The actress talks playing a Beltway insider, facing off against Frank Underwood, and how the political thriller seems 'more realistic' than real-life U.S. politics

By Shirley Li
March 02, 2016 at 02:40 PM EST
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Ghostface has nothing on Frank Underwood — not according to Neve Campbell, anyway. The 42-year-old actress, who joined the cast of House of Cards for its fourth season, says the cruel fictional president played by Kevin Spacey is far scarier than the iconic killer she battled in four Scream films as final girl Sidney Prescott. “With Ghostface, at least you know what the rules are — [like] don’t go up the stairs, run out of the house, all that stuff,” she explains. “But [with] Frank Underwood, you just can never tell where he’s coming from.”

Good thing Campbell’s House of Cards player, Leann Harvey, is no mere scream queen. Hired by Claire (Robin Wright) to be her campaign adviser, she’s happy to go toe-to-toe with — and even defy — the seemingly unstoppable President Underwood, who disapproves of the First Lady’s congressional bid. Fearless and calculating, Leann is willing to help Claire — and herself — climb D.C.’s ladder, no matter the costs. “She’s very good at finding ways of making [what she wants to happen] happen, which is fun to play,” Campbell says. “She’ll do whatever it takes to move up.”

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Campbell hasn’t been as ambitious about staying in the spotlight. Since 2012, she’s been sticking with small yet memorable guest spots on acclaimed dramas like Mad Men and Manhattan so she could spend time raising her toddler son with her partner, actor JJ Feild. But when the script for House of Cards arrived, Campbell took “a leap of faith,” attracted to a project that would allow her to return to TV without the leading-role responsibility. “I felt that being a part of a good ensemble of a good show would be right for me,” she says. Besides, Leann proved a meaty, un-Sidney-like part. “Very often in this industry, the female roles tend to be vulnerable characters or victims in some way,” Campbell adds. “It’s always fun to have roles come along where it’s the opposite.”

And as a fan of political dramas like The West Wing, she found the experience of stepping into the White House — even just a replica built for the show — “phenomenal.” After more than six months playing a powerful D.C. pro in a fictional 2016 presidential race, the Canada native says she’s more fascinated than ever by real-life U.S. politics. “House of Cards almost feels more realistic than what’s happening right now,” Campbell says, laughing. “With the election these days, it’s pretty outstanding to watch some of the clowns who are up there. If you wrote some of the [candidates] who are running into a television series, I’m not sure [people] would buy it, you know?”

House of Cards returns Friday on Netflix.

A version of this story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1405, on newsstands now or available for purchase here.

Episode Recaps

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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