Spoilers ahead for season 4 of House of Cards.
Ed Meechum, a devoted soldier in Frank’s army and onetime threesome-partner of the Underwoods, went the way of many a House of Cards character this season: He was killed in an act of violence that, at root, was set into motion by Frank. How does it feel to meet a brutal end in such a brutal show? Nathan Darrow told Vulture about his experience on the House of Cards set, how President Underwood has a lot in common with LBJ, and what it was like to say good-bye to one of the only people Frank Underwood would (probably) never try to have murdered.
I should start by offering my condolences. How did you find out that your character was going to die?
In this case, Beau Willimon gave me a call maybe a month and a half before we were going to get back together and work on the fourth season, and he told me this is how the story was going to go. As an actor, it's tough to know that you're going to have to be looking for work and not be with all the folks like I was all the time. But I thought that it was a really appropriate ending for the character. In some weird way, that was probably how he would have chosen it, too. I think that's what he wanted: He wanted to be there, completely, for Frank, and for Claire. To give his life seemed right.
How would you describe the relationship between Frank and Meechum? It seems like there’s real tenderness there, and obviously they’ve got some history.
It's interesting. It's at once goofy and innocent, and then, of course, it's been naughty, and I think there's some depth to it. I don't even know if they, themselves, quite understand what they're after in each other, you know? It's something very compelling. I, sort of outside of it, have thought about it from Meechum's perspective. I think it has to do with his intense experiences in combat. He was literally in those situations where his life is in someone else's hands and someone else’s life was in his, and I think when a lot of soldiers leave the theater of war, even if they're survived with all their limbs, they probably miss that. You don't get that intensity when you're driving around to the mall and buying your toilet paper. So for Meechum, there's something in him that is after that.
How aware do you think Meechum was of Frank’s ruthlessness? Frank kind of downplays that side of himself when they're together, so I wonder, does Meechum have a real grasp on what Frank is capable of?
He has the type of devotion that, even if he did see it, it might not make such a difference. But you're right: The way the show is written, and maybe this is some of what Frank sees in Meechum, he knows that there's this kind of presence that is more simple and innocent, that he himself then feels his more innocent parts, however small and dwindling they are as the story goes on. It's kind of like, Meechum has a calming effect on Frank. It's amazing that he, in the fourth season, reads Meechum's innocence in the whole “did he leak the photos?” deal. It’s hard for Frank to believe, and he has to ask, but he doesn't even press him in the typical Frank way. It's like he is stopped from it, in a way.
How does Frank get that kind of devotion from people? He seems to bring it out in the people closest to him. I wrote about this in one recap, that I think Doug would literally claw his liver out of his body with his own fingernails if he could, just to save Frank’s life. And Meechum, as we’ve seen, will take bullets for the guy.
Well, he's powerful. And there's something that's kind of pure about him, very natural. I don't know if you know much about LBJ, but I think the character shares a lot with [him]. And he apparently had the same kind of thing: He had people that became utterly devoted to him. Even late in life, they still would sort of cower when he raised his voice. I don't think it can be quite put into words. In Meechum's case, there's also something in that person that wants to be in that situation, that wants to be the ultimate loyal soldier.
What is it like to shoot these really intimate scenes with Kevin Spacey?
As powerful a presence as he is, and as talented and looming, there's part of Kevin that's very much alive, that is still like the guy in high school that walks down to the drama department and finds that these are his folks. There's still part of him that's really amazed and excited by what we all get to do and what we're doing. So there's part of him that can be really, really elated and effusive and goofy. If you see him in an interview, doing impressions, you know he's kind of goofy.
What are his best impressions?
I really like his Marlon Brando a lot. Of course I like his Jack Lemmon, because there's something special in that one, because he knew him so well. My favorite, favorite, favorite impression that Spacey does is William Hurt.
What’s your take on the Underwood marriage? Do you think they belong together because no one else will ever understand them? Or is whatever they had beyond repair?
You’re probably ahead of me, because I haven't even seen any of the fourth season. I haven't seen anything beyond when I go to the other world. What I know of it so far, I still kind of root for them to find their way back, personally. But I don't know. There's also an interesting story in how people, how their ambition, and how maybe their resentment can start to corrode what is there and get even too gnarly for two really tough people like them.
My take is that Claire is the brains in that marriage, and Frank’s fatal mistake is that he thinks they’re equals, or that he’s always the smartest person in the room.
She seems to have more emotional control, which is always formidable.
Has being on the show affect how you feel about politics in real life?
What I've actually responded to in the show is more stuff about the human side: the psychology, the paranoia of power and the inner lives of the people, and how lonely they seem. I guess one thing though is, I've been thinking lately about democracy in America and how incredibly difficult and messy it is, and maybe some of that is the result of the show. That also might just be by paying attention, finally, to how it all is. The Constitution is beautiful, but it asks for us to put up with a lot from each other, and it asks us to be really honest with ourselves.
Is it possible that reality will out-crazy the show? It must be hard for the writers to come up with anything that’s more bonkers than all these presidential hopefuls. How do you feel about the election?
I think that this cycle has maybe convinced me even more to educate myself and involve myself. And actually, to maybe involve myself even more locally, because it just seems like, it doesn't work without, if not 100 percent engagement, more than 30 percent engagement.
Reflecting on this experience, do you feel like you were part of something groundbreaking with Netflix? House of Cards really set the tone for what these streaming platforms could do as content creators.
I'm just really happy I got to do it. It's really cool to me that it was Netflix and it was this different thing, but, of course, I never thought about that. I don't think any of us did. We were all trying to get together and make something that was good, and we worked hard at it. And that was really fun and challenging. For me, I had done mostly theater, which doesn't mean I was totally unprepared, but it was very different. There was a lot for me to learn as an actor and a human being during the show.
Do you have any predictions for how it all ends? Is this going to be a Shakespearean tragedy-type thing, where almost everyone is dead at the end except, like, one blood-splattered White House aide, who survives to tell us what went wrong?
I don't know! I will say that there's this story about LBJ, when he goes back to his hometown, and he's talking to a reporter — and this is way after he's out of office. He tells this reporter something like, “this is the first time we did such and such,” and he was talking about this college election that he rigged. And I think that's interesting. Imagining him getting away with it.