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Nathan Darrow and Kevin Spacey on ‘House of Cards’
Warning: Spoilers ahead for House of Cards Season 4.
If you run into Nathan Darrow, a.k.a. Frank Underwood’s loyal bodyguard — and more — on House of Cards, be aware: he hasn’t seen all of Season 4 yet, especially the episodes after… you know.
“Thank you for asking me, and, no, I have not. I’ve seen a few episodes past Meechum’s big event,” Darrow tells Yahoo TV. “Don’t tell me anything.”
The actor has been a little busy, with roles on Billions, Gotham, HBO’s Bernie Madoff movie, and the upcoming final season of Rectify, so his own binge-watching of one of the most binge-watchable series has had to wait. Darrow talked with us about his thoughts on the dearly departed Meechum’s heroic death, about filming that memorable hand-tracing scene between Meechum and Frank Underwood, and about what he would have changed in the F.U. assassination attempt.
He also gives hints on what to expect with Mr. Freeze on Gotham, the “beautiful, sad” Rectify, and his portrayal of Bernie Madoff’s tragic younger son opposite Robert De Niro’s Madoff.
When will you catch up with Season 4? Is it a matter of you having been busy with a lot of other projects?
Yeah, that’s mostly it. It’s just having the time to sit down and give it the attention. I’m also just not a very organized person, but I do have a lot that I’m working on, thankfully.
It’s incredibly sad, obviously, Meechum’s death. I think we like all of the characters on House of Cards in that we’re entertained by all of them, but he’s the one character we actually like.
It’s interesting. Familiarity breeds contempt. We might like him because we don’t know that much about him. But, yeah, I like him. I think that his loyalty seemed to remain pure and was not adulterated by anything blatantly self-serving.
Exactly. Frank and Meechum were close, but I think Meechum was close to him in a different way. Stamper is close to Frank, too, and loyal, but it’s motivated by his own interests and keeping the power that he’s amassed. With Meechum, it wasn’t just that it was his job — he took a certain honor in protecting Frank and in dying for Frank, probably.
No question about it, absolutely. From Meechum’s perspective, I think that his experience is in a really hot combat zone. I think that there was then a need, once you survive that, to continue to have that kind of close loyalty with another person. I guess another man, a powerful man, there was something to that, too. But also that their relationship could be, I don’t know, mostly wordless, I think, was something that seemed in keeping with what Meechum needed in his life.
Touching on what you said about the purity of their relationship, I think we really see that, too, in what was another great Meechum/Frank moment this season, the hand-tracing scene.
That was so fun. I think it was so well rendered by the writers. To have it come up right before… you were talking about how Frank sees Meechum. Kevin [Spacey] would know more about this than me, but it seemed to me in reading the scripts and then playing them that it was like Frank could be more of a boy around Meechum, and there was a kind of quiet to it and a kind of a goofiness to it that was so much fun to play with Kevin. Yeah, that was a great scene to do, and it was the last scene I shot, actually.
Wow, you shot that after the assassination scene? Was it a little extra special, then, and a bit extra emotional?
Yeah, there is something extra, of course, but I’ve done a lot of plays, and so I’ve done a lot of last performances of runs that were long and important to me. You’re all getting together to do it one last time, and there’s always that extra feeling, but you have to manage it somewhat, because that performance can start to become about things that the audience is not in on at all. Same way when you’re doing a movie or TV show. You have to know that you’re still just telling a story, and this is still just a day in the life of these characters. As an actor, of course, you’re aware of what you’re feeling in life, and you’re always very opportunistic if that can help you, but sometimes it can push you into something else. I think we did all right with that. Kevin’s a total professional. It was just really fun.
It is fun and silly on one hand, but it is also really symbolic of their relationship. They both know what Frank has done, what he’s capable of, yet you get the feeling that Frank sees this little act as really rebellious, in a secret, bonding, sweet kind of way.
Oh, very much. Yes, absolutely. When you think of boys especially around age 10 —10 to 13 — they bond over breaking the rules and doing naughty things like that. Yeah, it’s an interesting moment for his character, too, I think, in terms of, as seriously as Frank takes everything, there’s also part of him that knows that it’s all absurd, and it’s all nothing. It’s all just writing on the wall. That’s probably what allows him to operate in the way he does. A lot of characters who are really dangerous and capable, they have that, I don’t know if you’d call nihilism, but that sense that this is all up for grabs, no rules here.
It’s also a sign, I think, of how much he does trust Meechum, just to be that vulnerable with him, to commit this little act of rebellion.
Was it tough to get through filming it without laughing?
Some of the laughter was good. I hope some of that got in there. It’s hard to act with Kevin for me personally, without laughing, because I think I just enjoy him so much. We enjoy each other, so that is a constant something that I have to be managing, regardless of whether the scene is serious, or funny, or naughty, or whatever.
You two are friends, right, and were before House of Cards?
Yeah, we are.
You never want to lose a job, but did the way Meechum die make it easier to accept that end for the character?
Absolutely. When [showrunner] Beau Willimon called me, this is a few months before we got back to work on the season, and told me that this is where the story was going… sure, yeah, it was a job, whatever, but that’s the life. We leave all the time. But this is a great story… that’s always the most important thing. The thing that’s always going to give us all the most pleasure, whether we’re working or not, is that we’re telling the story in a way that’s understandable and interesting. I think it was totally right for Meechum’s character. I thought it was great. The only problem I had with it was that Frank even took one piece of a bullet. If I’d have written it, he would’ve gotten away completely unscathed.
Because Meechum took his job that seriously.
Yeah, absolutely. I also think that would’ve been interesting. I’m not rewriting the show, but when somebody has a brush with death, and they are physically, completely intact, I think that there’s a different psychology attached versus somebody who is then actually hit and then they have the physical experience of fighting for their life. I think somebody with as many sins on his head as Frank, to have to deal with that and not have the out of, “Well, I got punished a little bit,” would’ve been interesting.
How did you prepare for that whole sequence? Did you talk to Secret Service agents?
Yeah, we had great advisors that day. We’ve had advisors throughout, but especially that day, we had advisors that had been Secret Service, who, along with the stuntmen and women, took us through how this probably would go down, to where we had a move that we could do that seemed right. It was safe, and it was also just fun and interesting to do. I think we all believed in what we had, what we had set up, and we just kept playing it until they had what they needed. They had to keep it real secret, though. There were a lot of extras and stuff, so they had to really try to keep it under wraps.
There were several mentions throughout this season of Ronald Reagan. When I saw the scene, it reminded me of the footage of the Reagan assassination attempt.
Yeah, I heard Robin [Wright] say that, that she had looked at that footage a lot, and they wanted to be inspired by that, yeah.
We’ve seen several other major characters, Zoe and Peter Russo, pop up after being killed off. As important as Meechum is to Frank, how likely do you think it is for him to show up again?
That’s so funny. I don’t know. Totally up to the writers, but I will admit to you, when I saw the whole sequence with Zoe and Peter, I did sort of get a little bit excited. I was like, “Oh, man. If they ever…” Yeah, it would be so interesting. Of course, it would be interesting to play that, to play whatever they came up with. I would be happy to work with all those folks again, any day.
Darrow on ‘Gotham’
You’re going to have to find some opening in your schedule, though. You’re back on Gotham, playing Mr. Freeze. He has no motivation at this point not to just wreak havoc, right? He not only lost his wife, but he lost the choice to end his own life and his pain, that was taken away from him. What can you say about his return?
Everything you’re saying I am totally with. That’s totally what I daydream about now in playing him. I will say, I guess, that humans look for something. We always look for something. He’s going to look. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, he’s going to look for some reason to keep going and to keep being. We’ll see what that is. That character had everything… he was invested in his wife and in what he had with his wife. That went really bad, so, yeah, big changes ahead.
You just signed on for the final season of Rectify… you’re playing a classmate of Amantha’s?
Yep. I figured that, but I got to tell you, I know so little about it. I fly out today, so I have not even started working on it. I only have one script where [my character] appears, but I can’t wait. I’ve been watching the show. I think it is beautiful in such a sad, sad, pleasurable way. Because it’s so simple. It’s just people dealing with themselves. There’s not huge things happening, it’s just we all deal with our patterns. It’s heartbreaking. For me, things like that make me love people more.
You also have Wizard of Lies, the HBO Bernie Madoff movie, coming up this year. You play Madoff’s youngest son, Andrew?
Yeah, and that was so great to work on. I think the script they made was so, so interesting. I think it’s really useful to look at that story, and from as many angles as we can. I would say as a community, if you call America a community, it’s instructive on a lot of levels. It seems like all we have at this point is, "Oh, he’s the most evil man there ever was,” but I think money just clouds things for people. I think the movie as written, and I think as we were shooting it, it was a more interesting look into [the story].
Andrew died before you started filming. Did you have the chance to talk to anyone close to him?
No, I didn’t, and I will always feel badly about that. Lily, who plays [Andrew’s fiancé] Catherine Hooper, actually ended up getting to meet Catherine Hooper. I remember after she met her, [we were] in the makeup trailer, and she was like, "Nathan, why didn’t you meet Catherine?” I was like, “Yeah, you’re right. Why didn’t I?” [The Wizard of Lies book author] Diana Henriques, who is in the movie and plays herself, she knew Andrew, so I talked to her a little bit. Honestly, too, the script was so good. I watched a lot of footage of him, or what exists, and I felt like I got a pretty good sense of him. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see how it looks, see how it works out.
How closely did you work with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as Bernie and Ruth?
Pretty closely. Less with Michelle, because we only had three scenes together, and then more with De Niro. It was just incredible to be with those two. They were so good in these roles. That’s a crazy dream come true.
Do we get a good sense from this telling of the story how unimaginable the situation was for the sons, having to turn their father in?
I think most of us experience this period of time in which we realize that our parents are really just lost idiots like everyone else. Those two guys had it immediate and upfront, and a little bit worse than just, “Oh, my parents are clueless people struggling.” That is just a crazy shock to the system.
Where we left off heading into Season 4:
All four seasons of House of Cards are streaming on Netflix. Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.