'House of Cards' Star Breaks Down Surprise Twist

The actor also talks to THR about what he thinks might happen to Tom's book and why he briefly thought he wanted to "get the f— off this show!"
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from House of Cards season five.]

Another one bites the dust.

There have been a slew of murders throughout Netflix's House of Cards. Whether it was Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) tossing Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) in front of a train, or Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) burying his former lover Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan) in the desert — most of the characters on the political thriller have got blood on their hands in one way or another. 

And until now, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has never been the one to pull the trigger (at least that fans know of). But in this case, it wasn't a trigger that she pulled. Instead, she killed her lover Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) by poisoning him and watching him die while the two were having sex. 

And ironically it was while Yates was telling the now sitting president how beautiful she really is. Ouch.

"I feel like they thought Tom being in the world would always limit Claire," Sparks tells The Hollywood Reporter about why he thinks showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson decided to make Yates yet another Underwood casualty.

"She shared more with him than most. That was part of getting to where she was going. She needed to step over that herself and it would harm her. It would not come with some sort of consequences." 

Sparks opens up further about his character's fate, Wright directing that fatal sex scene and jokes about why at one point the political climate offscreen made him want to leave the show. 

How early on did you know the fate of Yates? And what were the conversations with Frank and Melissa like about where your character ends up?

I heard a couple of different things about it. I would be curious to hear their exact statement on why they chose to do it. They were thinking a lot about what to do with him. They really wanted to look at him trying to make this impossible relationship possible. From the very beginning, Yates has always been a person who is actually really disinterested in politics and just really interested in people and specifically these powerful people that are in these really hard situations. That's very intriguing to him. In a way, he was trying to make it work, and I think what [Frank and Melissa] were hoping for were characters that were equal to each other, which is almost impossible to be that. One, because Robin is so powerful and wonderful, but also because they're presidential and basically royal. 

I feel like they thought Tom being in the world would always limit Claire. She shared more with him than most. That was part of getting to where she was going. She needed to step over that herself and it would harm her. It would not come with some sort of consequences. 

Was Tom always going to play such a big part in this season and Claire's life? Did that change at any point from when you joined the show? 

When I first talked to [ex-showrunner] Beau [Willimon], I think that maybe the story that he was interested in, I'm not sure that's exactly the same story that Melissa and Frank were interested in. I certainly had the most to do this season in many ways, but I don't know when that changed. I just say what they tell me. (Laughs.)

What are your thoughts on the way in which Claire killed him? Did she try and do it the most painless way possible? Did you talk about alternate ways she could kill him?

They didn't really talk to me that much about it. I'm sure there were probably discussions about it being a bloody affair. (Laughs.) To me personally, there's always been a certain amount of the Lady Macbeth. I'm sure there were discussions where Stamper shot me in the back of the head. I'm sure there were ones where I got hit by a car or I hung myself. I just got really sad and hung myself in a closet or something. 

When you first found out how he dies, how did you react?

This is what happens in this business. I've done Boardwalk Empire where all of us quake in our seats at every read-through that today would be the day. Maybe that formed a callus over my wounds about it. I'm just interested in what the story is. What's the best story? What's the way to go? When these things happen, it's sad because I love working there and I love those people. I really do. They're like my family and I miss them and will miss them if they do another season. That is the hard part. As far as the destiny of the character, I just play them until they're gone. I try not to get too involved. That's what this business is. It was OK. (Laughs.)

What do you think Yates meant to Claire that no one else in the world did? What does she lose without having him by her side?

Claire is in a really sticky situation where she and Francis are constantly conniving and making decisions that are not the most ethical or moral. What Tom became for her was an alternate future. Is it possible they could have just left, disappeared and gone somewhere else? Maybe. Tom always dealt with them as just a person and not a monster or not a god-like entity. I think for powerful people that's something they appreciated. 

In what ways does the murder of your character signify a turning point for Claire and a role reversal with her and Frank? 

She's willing to do anything. As a person who has seen the show in the past, to me Claire has always seemed like she has always had this grasp on things and [she's] not willing to do just anything. In many ways, this throws that out. She says, "I will kill my children and eat whatever person I need to in order to compete with where Francis is." He's already at that place, so [now] she really becomes his equal. 

Yates is her first murder victim that we know of. Do you think he'll be her last?

Well, that's a good question. I don't know, it might get easier for her! Oh God, I have no idea. I guess she could kill Frank, right? (Laughs.

Do you know how this season ends?

No, but you can ask me anything. Since I've been on the show, I don't watch it.

What would Yates most like to see Claire accomplish as president? Or maybe not since she killed him.

Do you know what's weird about it? In a way, I think that Yates is almost kind of down with her killing him. (Laughs.) If that's possible. The poetry of her doing it I think he would appreciate. 

This season we see the murder of Zoe Barnes catching up to Frank, but with Stamper taking the fall for it.

Yeah, isn't that nice? (Laughs.)

Do you think your murder will get attention in season six? 

No! I feel like Tom Yates had become so insular to just Claire that I don't think anybody would give a shit if he's there. In fact, maybe people would celebrate that finally they don't have to see that side of Claire. I don't think there will be any grand inquisition as to where the writer of these semi-popular novels has disappeared to. Maybe that says something about the world we live in that people aren't that interested in the writers. Zoe Barnes was after something. She was an animal in D.C., and I feel like Tom was always an outsider. He was never a part of that world. I feel it just as an actor on the show playing that part. There's an outsider quality to the approach I took to the character, to the way that character interacted with everybody. 

Would you like to see his book get published and did you talk at all about revealing more of what Yates wrote in it?

I know that there was talk about whether the book would come out, and people have lots of theories about what the book is. Even very recently, I was in an airport and someone was completely convinced that the chapters in the show are in fact chapters of Tom Yates' book. 

What's the book called? Give it a title.

I can barely write my name! (Laughs.)

Robin directed the episode where she kills you, and you also had to film a sex scene as part of his murder. What was that dynamic like when she was directing you in the scene while also starring in it?

I have to say, she's one of the most enjoyable directors that I've worked with. Sex scenes in general are so difficult to do. They are so uncomfortable and weird. So it was uncomfortable and weird, but at the same time it's easy to be in love with Robin. She's very professional. She's in it and has a very good relationship with [the] camera. She knows what they are seeing. She trusts the people that she works with. She's running back and forth between as I lay dead [and] nude, she's running back and forth between video village to figure out if everything is going well. 

In between the sex scene?

Yeah, during the sex scene. (Laughs.) She's like, "What does that look like?" And would get up and have a view of how it went and there'd be some notes and we'd reshoot. 

What were the conversations like on-set during the election and after Trump was elected? Did you and the other actors weigh in at all on storylines post-Trump being elected?

There was some discussion of that. It's obviously a very contentious issue for America, and it was no different on our set. We were shooting when it happened. It's not hard to guess there's a bunch of liberal artists on that show, so a lot of us had a lot of strong feelings about the situation that we find ourselves in. There was this moment where I woke up in the middle of night, and I have a family and kids, and I did wake up in a panic. And the first thought I had was, "Man, I got to get the f— off this show! This show has created this situation that we're in. We normalized insanity. And people are actually only interested in seeing day-after-day of ridiculous behavior." Certainly there were a lot of people who didn't care for [President] Obama, but the majority of people who did like him like I did, I think in a way it was easy to sleep at night. I find that a lot of the decision-making and things that are happening now are pretty crazy, and I feel like we had a sense of that. It played out as we were shooting. We're just a TV show. 

How different was the dynamic with new showrunners Melissa and Frank versus working with Beau Willimon and what were the major differences?

Beau is a really, really good friend of mine. I went on the show and became really close with Beau. He was a really talented guy. I loved him. One of the things that's always hard is not having the singularity of vision. [That] loses a little bit of something. However, I've known Melissa for a long long time. She's a playwright from New York that I've known and I've been an admirer of her. Same with Frank. I love those guys. In terms of my experience, it wasn't that different other than they were just different people. For me, it's really about just day-to-day, their ideas of where they want it to go and trying to find the right way to do that. They were very game for that. To be fair to all three of them, they are different people. And Beau, I'm sure it would have been a very different show because it would have been Beau's vision. And the thing I was actually happy with with Melissa and Frank was they really wanted to tell their story and they did.

Do you know if Beau watches the show now?

I don't. My suspicion is probably not. 

This year with The Night Of and House of Cards, you played two characters where their stories came to an end. Was there a role you wish you had more time with?

With Boardwalk Empire, I saw the advantage of the long game where you don't have to play every emotion, feeling [and] personality trait of a character in 10 or 15 minutes. You are afforded the luxury of this long life. As long as there's still story to tell, I am still interested in that. I love the long form. As an actor, I'm more interested in characters the longer I have lived with them. There's something about Don Taylor from The Night Of  that I will miss. I'd like to see what that guy got up to. As far as this guy, I feel like Tom, you know, he's dead. (Laughs.) I'm not happy he's dead, but he is dead. I sort of wiped him from my hard drive. I don't hold on to him in quite the same way. Whereas Don Taylor is still out there somewhere. 

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