So ruthless he gets it done

Pam Brown
So ruthless he gets it done

Beau Willimon is determined to reveal nothing of what is coming in season two of House of Cards, the highly successful series made by internet TV network Netflix.

As executive producer, writer and showrunner for the series, he knows where devious politician Francis "Frank" Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is headed. He has known since the beginning because when he mapped out the story, he was in the unusual situation - for a new TV drama - of knowing there would be two 13-part seasons (and more since a third season was announced last week).

But even the mildest question - would there be more development of the characters, including Freddie the ribs man - was firmly batted away.

And later - in case I had not understood the need for secrecy - I had to sign a confidentiality agreement if I was to become the only person in WA to preview episode one of House of Cards 2. It included the odd and rather ominous sentence: "I understand and agree that any breach of these conditions will cause irreparable harm for which recovery of money damages alone would be inadequate."

But Willimon was happy to talk about his insider's view of Washington and his remake of the book, House of Cards by Michael Dobbs, and the original British series of the same name, into a drama which has won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for Robin Wright as Claire Underwood.

Season two starts on Friday in the US, with all 13 episodes released on Netflix. It will air express from the US from Saturday in Australia, with pay-TV viewers able to watch episodes weekly on Showcase or the whole series online via Foxtel On Demand, Foxtel Go and Foxtel Play until March 14.

Willimon was just out of high school when he volunteered to work on a Democrat Senate campaign and this led to similar jobs with former secretary of state Hilary Clinton and US presidential candidate Howard Dean.

Dean's campaign inspired him to write the play, Farragut North, which in 2011 was made into the George Clooney film, Ides of March. Does he think he would ever be trusted again to work on a political campaign?

"I sure hope not," he laughed.

"A lot of people think I am quite cynical about politics. I am the opposite. I am optimistic and idealistic about the political process.

"The problem with the political process in the US right now is people are too bound to their ideology and it has resulted in a form of paralysis.

"The most optimistic thing you can do is to be realistic about what is achievable and often that is dependent upon people who you vastly disagree with.

"I think that is one of the things people find delicious about Francis Underwood. He is completely self- serving but he actually gets things done so he begs the question: do the ends justify the means? Would you rather have someone like him who accomplishes something or would you rather have some ethical saint who accomplishes nothing?"

Underwood's drive to succeed has led to him literally getting blood on his hands, having killed fellow politician Peter Russo in season one, so the question of how far he is prepared to go is wide open.

The indication was always there that Underwood was totally ruthless because in the opening minutes of House of Cards he strangles a dog. When asked about that moment, Willimon explained how the scene came to be written.

"I wanted a movie-star entrance for Kevin: we had a movie star and I wanted him to enter like one. So when I wrote the first draft of the first episode it began with the New Year's Eve party and he is introducing us to the various players, similar to the BBC version.

"But I wanted to do something different and have a more punchy beginning so I thought what is the most movie-star entrance you can have? Well, him coming out of double doors in a tuxedo and descending the steps. I have him in a tuxedo because he is going to this party so I'm good there, his house has double doors and steps but what brings him outside? So I thought maybe he hears a loud noise - you can see how sophisticated my mind is right?

"What could it be? Maybe a car crash but I don't know whether I want to start with a car crash and dead people and all that stuff. What if it's just a dog?

"This is where it started to become interesting for me. How would Francis react to and deal with a dying dog? It was a great opportunity to establish this idea of him doing the necessary thing, the unpleasant thing, by strangling the dog. We get to see his ruthlessness but also a pragmatic mercy.

"That few short moments sums up a lot of what this guy is. We see that he is capable of killing within the first 30 seconds of the show."