Kevin Spacey on the ruthless roots of ‘House of Cards’

In this Sunday, March 2, 2014, file photo, actor Kevin Spacey arrives at the Oscars on , at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Images/Jordan Strauss/Invision)
Kevin Spacey on Shakespeare, 'American Beauty' and Baltimore

Jason Fraley | November 15, 2014 3:37 am

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WASHINGTON — No one understands the hardship of ruling over others like William Shakespeare’s King Richard III and “House of Cards'” Frank Underwood.

Both characters are Machiavellian in their approach to securing and maintaining power. Both characters have delighted audiences across the globe with their almost endearing zealotry. And both characters have been portrayed by Kevin Spacey.

“House of Cards” creator Michael Dobbs based Underwood on the Shakespearean King Richard III, while Underwood’s wife, Claire, is meant to be a modern-day Lady MacBeth. Even the show’s signature direct address — actors speaking directly to the camera — was borrowed from the English scribe, Spacey says.

“While some people may believe that Ferris Beuller created the direct address, he didn’t. It was created by William Shakespeare,” he says.

By pure coincidence, Spacey had just wrapped up playing the deranged king on stage when “House of Cards” started filming in 2012.

The play’s 10-month international run is the subject of a new documentary, “NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage,” that captures Spacey and his troupe of 20 British and American actors on tour.

Spacey says the film serves as a kind of answer for people who don’t understand why the Oscar-winning actor would take a break from TV and movie acting.

In screen acting, “you have to make decisions very quickly and you hope you’re making the right decisions and put yourself in the hands of a director and editor,” he says. “You hope they use the best material.”

Compared to stage acting, “it’s not as luxurious an opportunity to allow things to percolate, to grow on you, to change.”

Spacey’s Richard III stage role was directed by Sam Mendes, who made his bones in British theater before his film debut in “American Beauty.” The film provided a rare chance for Spacey to dive deep into his character, a disgruntled suburban husband who develops a lecherous crush on his teenage daughter’s friend. Mendes worked with the cast for two weeks before filming started to rehearse the script, a rarity in movie making, Spacey says.

“When you go and make a movie, it’s very disjointed …You basically work in two or three-minute bits,” he says. “You never get to play the whole character. You play pieces of the character.”

When it comes to “House of Cards,” Spacey says he never questioned whether the show would be allowed to continue filming in Maryland. He was confident state officials and the show’s production company would reach an agreement on tax breaks.

“It was drummed up posturing and everyone getting excited,” he says. “I never had any doubt that was going to work out.”

Click on the audio to hear more from WTOP’s interview with Spacey.

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