'House of Cards': Beau Willimon Talks China's Uncensored Embrace, Story Ideas From 2014 News
"What the hell has Kim Jong Un been doing this past month? There's something fishy there. … Wouldn't be great to see Frank [Underwood] and Kim Jong Un do 'I'm So Lonely?'"
Which recent news segment could possibly double for a House of Cards episode?
"What the hell has Kim Jong Un been doing this past month? There's something fishy there," said Beau Willimon at his New York Television Festival creative keynote on Saturday evening at the SVA Theatre. He then laughed about a song his writers' room played incessantly while finishing season three, which is currently in production: "Wouldn't be great to see Frank [Underwood] and Kim Jong Un do 'I'm So Lonely?' ... because it's f—ing awesome!"
The showrunner was always writing while previously working in politics. "I actually wanted these people to win, and there was the escape from the real world and going into the bizarre world of a political campaign," he told New York Observer's Drew Grant of the inspiration for Cards and The Ides of March. In fact, he sees many similarities between Hollywood and The Hill. "Politics is theater, it's a business in which perception is reality, ... and you're trying ultimately to communicate with people," he explained. "And in a lot of ways, art-making is very political. A lot of my job is trying to manage people, collaborate with people and get the best out of people. ... Ultimately that's the goal of politics." He also did his best Bill Clinton impression to recall his opinion of the series: "Ninety-nine percent of that show is accurate; the one percent it that you could never pass an education bill that fast!"
Willimon also lightheartedly stated his opinion on a couple television topics. "This whole idea of the auteur on television, I think, is bullshit. The French new wave f— everyone over. ... It's utter and complete horseshit," he said of the countless components a TV show takes "to make it bigger than any one person could've imagined." Of prioritizing a character's likeability, he laughed, "What is likeability? Someone you invite to your house for Thanksgiving? Someone to sit next to on a plane? Who wants that from anyone, even someone you like? To me, it's about attraction ... [in] their contradictions." And on the topic of female protagonists, he noted that he's proud to have not just Kevin Spacey as a leading Frank Underwood, but also Robin Wright as his equal in marriage and onscreen, Claire.
After working with Netflix and Media Rights Capital, will he ever create content for networks? "I don't know. I hope not to be confronted with that choice or decision. The amount of creative freedom that is out there right now is unprecedented," he said, recalling a time when network executives gave shows more control. Yet such freedom "puts the ownus on the creators — your name is going on this. ... If it falls short, we can't point a finger and say, 'You made us do it.' We can only point it at ourselves."
Though Willimon and his team don't stay accountable with ratings but with a "very selfish" barometer measuring their creative risk, he was happy to hear that the series slipped past China's censorship radar and became a big hit —thanks to a public endorsement from China’s U.S. ambassador, Cui Tiankai, who said Cards "embodies some of the characteristics and corruption that is present in American politics."
"They were afraid to cut any of it," said Willimon of the second season collecting 30 million views in China ("and those are the ones who paid to see it!"), though he suspected that Tiankai "might have been talking about season one! … They think it shows that America is just as corrupt as everywhere else, but I don't know. I'm going to China at the end of December, so we'll see what happens!"