandestine relationship with reporter Zoe Barnes and the subsequent murder of Russo after he threatened to expose Underwood to the press.

And having already caught the explosive first episode of season two, Day & Night can confirm that no one – and we mean, no one – will stand in the way of his ultimate ascendance to the tallest branch of the power tree.

Is Spacey rooting for the Southern accented politico, who packs a devilish wit laced with poisonous tones?

"I never sit around thinking of ways for the audience to root for my character," he snarls accordingly. "Frank wants to succeed, so I have to be on his side."

The toils of the Underwoods has earned a salubrious fan base in Washington, a who's who Spacey's only too kind to rhyme off.

"From Nancy Pelosi to former senator Dodd and President Clinton. Even Barack Obama made a comment about it a few weeks ago when he had Reed Hastings, the head of Netflix, at the White House for a tech meeting and said he wished Washington was as ruthlessly pragmatic as it is on the show.

"But I think Kevin McCarthy [chief whip of the House of Representatives and rumoured inspiration for Frank Underwood] had the best line. He joked, 'If I could just kill one member of congress, I wouldn't have to worry about another vote.' And now everyone is thinking, 'Which member would that be?'"

Has the experience on the show encouraged feelings for political office?

"I admire public service but I would be remarkably frustrated. I like to have a goal and accomplish it and it's so difficult to get anything done. It would drive me nuts."

Days before our meeting, the New Jersey born actor, who's currently shooting a sequel to Horrible Bosses – as, wait for it, the villainous foil – paid tribute to friend and colleague, Philip Seymour Hoffman in the wake of his tragic passing. Touchingly, he reveals plans to honour the Oscar-winner.

"I knew Phil and a whole number of us felt there was maybe something we could do.

"So Ed Norton and Bennett Miller [director of Capote and Moneyball] came together and suggested maybe we could support Labyrinth, the theatre company Phil started in New York and was part of for so long. And you know, I think that ... "

Spacey interrupts himself and shifts in his seat. His voice endures a modular shift in tone.

Seems previous enquiries relating to Hoffman's sad passing and the weighty presence of addiction prove frustrating for the actor.

"People have to be a little understanding that addiction is a disease," he stares. "It's the hardest thing in the world for so many people, and a lot of people who aren't famous.

"Phil beat it for 22 years and then it got the best of him. I don't think honouring his theatre company, or his family or his wife is in any ways glorifying the terrible tragedy of what happened to him."

He pauses, lowering his head with a laboured exhale. "People who don't understand what addiction is, need to be a bit more graceful."

 

KATE'S GREATEST ROLE

The elder Mara sister on the part that's seen her star in the ascendant

Interviewing actors who portray journalists usually offers an advantageous position. They tend to be somewhat more open to enquiry having had a brief glimpse into our inquisitive world.

It seemed to have an effect on Dustin Hoffman after All the President's Men, he's a fairly mellow character to sit down with. Same for the affable Will Ferrell, potentially a result of the Ron Burgundy effect.

Does Kate Mara feel a certain sympathy now after playing House of Cards digging dynamo, Zoe Barnes? "I wasn't unsympathetic before, unless they're asking douche questions. But I haven't had really bad experiences with journalists. Yet. Although this interview is only getting started."

Previously enjoying supporting parts in Brokeback Mountain and 127 Hours, Rooney's older sis is enjoying something of a moment right now, thanks to her central role in Netflix's glossed out vision of the Michael Dobbs novels.

April will see the release of her latest flick, Transcendence, alongside Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Johnny Depp; and she's reportedly frontrunner as Sue Storm for the Fantastic Four reboot.

Is this her year, so to speak? "I'm always excited about work. Maybe I always feel it's going to be my year," she smiles, curling her arms around her tiny, 5'2 frame.

Like Spacey, her on screen nemesis and lover, Mara, 30, is at pains to reveal details of the new season and Zoe's continuation from relatively green reporter for the fictitious Washington Herald to Woodward and Bernstein disciple for Slugline.

Sadly, the actress must keep the lip zipped.

"Season two is just a continuation of season one, where Zoe earns even more power in her relationship with Frank. Her morals shift and change for the better. Well maybe for the better, I think the more morals she has, the more dangerous it becomes for her."

If season two poses risk for Barnes, the newly announced season three – which will drop same time next year – is surely a veritable minefield ahead?

"I haven't even seen a script yet. I sort of always knew, two seasons wasn't a lot of time for House of Cards and, as an actor, I'm not going to get sick of working with Kevin Spacey ... ever. I'm not surprised they're doing season three. Definitely happy about it, even as just a fan of the series."

Away from the conspiracy of Capitol Hill, Wally Pfister's Transcendence poses the argument of man vs machine after Depp's coma induced technician has his subconscious digitally downloaded when his body fails him.

"The movie will get you talking about the battle between machinery and humanity. My character is completely against technology. In real life, I'm somewhere in between, huge fan but also quite scared of where it's going."

Sharing no scenes with Depp in the technological saga, it actually proved more upsetting to have such little interaction with co-star Cillian Murphy. "We've never worked together and I don't feel like we did on this movie, we sort of just stood next to each other. I didn't feel like I got the Cillian Murphy actor experience."

The newly flaxen-haired actress, who's dating actor Max Minghella [son of the late Anthony], is now at the same peak of her Hollywood powers as her younger sibling, Rooney, who scooped an Oscar nom for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.

Have they ever competed for the same role? "Fortunately, we don't look very similar. If we did and had very similar personalities, it would make things harder but we're very individual.

Are there plans for the New York-raised sisters to come together on screen?

"The only work we've done together so far is putting on plays of Annie in our house when we were kids. And as the natural redhead, I played Annie while I forced Rooney to be Mrs Hannigan or the mom who was adopting me.

"For some reason I just really wanted to be the orphan, which is very disturbed."

  • House of Cards Season Two is on Netflix today

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