ENTERTAINMENT

'House Of Cards Season 3': Writer Beau Willimon On Frank Underwood's Evolution, Michael Dobbs On Political Morals Or Lack Thereof

02/07/2015 10:06 BST | Updated 02/07/2015 10:59 BST

The stakes are higher than ever for Frank Underwood now he’s installed as US President in Series 3 of the award-winning ‘House of Cards’, says showrunner Beau Willimon.

Beau tells HuffPostUK how Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian mischief-maker thrived on operating in the shadows of Washington’s political corridors, but these are no longer available to him.

“He’s facing challenges he hasn’t had before” says Beau. “It’s harder to write for him now, but in a good way.

“Before, Frank’s conflict was with all the power players, now it’s with his own wife Claire (Robin Wright), culminating in a massive challenge to their marriage.

“Previous seasons saw Frank’s ability to spar and think on his feet made him impermeable. Now, his most formidable foe is potentially his wife, and that means Frank’s armour is beginning to crack.”

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The stakes have become higher for Frank and Claire Underwood, now installed in the White House

One thing fans of the show will notice is the far less frequent use of Frank Underwood’s addresses direct to camera. Beau reveals this change of direction is intentional, to reflect the politician’s evolution within the show.

“We’re delving deeper now into emotions between Frank and Clare,” he explains. “Those chats to camera used to serve as either a glimpse into Frank Underwood’s political insight, or as a piece of theatre, it was all very tongue in cheek, but now we’re far deeper into emotional territory, we want to show it, not tell it.

“We’re not taking Frank out of the drama any more, he doesn’t have us to conspire with, and it’s forcing him to get a graft on his emotions. The story is in a new emotional place.”

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Frank's addresses to camera have become increasingly rare as the series has become more emotional

Beau, who previously penned the George Clooney political thriller ‘Ides of March’, has a background in campaigning on which he draws, and he admits there is plenty of bad behaviour within the real-life battles for political power.

“On polling day, an opponent may send vans to take people to vote, complete with campaign banners, and then drop them off somewhere completely different,” he chuckles. “That’s par for the course. That’s the benign low-key version.

“Or telling lies that are repeated enough that even the person telling them starts to believe them. That’s kind of what you expect in those conflicts.

However, he’s quick to add that the malevolent events at the hands of Frank and his cohorts are not based on anything real, but all in the pursuit of striking drama.

“We’re putting the agency of the drama in the hands of our characters. The politics are authentic, but you want to go to the essence of the character, and ask how far would he go?

“Frank’s power lust is the portrayal of an extreme to portray a truth.

“The act itself might be unlikely (murder, blackmail, cohersion in Frank’s case), but the impulse is truthful.

Beau adds that some fans of the show in Washington have complained to him that Frank gives politics a bad name, and he’s more than happy to agree.

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Cracks are beginning to appear in the Underwood's formidable union

“Most politicians are ethical, most have a sense of law,” he agrees. “Frank is an extreme of pragmatism, he’s an iconoclast who stands out from the crowd.

Lord Dobbs, Margaret Thatcher’s former chief of staff, creator of the original British series and now sharing executive duties on the US version, agrees we shouldn’t be too shocked by Frank’s behaviour on screen.

It’s not a documentary, it’s a drama,” he says. “You look at Shakespeare, he takes the human condition and concentrates by and large on the dark side, because that’s where we understand the limits.

“It’s a very small part of the whole picture, my area of politics, but it helps us to understand that politicians are human, like the rest of us. Too many people come to us, thinking it’s all about politics and it’s not, it’s about people and what drives us.”

Lord Dobbs also makes the point that, to succeed in politics as in other areas of life, characters both real and fictional are not always the nicest, cosiest types to have dinner with.

“Great people are not comfortable people,” says Dobbs, who’s also written much about Winston Churchill. “They are obsessive, they are driven, and that’s how you become great, not by being nice to the rest of us, but by getting things done.

“Politics and power aren’t family-friendly. To win in politics, someone else has to fail.

“Winston Churchill we put on a plinth now, but he was a man of great personal contradictions, and it was his battle to deal with those contradictions that made him great.”

Contradictions, yes, but lying and scheming on such a grand scale as that demonstrated by Frank Underwood?

“Yes,” Lord Dobbs affirms. “Politics is not about honesty and openness and truth, it’s about getting things done.

“Very often in politics, it’s not a choice between right and wrong, it’s been two different types of wrong, because there’s no easy, popular solution, and you have to make a choice about which is going to do less damage. You’re not there as a cardinal, you are there to get things done.”

The Tory peer also cautions against us expecting our leaders to be as morally astute as they are politically.

“If you expect great leaders to act like choirboys, you’re not going to great leaders,” he beams.

“What you want are people who’ve experienced and learned from their mistakes. One of the problems of the modern culture is that people aren’t allowed this chance. It’s more a case of one strike and you’re out now, and I do wonder where the next great leaders are going to come from.”

House of Cards Season 3 is out now on Blu-ray and DVD. Watch the trailer below...

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