House of Cards showrunners on final season without Kevin Spacey: 'It was a significant pivot'
House of Cards has always managed to surprise viewers with twists. But the drama had its own offscreen shock last fall: Production was halted after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against star Kevin Spacey, who played power-hungry politician Frank Underwood.
Ultimately, showrunners Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson decided to do the final season without Spacey. EW spoke with them about the actor and how season 6, debuting Nov. 2 on Netflix, shifts the focus to Frank’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your reactions to the Kevin Spacey allegations?
MELISSA JAMES GIBSON: Highly distressing.
FRANK PUGLIESE: It was disappointing, and yet at the same time there was work to be done, and there was an attitude of trying to finish the story that we began. So that was a priority.
Did you have any indication of this alleged behavior?
GIBSON: No. Even though we started writing for this show in season 3, we weren’t on set until season 5 when we took over as co-showrunners [from creator Beau Willimon]. If we had ever had anything reported to us or been aware of anything, of course we would have reported it because we took that seriously as our jobs and our position of authority.
Frank appears to be dead based on a new trailer, but did you ever think the series should just end?
PUGLIESE: That probably was a thought. The truth is, there was a story that was initiated — a story about a marriage and what was happening to the partnership. Even where season 5 ended, with Claire saying, “My turn,” it seemed impossible not to tell her story. So whatever the conditions, however it broke, we had to tell her story.
GIBSON: One of our driving narrative forces [for season 6 has been] an exploration of “Who owns the White House?” It also became a season of reckoning for Claire to face herself in a way that maybe she’s never had to, to this degree. A reckoning with her own ambition and herself and the definition of power.
Losing your main character, did this require a page one rewrite?
GIBSON: Look, it was a significant pivot, obviously. We had to rethink to a profound degree. However, I would say thematically and what it felt like the show needed to grapple with, at the end of the day didn’t change so much. It was just the elements changed.
PUGLIESE: We had an idea how to finish this story, and maybe the specifics of it had to change, but it would be disingenuous to change that so we had to complete it where it felt true to the story we were telling.
At the end of season 5, it seemed like Leann (Neve Campbell) had died in a car accident. What can you say about her?
GIBSON: Well, that’s another thing that will have to get negotiated … the fallout from that.
PUGLIESE: The notion of reckoning will play out across the characters and the sort of shifting notion of who is Claire’s partner? Doug (Michael Kelly) potentially being one or not. Something we’re always going to be playing with. But there’s a lot to be reckoned with after six seasons of the show.
GIBSON: Right. And is this country ready for a female president? Will they allow it? You know? That is a huge thing hanging over the season. The real world didn’t.
What can you say about Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear, who are joining the cast as siblings who become involved in Claire’s presidency?
PUGLIESE: In the last couple years there’s been an opportunity to explore generational aspects of D.C. and how new power moves in and out of D.C.
What was the final day of shooting like?
GIBSON: It was sad. It was cathartic. It was draining. It was exhilarating. It was a really amazing day.
PUGLIESE: Nobody wanted of leave. We just stayed. Some people stayed ’til daybreak. Nobody wanted to leave the set.
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.