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'House of Cards' postmortem: Pussy Riot's Masha Alekhina talks acting on her favorite show

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David Giesbrecht/Netflix

“What about the Pussy Riot girls?”

On its own, Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) line from “Chapter 29” of House of Cards was hilariously bizarre. But when two members of the Russian feminist punk rock protest collective, Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, actually appeared as themselves on the third season’s third episode, Underwood’s intro became a harbinger of impressive things to come.

The world-famous Putin critics make their cameo during a White House confrontation with House of Cards‘ thinly-veiled Putin stand-in, Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen). Petrov travels to Washington to meet with the President, bringing plenty of vodka shots and villainy with him (he kisses Robin Wright’s Claire full on the mouth, for instance). But Underwood has a surprise up his sleeve, too. Knowing Pussy Riot will cause a scene, he invites them to the White House dinner, where they criticize and humiliate Petrov in front of the other guests, leaving stunned silence and smashed champagne glasses in their wake. That wasn’t the only treat Pussy Riot brought to America: As the credits roll, a music video for their vibrant new song, “Don’t Cry Genocide,” closes out the episode.

Below, EW talks with Alekhina about how she and Tolokno got involved with House of Cards in the first place, and why the Netflix program is a favorite for more than a few Russians:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did House of Cards approach you and Nadya to be on the show?

MASHA ALEKHINA: We were visiting Pen Literary Awards—it’s an event in New York—and there we met Beau Willimon, who is the main screenwriter of House of Cards. They asked us to come to their screenwriters’ room, because the third season is mostly about the relationship between the United States and Russia. They had an episode where one of the characters goes to a Russian prison, so they wanted to know about conditions there.

We were [in the writers’ room] like two hours, and after, we were very impressed by their work. They probably also were impressed by our stories, so they asked us to take part in the episode, and that’s all! And after, we wrote the song with Le Tigre, and we wrote some of the script for the episode. Then, we came to the Baltimore and shot it.

Why did you want to do it?

Because it’s one of our favorite TV series. We really appreciate it, and we’re fans of House of Cards. We think it’s the most interesting political TV series nowadays, and we watched the previous two seasons.

When you were watching those first two seasons, did you feel you wanted to be involved?

No, we didn’t feel it! It was really by chance. We were very surprised.

Did you write the script for the episode yourselves?

We did it together with Beau. 

Were you writing things that you wanted to say to Putin? Because the character of Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) is essentially a proxy for Putin.

Kind of, yes. He’s not, you know, Putin Putin, but he looks like Putin and sounds like Putin… so probably they meant it!

What was it like playing yourself on a TV show?

We didn’t actually play it, we just did it how we usually do something. We were just interested, and were thinking our usual creative things.

When you were acting, what kind of direction did they give you?

I think they wanted us to be happy. They really didn’t say “Do this,” and “Do that.” We were preparing a lot by exchanging emails and meeting with Beau so we would understand each other as much as possible.

Tell me about the music video at the end. Did you write the song “Don’t Cry Genocide” for the show?

Yes. We wrote it especially for House of Cards. They wanted music, but it was our idea to write a special song, and do it like this.

With “Don’t Cry Genocide” and “I Can’t Breathe,” the song about Eric Garner, you’ve been doing a lot more work in English lately.

Yes, we’re trying to learn English more, and also trying to learn how to do films and scripts. It’s a new field for us, and we’re trying to learn it.

What has the response to your House of Cards cameo been like in Russia? Have your friends seen the show?

Yes, our friends liked it. They’re also fans of House of CardsFor people who are interested in politics in Russia, it’s the most popular TV series.

Is there more acting in your future?

I don’t know about acting, but there will be more songs in English in the future, I’m sure!

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