Credit: Nathaniel Bell/Netflix

Is anyone in Washington strong enough to bring Francis Underwood down? We won’t find out for sure until Friday, when new episodes of House of Cards debut on Netflix — but one new character might just be the woman for the job.

The Emmy-winning drama’s second season introduces another political player with serious potential: Jacqueline Sharp, a young congresswoman poised to rise in the ranks after Frank ascends to the White House. She’s played by Deadwood alum Molly Parker — a savvy operator well-versed in both prestige TV and keeping a show’s surprises under wraps. (Parker is so convincing that it’s almost hard to believe she’s actually Canadian.) Before Cards‘s premiere, we chatted with Parker about playing her latest role… and tried to get her to talk about some of season 2’s most shocking moments. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I devoured the first four episodes of season 2 on a screener yesterday.

MOLLY PARKER: How is it?

Well, I really like your character, and I’m also afraid for her life.

Yes. [laughs]

I’m so nervous watching the show. I guess you know what happens—

I do! But I’m not going to tell you. [laughs]

Oh, I wouldn’t dare ask. But throughout filming, every time you saw a new script, would you worry that this could be Jackie’s last episode?

That is a really good question. Yeah, it’s tense. I mean, I was a fan of the show before they offered me the part, and I had watched it all in about three days. And my experience of watching it was that it’s a tense show. …Yeah. That’s what I can say about that. I guess what I can say is, there are a lot of surprises this season, and even I was surprised as the season went on.

[At this point, EW attempts to ask Parker about something that happens at the end of season 2’s premiere; she demurs, saying that she can’t discuss any of the season’s specific plot points.]

Tell me a little bit about Jackie as a character, and your impression of her. Do you think she’s good at heart, or tending toward the dark side?

When I started, I had some information about her — that she’s a third-term congresswoman. She’s a Democrat from California. She is a veteran of the Iraq war. She comes out of military intelligence. So to me, this is a strong, smart, ambitious, savvy woman, and Francis becomes interested in her politically. I think we can say that he admires her “ruthless pragmatism,” as he says in the show. For me, what was interesting is really looking into what it costs a woman to be operating at this level of leadership. Because we live in a time right now where 51 percent of college graduates are women, but only, like, 12 to 13 percent of women hold leadership positions in politics and business. And it’s been that way for a couple of decades now. Something is still not moving there. Those are some incongruous numbers.

And so I did a lot of thinking and reading about what it would take a woman — any woman, but particularly this woman — what it costs to put yourself in a position to be a leader in government in America. I’m always interested in the complexity of characters, and I really would not qualify her as being drawn either to the dark or light side. Something I really love about Beau Willimon’s writing is that as these characters are revealed and we learn more about them, we come to see that they’re complicated. They make choices — maybe good or bad, depending on your point of view. And this one particularly is fairly complicated. She’s also quite principled, which sort of reveals itself as the show goes on.

I’m sure that will lead to some interesting interactions down the line.

Tensions, yes.

Tell me what it’s been like to work with Kevin Spacey.

He’s fantastic; he’s such a powerful actor. He loves the show, he loves actors. So for me, it was just — he’s such a powerful actor.

Were you ever intimidated by him at all?

What I was conscious of was wanting this woman I was playing to be as strong and fearless as possible. This is a woman who’s come up through the military — so she’s come up through a patriarchal system, and she knows how to be in a room of powerful men. And be taken seriously.

Can you compare House of Cards to working on Deadwood? Were there any similarities?

They’re definitely comparable experiences in terms of just the quality of the show. Deadwood was such a special show and experience for me; I love David Milch and his writing, and it was really an honor to work with him. But I think the ways in which these shows are similar is that they’re high-quality cable shows with an emphasis on great writing and great performances. House of Cards also has really fantastic directors, film directors – James Foley directs a number of episodes this year, and a lot of directors have an opportunity to shoot two episodes at once. It’s almost like they’re shooting these small films. And that’s a very different. That gives a lot of agency to the directors; in sort of regular television, the directors don’t necessarily have that.

What do you think is a rougher environment — the wild west or Congress?

The wild west — no question.

House of Cards season 2 premieres on Netflix February 14.

Episode Recaps

House of Cards

Ballots, betrayal, and barbecue combine in Netflix’s original drama, which stars Kevin Spacey as cunning congressman Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his equally ruthless Lady Macbeth. Based on a 1990 BBC serial of the same name.

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