[Spoiler alert: This interview will cover the entire second season.] Frank Underwood chooses Jackie Sharp, a third-term Congresswoman, to replace him as majority whip in House of Cards’ second season for many reasons: She’s served as military intelligence, she has a clean history, and “more importantly,” he says, she possesses “ruthless pragmatism.” The fact that she’s dropped bombs on enough Iraqi civilians to keep her up at night? He likes that. Whether she’s as ruthless as Underwood himself remains to be seen. She hasn’t killed anyone without military orders (yet), but she was quick to throw Ted Havemeyer, a man she’s known since she was 4, under the bus. (Remember, though, she felt bad about hurting his wife: She got another poppy tattoo to distract herself from the emotional pain.) More proof that she can be vulnerable is the fact that she seems to have fallen in love with Remy Danton, Raymond Tusk’s right-hand man and, thus, Underwood’s enemy. We spoke to Molly Parker about developing the character, whether she’s playing a sociopath, and that time Sharp made Remy “FINISH.”
Jackie says on at least two occasions that she’s not Frank Underwood. Is she fooling herself?
I think that she’s an ambitious woman. She’s very interested in being in leadership and having power. But I think that she is also a principled person — at the very least, principled in terms of having been a soldier and what that means to her.
It certainly didn’t take much for her to turn on Ted, though.
Well, I think she thinks Ted is weak. I think she loves him and she really does appreciate everything he’s done for her — she says he’s family — but at the same time, I think she sees his weakness. I think it’s hard for her to do, but she does get there.
Also, he was willing to live a lie for the sake of his seat, he was willing to never see his own daughter for it. So why wouldn’t he think Jackie was willing to expose his secret for the sake of her own advancement? It’s terrible, but if we’re working in the world of House of Cards, I think he was underestimating her.
Yeah. All of these characters do things like this. All of them. Every single person in this show. And they are all ambitious, and they are all self-seeking. So, really, the degrees are: How much do they feel it? How much does it hurt? What does it cost? Is there guilt? Is there struggle? And, to me, Jackie, she’s tough, but she’s not a sociopath.
What did Beau Willimon [the creator] tell you about the character before you came onboard?
That she was a third-term congresswoman. That she was a war veteran. That she came out of military intelligence; she had to make some hard calls. And it evolved. When he hired me, I think he knew basically what he wanted to do, but we didn’t know if she was married or any of that stuff. So that came out of a conversation that he and I had that she would be single. It’s unusual. You don’t see that very often: A single woman gets elected. Condoleezza Rice is single, but she’s not elected. She was appointed. So it’s not something you see very often. They sort of address aspects of that in the show when Claire is being interviewed about not having children. This idea that she’s not a real woman, that’s she’s not nurturing.
Were there things that, when you were developing the character, you wanted to avoid? Certain ice-queen stereotypes or caricatures?
Honestly, I think that there are incredibly strong women on this show and it’s not like, Look at us! We’re a show with strong women on it! It’s just this world. So what we talked about specifically was more that this is a woman who is comfortable in a patriarchal system. She’s come up through the military. She’s come up in a system that’s patriarchal. So she knows how to be in a room with powerful men. She knows how to be the only woman in the room. One of the things that I appreciate: I think that she owns her sexuality. I don’t think that it’s used in a way that feels like, Oh, she’s using her feminine wiles to get what she wants. I never feel like that about her. That said, she’s not afraid to just like, you know, own it. She owns it. I think that she’s someone who owns her power.
She owns it in the same way a man owns it: When a powerful man goes into a room, he’s not suddenly without his sexuality. That said … she does have the affair with Remy.
Well, it’s not an affair. Nobody’s married. They sleep together and it becomes a relationship. I guess you could say that it has qualities of an affair because of their work stuff. They wouldn’t really want anybody to know. But they also don’t really hide it all that well. He shows up at her office [laughs]. You know?
I guess it’s not an affair. But there’s a conflict of interest because Frank and Tusk are at odds with each other. And because they are people who are obsessed with their jobs, they can’t take work out of the equation like they say they will.
But I think it’s also what’s hot about the relationship. Every scene in this show is about power. Who has the power? Sexual dynamics are about power. And so every one of those scenes between them is about who has the power and who is willing to give it up. Who’s the top? Who’s the dog? I love the scene where he is asking her to tell him about the tattoo, and she just says, “No.” And then he coerces her [by fingering her]. But the intimacy is very interesting. The intimacy is gotten through this sexual thing, but it’s other than that.
I’d say that Jackie is the one with the power in that scene. He’s trying to process what she just told him, that she’s killed people, and she just says, “finish.”
That was awesome.
Has Jackie fallen in love with Remy?
I don’t know. I don’t know if she knows really what is. I think she’s so uncomfortable being vulnerable, and he is so dominant in that way. Right away, he’s like, “This isn’t going to work for me unless it’s a real thing.” I think it just surprises the shit out of her, because she really thinks this gorgeous, beautiful man … in some ways, she would never have assumed that he would fall for her. She wants it, but it’s not anything in her wheelhouse that she’s known how to do.
By the end, she’s totally shocked that Remy kept a secret from her about Tusk. It felt like a betrayal to her. So she obviously expects some greater loyalty from him at this point, right?
Yeah, because she started to love him. And I think she felt loved by him and even though those were her rules, it’s that moment where it’s like, “Yeah, I know I said that, but it doesn’t matter! You’re supposed to care about me and take care about me.” And that’s what we expect from the people we become intimate with. I think also, she’s very afraid that he used her and that she had been totally foolish.
Let’s talk about Jackie’s story line with Claire: Jackie refuses to sponsor Claire’s sexual assault bill. It feels like fighting rape in the military is such a feminist issue … I’d expect her to be onboard.
Right, and I think that’s what we all assume. I think that’s what’s confusing to everybody. That’s what’s confusing to Claire about it … but this woman is a soldier before she’s a woman. And it’s not about the rape situation for her. It’s about if you give [civilian oversight] in one area, it erodes the whole thing. And if it erodes it, then you have nothing. Because really, civilian oversight protects her from what she’s done. You can’t expect soldiers to do what you ask them if they’re not protected in that way.
The chain of command is fundamentally so important to the military. It’s what allows soldiers to do things that we would otherwise call murder. They do them because those are the orders. She’s given orders. So for her to then go ahead and live with what she’s done … for her specifically, she’s had to embrace this wholeheartedly. She was given orders, you know? And I think most days she can live with herself, if she thinks of it that way. And then I think there are days when she can’t.
And that’s when she gets another poppy tattoo. Okay, here’s a question you can’t answer, but let’s think: Given that Jackie did what Frank asked of her, and whipped the votes to get the president impeached, what’s next for her? Will he reward her by making her head of Homeland Security?
I honestly have no idea what they’re planning. I think they’re working it out. I know that I have a job, I can tell you that. At some point [in the season], Frank says [to the president], “Maybe if we offer Jackie Speaker of the House, she’ll stop with this.” It’s when he’s still pretending that he’s not behind her when she’s whipping the vote, like it’s her thing she’s doing. He says, “Maybe if we offer her Speaker of the House …” But that’s just an angle. So I think anything’s possible.