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House of Cards’ Mahershala Ali on Remy and Jackie, and Working on Mockingjay

Mahershala Ali. Photo: Nathaniel Bell/Netflix

House of Cards’ oil-and-gas lobbyist Remy Danton no longer works for Frank Underwood, but he sure does pop up at the vice-president’s office (and house) a lot. Is he showing up just to do his money-man Raymond Tusk’s dirty work — or does he actually just miss being around Frank? We asked Mahershala Ali, who plays the money-hungry Remy, what he makes of his character’s relationship to his ex-boss. Plus: Is Remy using his House Whip girlfriend, Jackie Sharp? And, HoC aside: What was it like to work with Jennifer Lawrence and Philip Seymour Hoffman on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay?

It seems that despite everything that’s happened between him and Frank, Remy still somehow remains loyal to him. Would you agree with that?
I do. I think it’s where he got his start, and I think he understands Frank quite a bit. And he is really more of an ally than a nemesis, and I think he would actually like to work closely with Frank. It just kind of didn’t work out that way, with who Remy allied himself at the end of last season. But I do think that Remy feels a sense of loyalty to Frank and would prefer to be on his good side.

Have you created a backstory for Remy?
Beau [Willimon, the creator] and I had discussed early on that his parents were initially from Haiti. But Remy grew up in the U.S., in a middle-class home. I kind of placed him in New York specifically, myself. And he definitely studied political science and went to law school, everything like that. So those are kind of the basic boxes that I checked to have an understanding of where he came from.

What do you think it is that drives him to want to make so much money?
For Remy, [success] has to be tangible: You have to be able to touch it. So it’s not so much that Remy is money-hungry, but I think in order to define yourself as successful, from his upbringing, I think you have to have a certain degree of money to be able to say and feel like you’re successful. And I don’t think that that’s true for Frank because he sees the world in a very different way.

As for what’s next for Remy: Do you think he’ll be able to make it work in Frank’s administration or is Jackie going to pose a problem to him?
It could definitely work. Remy’s an extraordinarily ambitious person … My instinct about the character is that he really needs to be on a certain trajectory, and I think that’s why he was so upset in the last episode speaking to Jackie about the plans moving forward: the fact that he would basically have a job in the administration but it wasn’t clear as to what that job would be. Because, money aside, Remy feels like he has to be heading in a certain direction in order to be at peace. He was a partner at a point, so for him to take a backseat would certainly be difficult for him, as far as his ego.

Let’s talk about the relationship with Jackie: To what extent was Remy just using her to get information verses really having feelings for her?
I could see how people would think that he was just using Jackie to get information. Maybe for a split second it was about that. But I feel like very quickly it became about, Here’s someone that feels like a match. And he’s attracted to her from the standpoint of being a woman that he respects and relates to and can have a conversation with. And so I felt like it was like a real relationship from the jump, and I think he’s surprised that she wants to continue on with the one-night-stand thing. He must feel like he’s a good catch! He’s got a good job. He’s doing well for himself. So everything Remy says is kind of on the nose. I think he really did and does care about her, like he says. Now, I don’t think he’s necessarily trying to get married at this point, but I think he just wanted to kind of explore where things were going to go.

By the end, it kind of seems like Jackie had the upper hand in the relationship, which I imagine would be difficult for someone like Remy, who’s so used to having the upper hand.
I can’t really say who has the upper hand, but I definitely believe that their vulnerabilities have both really been exposed. And I think in a sense she’s just really upset and disappointed with, in her mind, who he proves to be. And I think his argument is just, “I played by the rules that you set forth.” I think that’s where the gap is between the two of them. And I think if they had more time to talk it out, it’s one of those things where they would probably get back together, and try giving it another shot.

So maybe there’s hope for the future?
I feel like it could happen. Whether it does or doesn’t is kind of up to them, but I definitely feel like there’s an opening there.

What was it like shooting the sex scene between Remy and Jackie?
It was tough! For me. There’s nothing fun about 30 people standing around watching you, like, pretend to pleasure someone. Nothing enjoyable about it, believe me. So it gave me a certain degree of anxiety. But Molly [Parker] is amazing, she’s great, an extraordinary professional, so we got it done.

Your facial expression when she said that she’d killed people was pretty priceless.
Yeah, yeah. It was interesting just reading that and I was trying to figure out, How is this information coming out during this moment? [Laughs.]

You’re also The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Does Jennifer Lawrence fall down a lot on set?
[Laughs.] No, she stays on her feet on set, unless it’s written that she falls down. And I’d have to say that, out of everyone, she’s the coolest.

Can you talk at all about the rewrites that had to happen after Philip Seymour Hoffman died?
There’s one scene in particular that he really has to be in, and I think they’re going to address that with new technology that’s available to them now. But other than that, he’d already shot a lot of the stuff in part one and some key scenes in part two. He just was really wonderful to work with. Such an education coming to work and seeing him break down scenes and make suggestions and just raise the bar — like, take something that is almost a throwaway line and make it into something that is so much more important than what it was even intended to be. I’ve never seen anyone — and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really terrific actors in my time — but Philip Seymour Hoffman is definitely the best I ever had the opportunity to work with.

HoC’s Mahershala Ali on Remy and Jackie