'House of Cards' Star on His Dream of Taking Down the Underwoods

Boris McGiver tells THR why his journalist character felt indebted to Frank Underwood's prize victim, Zoe Barnes.
Courtesy of Netflix
Boris McGiver as Tom Hammerschmidt on 'House of Cards'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from seasons one through five of Netflix's House of Cards.]

How do you stay alive on House of Cards?

Throughout the Netflix series there has been death, after death, after death, and those who end up six feet under can always be traced back to the Underwoods. 

If characters on the political thriller dare to challenge Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) or his deviant wife Claire (Robin Wright), they are risking their lives in the process. In season one, journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) got in bed with Frank and ended up knowing all too much, which led Frank to shove her in front of a moving subway train. Same goes for Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), who was a former prostitute and lover to Frank's right-hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Even when she tried to break free from the ruthless political realm that is House of Cards, Stamper found her and put her in the ground.

In season five, which dropped its 13 episodes on May 30, Claire murdered her first victim — that the audience knows of — when she poisoned her lover Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) while the two were having sex.

Since the first season of the series, there has been one character who constantly goes toe-to-toe with the Underwoods in hopes of finding justice for — as showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson put it — the women who go missing on the series. Yet he still remains alive and well: Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), the determined journalist who may one day actually be able to take the powerful couple down.

"I always open the script looking for the subway train! I don't know until I get each script whether I'm going under or not," McGiver tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I think part of the reason Tom has been able to stay alive is because of his vast knowledge of how the world works and how evil works."

Below, the actor talks further about staying in the fight against the Underwoods and what that might look like if the show were picked up for a sixth season, representing the Fourth Estate on TV amid a time when the media is being attacked by the real U.S. president and what it was like filming that scene with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. 

Years later, why is it still important to the show to have your character fight for justice for Zoe Barnes?

We call that a capital punishment in our society. It's a pretty grave sin. The idea that creator Beau Willimon set up is: How far do politicians go? Do we allow them to go that far? The idea was that you keep a check line. That's what the Fourth Estate is about. It's why the First Amendment in the Constitution is freedom of speech to protect the free press. We need that Fourth Estate. Now we're fighting back. 

Why is it so important for Tom and how does it feel to be the last one standing in this fight?

Zoe was sort of under his wing and care. There was a parental, child thing and he felt that he f—ed up, he didn't treat her properly and he didn't take care of that relationship. With any generation, they are going to be very different and they're not going to live by the same rules. They are going to show you different possibilities and he didn't pay attention to that. He didn't help her out. He shoved her away. There's a bit of guilt about that. And it works right into Hammerschmidt's strength. It doesn't bother him that he's the only one fighting. He doesn't care. Where I empathize with that loneliness is that yes, there's a loneliness, but when you realize that your job is much greater than yourself and has a great purpose, your loneliness doesn't seem so dark. It doesn't matter how alone I get.

Tom struggles at the end. Does he view Doug Stamper going down for Zoe's murder as enough justice, or will he not give up until he takes down Frank?

I don't buy what Stamper is saying. I don't buy it. It's just not right. My guess is that as we go forward — knock on wood that it will be going back — to, where's the marrow of that bone? Go back to the marrow. We bit off a nice piece, but nope, it didn't feel right. 

Even in Tom's quest to take down the Underwoods, at times it seems like no one really cares. Doug took the fall for Frank and is now under house arrest. When will they ever face a just punishment?

That's a really good question! I guess that relates to reality. I think we would all love them to pay a just due for their crime. But there's presidential pardons and a bunch of ways to get around that. The hope is certainly, in Tom's mind, that I take them down and [Frank] pays for it and he goes to jail. Will they actually pay for it? I'm going to leave that up to the writers. It would send a great message because this show hits some deep chords with people across all spectrums, including the political spectrum. 

Do you stay in touch with Kate Mara at all? Do you think she still watches the show?

I haven't stayed in touch with her. I would guess she still watches. I hope she does. 

From the very start of the season, Claire dismisses the media as a "noisy press." In the current political climate, why is it important to reflect proper journalism on TV with a character like Tom?

It's a reminder of why we have that First Amendment. It's a reminder of why we have that Fourth Estate and the space for one to truly exist and call to the carpet and bring to terms those injustices we have in our political system. That's a real balance, not just three separate houses and realms of government. It's that Fourth Estate that really keeps things in check. We need it. In having the session with Rachel Maddow this season, it was amazing because I gave her a wonderful compliment at the end of our scene together [and] she turned it around and said, "We need to thank you all for presenting a character like Tom to remind us that, yes, even though it's fake, it does give us that sense of bolstering." In my own heart as well, I'm happy to see that continue to happen. We're going to have someone standing up and saying, "Nope, sorry. You're not going to get away with this. As long as I have a breath to breathe, I will fight this injustice."

Along with Maddow, many personalities from Charlie Rose, Van Jones, Brett Baier to Ann Curry had cameos this season. What was it like to film this season and see the this world catch up to President Donald Trump's attacks on the Fourth Estate?

It's been really crazy watching this happen. It gave me a renewed sense of great honoring for these great writers, Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, and Beau Willimon for starting it all. They've latched onto a zeitgeist. They know that this is coming. They are seeing this between the lines. It's fascinating. 

Did you talk at all about what was happening in today's current political climate with the news anchors that appeared on the show?

Definitely. We've all watched this stuff happening in the middle of the season with the election and more and more with the Russian connections. That was a topic of conversation constantly. With [the media guest appearances] not as much. We didn't have a lot of time to talk about it. We [shot] in their studios. They are actually real journalists. They have real jobs! Instead of fake ones like me. When we filmed the scene with Rachel, we had 46 minutes shooting every single angle. That scene normally would have taken four or five hours. But the quick asides we would talk about, it was clear that we were all thinking, "Hang on — it's going to be a hell of a ride."

Where do you hope Tom's story goes if there is a season six? 

I hope that I get to bring the Underwoods to justice. Even if they are ultimately going to get pardoned anyway, which happens to most presidents. Even if it came down to them being publicly accused for their crimes and arrested. With Stamper being under house arrest for what he is being accused of, that is crazy! It would be nice if I were able to make it happen.

What can you officially say about a sixth season? Have you heard anything yet?

No. I would be the last to know. I think they are scouting for next season. 

What do you think Claire's presidency would look like?

Just a female Frank presidency, honestly. It would be prettier and she'd have prettier words to say, but it'd be the same stuff.

How has Tom stayed alive so long? Out of all of the Underwood rivals, he's one of the last to still be standing. 

I think part of the reason Tom has been able to stay alive is because of his vast knowledge of how the world works and how evil works. Through his many decades of investigations, he knows security systems, he knows when things are dangerous. Those veteran journalists can feel that. 

Are you rooting for Tom to take the Underwoods down? Chat about it in the comments section below and check in with Live Feed for full House of Cards coverage. 

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