House of Cards season 4: Nathan Darrow talks Meechum's big scene
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 4 of House of Cards. Read at your own risk!
At least he went out a hero. When Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) attempted to assassinate Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), Meechum (Nathan Darrow) took a bullet for Frank and killed Lucas mid-fall. The death marked the first big shocker of the political thriller’s fourth season, leaving both the presidential election and Frank’s life in question.
Yet, even before he became Frank’s savior, Meechum had a unique position in the Underwoods’ lives. Not only was he Frank and Claire’s most trusted Secret Service agent, he also had the, well, pleasure of being one-third of a memorable threesome in season 2. Darrow spoke to EW about Meechum’s sacrifice, relationship with the Underwoods, and the one prop he contributed to the character. Read on for his exit interview:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you hear you would be killed off this season?
NATHAN DARROW: Beau Willimon graciously gave me a call maybe two or three months before we got back together and started working on the fourth season. He just said, “This is where the story’s going. There’s going to be an assassination attempt. Meechum’s not gonna make it.” And that was it.
How did you feel about that at the time?
I just felt, like, “Here we go. This is the end of this job.” I mean, it’s not like, “Oh well!” But it’s what our lives are like as actors. The jobs always end. And as far as the character, [Beau and I] had a nice conversation about this, that I felt it was a very appropriate end for him. I was completely on board. I liked this end for him. He went out doing his job. He went out doing good.
What was it like going into this season with the knowledge of Meechum’s impending death in mind? Did knowing affect how you played him?
Yes and no. Going in to work, you can’t be thinking about it … but also, it was something exciting to me. Going into this season, I thought, “Meechum will burn a little brighter before he dies.” And that’s what happened! … I think that the character has functioned in an interesting way. He’s kind of ancillary, you know? In season 3, we haven’t heard from him in a while. So I knew that then, we were going to hear from him and that he was going to get somewhat in the mind of the audience again … I was really excited to see how it was going to go. And you know, actors love to die. I’m sorry, but they do. [Laughs] It’s an exciting thing.
What was it like filming the assassination scene? You guys filmed that outdoors — how did production manage to keep that a secret? How did you keep your death a secret?
Well, the production and folks that run House of Cards are just really on that. They do whatever they have to, you know? I just remember they kind of sequestered who needed to be sequestered … I wasn’t aware of it, which is good. It’s better for me to focus on my thing.
For me, it was fun, actually. I got really good at lying to people about it, if I do say so myself. I just said, “Oh yeah, I gotta go back down there and shoot more,” you know? I was long dead, but I was just lying to people’s faces. That’s a strong word, but I was protecting the story.
What were you thinking when you were filming that scene?
I remember we had incredible technical advisers that day, like Secret Service guys in there being like, “Okay, this is how it would go down. This is how you would react physically.” We also had an amazing stunt crew. I remember when the moves were decided, I just got excited. It felt right and it felt authentic, so it was fun to keep repeating and keep trying to refine [the scene].
Meechum also had another significant, big scene this season, when he and Frank drew on the wall of the White House. It’s one of the few touching moments in the show. What was that like to film? Did you and Kevin talk it over beforehand?
Not really. By this point, there’s a shorthand there [between us], and the writing of the scene was so good, we didn’t talk much about it. It was all there. And that happened to be my last day, actually. That was the last thing I shot, which probably made it extra special, but you still have to temper that, too.
But yeah, I loved [the scene]. It’s where we see Frank almost childlike. It’s interesting for the story to remember that that‘s also in this person, in this guy that we know will shove someone in front of a moving train, you know? And Meechum, too! Meechum, we see him mostly buttoned up. It’s hard to get a smile out of him, and we get it in that scene. It was fun to do.
On that note, what do you think Meechum meant to Frank?
I think Meechum kind of touched that sweet, light part of Frank. I mean, that’s how it seems. It doesn’t seem like, even after the threesome scene, that there was this dark, ravenous, “You belong to me” kind of thing [from Frank], or anything like that.
What about Meechum and Claire? Was there anything there that compared to Meechum and Frank?
I think he respected her, he loved her, definitely as the partner of his person in the world. He totally felt protected by her and he wanted that. I think he always wanted for her to be well. It was interesting, actually, when [Frank and Claire] sort of break up at the end of the third season. There were a couple of scenes between us, in fact, that didn’t make it into the fourth season. I remember shooting them, where [Meechum’s] feeling like, “Oh geez, mom and dad are fighting. What’s going on? I love them both! What’s happening? Oh no! I want them to be happy, they’re not happy!” It was a little thing, not a heavy dialogue scene, just a visual of that. We shot me and Stamper [played by Michael Kelly] going, “Uh, what’s happening?”
Other than filming the drawing scene, what was your last day on set like? How did you feel?
It was a really nice day. They had more to do that day, so I totally understood that, but Beau still took a second and got everybody’s attention and said some really nice words. And that was it. I said to some people, like, “Hey, I hope I see you guys at the next one!” … As an actor, you’re always coming together with people and you’re feeling intensely and doing your best, and then you come to a point where you all leave, so you’re happy for the experience but you feel nostalgic, that sort of thing.
Did you get a chance to have an exit chat with Kevin before you left?
Well, we’re good friends so we knew we were going to see each other, so there didn’t need to be anything. I hope we work together again. I’ll take a bullet for him again if I have to. [Laughs]
Did you take anything from set?
No, they took my fake gun from me, and they took my badge back. They took everything! I did have, well, I don’t know, this is such a weird, kind of a precious actor thing, but since season 1, I carried a Purple Heart [a medal awarded to those wounded in battle] in one of my pockets all the way through as Meechum. I actually bought it on the street before I even knew he served, because I just had this feeling that maybe he had. I wasn’t sure if it was Meechum’s or somebody else’s, but it was really fun to imagine what it was for. So I still have that!
House of Cards season 4 is streaming on Netflix.
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.