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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from House of Cards’ fourth season.]
Viewers tuning into the fourth season of House of Cards were in for a bit of shock when the premiere episode opened on not Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) or his wife Claire (Robin Wright), but on Washington D.C’s resident moral compass Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), who was sitting in prison talking his fellow inmate through getting off.
When fans were first introduced to Goodwin in season one, he was straight-laced, by the books, sporting a suit and tie and reminding his colleague Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) that they worked for The Washington Herald and, “not TMZ.” While he did avoid getting tossed in front of a train by Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), he was still sentenced to prison for knowing all too much about the country’s president. Goodwin was noticeably absent from season three of the series, so his return for the fourth season might be one of the show’s best kept secrets (along with the returns of Barnes and Peter Russo.)
“I’ve been told to keep mum and I stayed mum,” Arcelus tells The Hollywood Reporter about his heavily guarded gig. Until now. Here, Arcelus opens up to THR about about that “disturbing” opening scene, Lucas’ quest for the truth and his subsequent “fiery” downfall.
Lucas was completely absent from season three. What was it like getting that call to return to the show?
It was fantastic. It was one thing to be involved from the beginning and to have that phone call come through where suddenly you’re in a room with [executive producer] David Fincher, [creator and executive producer] Beau Willimon, Robin and Kevin and this amazing ensemble working on it from the get go. But then as story lines play out and it comes to the end of your stay, I had sort of grown comfortable understanding and said my goodbyes not only to everyone there, but my character too. Then, to reunite with everyone, it was thrilling. It was surprising, it was exciting. I always felt like there was just a little more that I could dig into. I thought it’d be really nice to put a little period on Lucas’ storyline instead of leaving it open.
Your return was obviously kept under tight wraps so what were the logistics like? Did you have to keep the secret from family and friends?
It’s such a secretive little world where you don’t want to ruin the experience for the viewer. I’ll be honest, even the very, very small handful of folks that knew that I had gone back there to work was in my family and they didn’t even want me to tell them what happened! So, in essence, everyone was in on the desire to maintain spoilers.
You started the show with creator Beau Willimon and as it’s your last season, it’s his too. What was it like working with him throughout?
It was very clear from the beginning that we were all a part of something. We didn’t know what it quite was yet, but you knew from the get go, all the journalists sat in a room from the first table read with David and Beau that these were the smartest guys in the room. So we were in amazing hands. Beau had been involved in that world, he worked on campaigns, he’s very close with a number of politicians and he was very aware of the imaginations involved. Granted, we take it to a certain extreme, but it’s one he navigates brilliantly because now when you turn on the TV, just when you think we were taking it too far you can watch our current presidential election and wonder if we even do take it too far.
He gave you the opening scene to this season’s premiere. What was it like returning and having Lucas be in such a dark place?
It was really fun doing that first script before season four because season three, I wasn’t there. We think he’s rotting away in prison and we can imagine any number of scenarios that could have happened to him. If you think about all the different ways we can reintroduce a character like that and all the ways we’ve seen it before onscreen, and Beau just found a twist on how to bring us back in. Really disturbing, and really fun too. Lucas is not going to power his way through prison. He’s going to survive and survive as best he can and part of that involves going to some pretty dark places and making the right friends. It’s a terrific fall from grace. You could say from season one he was one of the only guys or the only guy who was living by a certain moral code and now he’s making these choices because he’s presented with a lack of choice.
Why does Lucas make the choice to go back and fight the Underwoods, when it could have been easier avoiding it after being released and no one knowing you were set free?
It’s who he is at the core. He’s a crusader. He’s someone who’s fought for truth, for the defense of truth. Someone who’s been rotting away with this tick inside of him knowing he’s right and just not being able to substantiate it. He spent his whole life supporting and defending a system and then the system itself screwed him.
Why didn’t anyone believe him?
Lucas doesn’t understand why know one believes him. The writing seems to be on the wall. In an age where you can look at the presidential election and you could say something and people believe it’s true, I think it’s hard for Lucas to understand why people don’t take the next step. But we also know that in this day and age the slightest stigma can be toxic and bring you down. For someone like Heather Dunbar, Lucas is radioactive, he may be right. He can’t seem to prove events and information, but he’s not presenting substantiated evidence he’s asking someone else to find a way to substantiate it.
Before you got the script, how did you hope Lucas’ story would unfold? Were you upset about how he was killed off?
I spent the last couple of years thinking on how he could return, under what scenario. Just like a viewer, you plot out how you think it will happen and then Beau finds the most interesting way to bring you back in that defies expectations. When he sat me down and said, “Has anyone actually told you yet where this is going?” I showed up for a table read for [episodes] 401 and 402 and I did not know what happened as the season progressed. I hadn’t been told. So once he sat me down and said, “This is where you’re headed,” I thought, ‘Wow, I couldn’t even have come up with that myself.’ At one point, even Michael Kelly prior to that conversation with Beau said, “Hey man, did Beau talk to you about this season yet?” And I said “No, not yet.” And he just kind of knowingly chuckled like, “Oh man, you’re not ready. You’re not ready for this.” I could not think of a more fiery way to go down.
Claire paints Lucas as a “sick man” in her speech about Frank, Lucas and Meechum. After playing this character for three seasons, what was it like seeing how she was able to spin his motives and intentions to make him look like the villain?
It’s horrifying to see how they can continually beat the system or when presented with the stack against them, how they can turn it to their favor. But the walls are definitely closing in on them and new threats arrive. And we’re all as close to our characters as we can be and I certainly know what motivated his actions for me, but the reality is he sort of became a lone wolf fighting his own war.
I was mad that’s how he went out…
It’s hard. When you look at the circumstances of what he has left, things were looking pretty bleak. Whether you agree or don’t agree, he took his next and last move beyond the next logical step.
You played a journalist. How do you think the current election and the candidates have been covered by the media? Do you think there will be more discovered about one of the candidates down the line?
Absolutely. I think journalists these days where we — I say “we,” you know what I mean (laughs) — where they have to create an audience with their work and they have to create a viewership. They have to appeal to the masses. We live in an age now where there’s no attention span so we have to keep it interesting. Do I think there are a lot of skeletons in folks’ closets? I certainly do. And if they do exist I hope the journalistic movement can get at the heart of it.
Do you think there are any parallels to these characters and the candidates in the current election?
It’s hard for me to even think that the candidates we’re dealing with can stoop to these levels, but truth is stranger than fiction as we’re witnessing this as it goes along. I could talk to you for the next hour and a half about the things that disturb me about this campaign and those are the things that we know. So as with our show I could imagine that things are more complicated than they first might appear.
What are your predictions for next season and what do you think the lifeline of a show like this is?
So now I’m just a viewer and a fan and I’d like to see Claire and Frank Underwood meet … it’s so hard because as Lucas, I want to see them meet their timely end and as a fan it’s hard not to root for the anti-hero. But I’m team Lucas so I’m going to hope the mantle has been passed to somebody that can take it another step further.
Were you sad to see how Lucas’ story ended? Do you think current candidates in the real life election have skeletons in their closet? Chat about it below in the comments section and stay tuned to The Live Feed for more House of Cards coverage.
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