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Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 5 of House of Cards.
Two words: subway train. That’s how House of Cards journalist Zoe Barnes died, when the very powerful enemy she’d made in future President Frank Underwood pushed her right in front of an oncoming train. And Zoe was a relatively inexperienced journalist… so how has her former boss, Tom Hammerschmidt, managed to continue standing, when his continuing investigation of Frank and (now POTUS) Claire Underwood threatens to render all their machinations and murders pointless?
Yahoo TV talked to star Boris McGiver about how his character Tom survived Season 5 to keep the good fight going to topple the Underwoods’ regime. McGiver, also known for his work on Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, and Person of Interest, also talked about Tom’s commitment to representing the principles of the Fourth Estate, why he thinks ol’ F. U. respects Tom, and how he hopes things only get tougher for Tom if House of Cards is renewed for a sixth season.
It’s been very nice to see Tom, a journalist, portrayed as a hero in the story. That’s certainly not always how members of the media are portrayed these days.
No, it’s not, and thank you for saying that. I can’t take the credit, really, other than just filling in between the lines of the wonderful writing on this show. The producers and writers chose to do this, and I think it’s an amazing thing. I’m really happy to be able to represent that. It’s also happening. People are really stepping up, journalists are really stepping up. We’re seeing that finally. It took us a bit of a rocky bottom to make everyone step up and start really pulling out the stops on vetted journalism and resisting.
You’re giving the writers credit, of course, but I think one of the things that’s specific to your performance with Tom. He knows what happened to Lucas and to Zoe. There’s a weariness about Tom, but he never allows it to dampen his commitment to the big-picture goals, to what his job is.
Oh, good. You know, yeah, I see that now that you bring that up. I guess, in my personal life, I guess I’ve been through a fair amount of difficulties. Not necessarily going into specifics, but yeah, there was a lot of death and a lot of rough times. I grew up in a family of 10 kids, so I had nine siblings. I think that alone would be enough background for difficulties. You’re not raised by parents when there are that many kids in the family. It’s kind of a Lord of the Flies-type deal. As lovely as my siblings can be, growing up was a bit like Lord of the Flies.
When you have enough of that, I guess, that’s part of what I see in Tom Hammerschmidt… yeah, I think, just like cops, I think he’s seen a lot of horror. You don’t take it in stride by any means, but you accept it and you work one more tiny little stone in your path ahead to try to keep going and make something worthwhile of it.
What did the writers and producers tell you about Season 5 for Tom and his storyline, before production began this season?
Hmm, good question. In Season 4 when they brought me back, Beau sat me down and said, “Here’s what we were thinking. Here’s where you’re ultimately going to have meetings and investigate the man himself. You’re going to bring this right to his… nose to nose.” In Season 5, they didn’t, necessarily, because I think the trajectory was pretty much set up. I just knew episode to episode what was going to happen.
Did that help put you in Tom shoes, then, not knowing from episode to episode what was going to happen?
Oh, absolutely. It’s an eerily thrilling ride to get a script. Now it’s done by email, of course. You get a script and you open it up and you think, “OK, here comes the subway train.” You know? Are they gonna find Tom in a back alley somewhere cut up and put in a dumpster? I do worry about Tom surviving, as everyone should in House of Cards… certainly after having gotten beat up last season and realizing when you get that close to someone who is capable of murder, you’re not dealing with a normal criminal here. You’re dealing with someone who’s got a lot of power and a lot of channels of using that power. That said, I think, as a seasoned journalist, I think there’s plenty of awareness of what a phone tap would be like, how those things happen, how to cover one, but also, how to backtrack through an alley and make sure you’re not followed. I think a lot of that stuff is certainly within Tom’s purview. It’s very exciting to stay moment to moment. And hopefully stay alive.
Tom really would seem to be one of the most dangerous people to the Underwoods, yet he’s still standing, when so many others aren’t at this point. Why do you think Frank and Claire’s toughest adversary has survived so far?
Well, one word: Russia, and the implications of that. Do we want to become Russia? Does a President want to suddenly be compared with… oligarchy is a very kind word for the tyrant, Putin, and what he’s done with his journalists. I think that’s the difference. And I don’t think it’s that easy to get away with, in this country, to murder a journalist. We’re seeing signs of it, skipping to the real world for a moment. [Greg Gianforte], our most newly elected member of Congress who assaulted a journalist from [The Guardian] for asking a question, for God’s sake. Thank God, he was at least brought to justice, quote unquote, but our justice system did work within that, and he did have to plead guilty, so in a sense, we are not Russia. Once the story did initially come out, that’s when Tom was safe, I think. Safer than when he was just investigating. Remember he talked with Margaret Tilden, his boss. She said, “Be careful, I’ve already lost one.” He said, “Don’t worry. Once this is out, I’m fine.”
Do you think, at least on Frank’s part, that there is also a respect for Tom?
Yes, that’s a great point. I do think so. I think there’s an intelligence, an awareness that, when you can put together the puzzle that wasn’t even given to you, there’s got to be a respect.
It appears Doug Stamper is going to pay for Zoe’s death, but he is very wily, so we can’t totally trust that. But I don’t think Tom will be satisfied until the actual person responsible, the person who committed the murder, is punished for it. Do you think that’s true?
Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. Sure, it’s great to finally get someone to pay for their crime and it’s satisfying for a bit, but ultimately, I think, for Tom Hammerschmidt, no it wouldn’t be. Ultimately, it would come back to what’s next, and how many of the threads were never covered. I think that’s a big weight that Tom carries with him.
What is your hope for Season 6, assuming it happens? Where would you like to see Tom’s story go for the next season?
Ooh, I would love to see it get hairier and deeper. Even to the point of getting to investigate the President herself and her involvement and maybe [Frank], who’s been left out. Then, with this, you know, is there gonna be a pardon? And does [Frank] become more of a source, because clearly he was the source this season. It seems like it’ll get really wonderfully, eerily and disgustingly baroque I think. This is my hope, that it gets weirdly baroque and difficult.
There were several real-life journalists in the show, making cameos. Have people commented to you on how much they enjoy your portrayal of Tom, of a political journalist as a hero in the show?
Yes. I will tell you, I spoke with Rachel Maddow, because I had a scene with her. It was a very quick shoot because she was doing her show, and then we actually went to her studio. And we only had like 35, maybe maximum 45, minutes or something, before the next [show] was being taped. We had to get in there, get out. Normally the scene would have taken three or four hours.
As soon as we finished, I gave her a compliment really quick. I grabbed her hand, with both of my hands and I said, “I just want to thank you for really standing up and being an amazing member of the Fourth Estate.” She turned that compliment of mine so fast around to me, saying, “You know, we can do what we do because we see a representation of great journalists like you [as] Tom.” I thought, “What?!” It was really great. I appreciated the compliment, but I think she was being a little too gracious in that moment because she’s the one. But, yeah, it was nice.
House of Cards Season 5 is streaming on Netflix.
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