Kevin Spacey defends how "House of Cards" portrays Washington, to Washington crowd

The star responds to a critique by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the man whose job he plays on TV

By Alex Seitz-Wald

Published May 8, 2013 12:56PM (EDT)

Kevin Spacey’s fictional Democratic Whip Francis Underwood in the Netflix series "House of Cards" isn’t much like real Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. But the two have become chummy -- and engaged in an honest exchange about the show's portrayal of politics at a Motion Picture Association of America event in Washington on Tuesday night.

Despite their relationship, the actual whip critiqued Spacey’s show when the event's host, NBC's Chris Matthews, gave him the opportunity to ask Hoyer if he had any questions for “the man who’s pillorying your career.” “One of the phrases that I hate the most is when people say ‘well, that’s politics,’” Hoyer said, “and your show is a lot about, ‘well, that’s politics.’” People already have an unfairly negative view of politics, Hoyer explained, and “House of Cards” plays into a nihilistic and venal portrait of politics that goes further than reality.

Spacey acknowledged the point, but chalked it up to the medium, noting that Hollywood makes plenty of movies about the film business that are grimmer than Hollywood really is. That’s drama.

And despite Underwood’s tremendous faults, Spacey said he’s found that people appreciate the conniving fictional politician, “because he gets shit done.” The Washington in “House of Cards” may be more morally bankrupt and soulless in the way it does things than the one that exists in reality, but at least it does things -- that’s appealing when nothing’s happening in real Washington, he noted. Those are the kinds of roles that appeal to Spacey, he said, noting that he loved “Lincoln” because it grappled with “Lincoln the politician,” as opposed to the saintly figure we usually think of.

Speaking of compromised politicians, Mark Sanford just had an affair and still managed to win a House seat in South Carolina last night, the same state Underwood represents -- as a Democrat. How’s that possible? It turns out the show’s creators may have taken some artistic liberties in choosing to make Underwood from South Carolina, instead of, say, Maryland or California. And it’s all because of language.

“There’s something very alluring” about the way the character in the original British series delivers trademark lines like, “you might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment,” Spacey said, that just doesn’t translate to a non-regional American accent. So he and head writer Beau Willimon were trying to figure out a way around that when Willimon called up his dad, who’s from Gaffney, S.C. (Underwood’s hometown) and asked him to recite a few lines over the phone. “There was just something about it that made us say, I think that’s where we should place it,” Spacey explained.

And, of course, someone had to ask about the second season. “We’re a week into shooting season 2 and it’s going to get really interesting,” Spacey said, without giving any spoilers. (“I could, but then I would have to kill you all.”)

Alex Seitz-Wald

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D-md. Hollywood House Of Cards Kevin Spacey Mpaa Netflix Steny Hoyer