vulture festival 2015

House of Cards Showrunner Beau Willimon on the Underwoods’ Marriage and Why He Wants Hillary in 2016

Vulture Festival Presents: Beau Willimon In Conversation
Beau Willimon. Photo: Anna Webber/Getty Images for New York Magazine

Watching his Netflix drama, you might presume that House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon is rooting for some dark-horse candidate to take the White House via some evil Shakespearean plot next November. But you’d be wrong — he just wants Hillary Clinton to win fair and square, and he explained why at the second annual Vulture Festival today, during a talk moderated by Vulture’s Gazelle Emami.

Here’s Willimon on Hillary Clinton:

“It’s way too early to tell [what 2016 will look like]. I’m a Democrat, obviously, because of the people that I’ve worked for [Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean]. I’m a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, and I think she would make a great president. There is no one in the Republican field to my fancy [laughs], but we’ll see. It’s impossible to tell. As inevitable as it seems that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee for the Democratic Party, the only thing you can know for a fact in politics is that you never know. You never know what might happen. Personally, I hope she is the nominee, but you never know.”

On why he decided Frank and Claire Underwood should split up:

We didn’t realize when we were crafting seasons one and two where this marriage would go. And as we got to the discussions of season three, we often asked ourselves, “What are the things that are most important to the show?” And at that point it became clear that this marriage was at the core of the show. Whatever this marriage is was something that we were deeply interested in. So we said, “Okay, what’s the story of this marriage moving forward? And how far can we take it? What is the biggest journey from A to B that we can tell in 13 hours?” And if it seemed like the Underwoods were stronger than ever at the end of season two, the natural opposite of that would be that they break apart. That was a really provocative idea for us, because all of the strength was premised on this idea that together they make each other more formidable. So we asked, “Is that even possible for these two? Would they ever allow this to happen?” And looking back at how we had charted the marriage over seasons one and two, we realized we had actually already laid the groundwork. We had seen friction between them. We had seen Claire subsume her own ambitions for the sake of the greater good of the two of them but ultimately Francis, and it opened up a whole bunch of ideas about the story, and it took us to that place. But we knew we would have to earn it, and that’s why we spent so much time focusing on the emotional journeys of the characters in season three and a bit less on the political machinations. Which was also because if we just kept doing political machinations and intrigue exclusively, and racking up victories for Team Underwood, we would be repeating ourselves. And we needed to see where their vulnerabilities were, where their limits were, and that they’re not invincible.” 

On the fan reaction to season three:

“The majority of our fans were appreciative and excited that we explored some new territory. There was definitely a contingent of the fan base that was bummed out that they didn’t get to see this dynamic duo continue to kick ass. They had seen the knuckle rap on the desk at the end of season two, and thought, Now we’re gonna see Francis Underwood in the White House just tearing it up. And what we established pretty quickly in episode one is this was a difficult path. That despite his political prowess, even Frank Underwood under the pressures of the presidency wasn’t going to have a cakewalk. And we ended the season in a way that we had not done in the first two, which is on a downbeat. Her walking out that door is the farthest thing from a victory that could happen, and in seasons one and two you had seen him achieve vice-presidency and presidency. This was not that.

So there was a lot that was sort of different from season three, and I think that some of the fan base that wasn’t as interested in that, my hope is that they will see this as a part of the whole and that by exploring this territory, the show as an entire entity, we will make the show in a big picture way richer, and that this was necessary for us to go down this route, and that the alternative would have been more of the same.”

On Stephen Colbert’s cameo this past season:

I fully expected Stephen to say no [to making a cameo and writing his own lines]. I said, “Look, you are going to be way funnier than anything I can write. I will send you a sample script of the shape of the scene,” and I sent him all this material on America Works, I thought maybe they could ad-lib — I know Kevin’s a great ad-libber — that’ll be way more authentic than if we just script it. And I got on the phone with him and he was like, “I think this is pretty good, we should use most of this.” I was like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me, I can’t write comedy to save my life.” He was like, “No, no, your jokes are good, but I’m going to change a few, if that’s okay.” I said, “Please, please, change whatever you want.” 

And then we got in and we did it at his studio with a live audience. We said to the crowd, “All right, none of you can say anything.” We didn’t tell them it was for the show, we told them we were gonna do a couple bits for the Colbert Report, but don’t ever tweet or talk about this at all — and miraculously none of the audience did for months and months. What you saw was part of an eight-minute bit that they shot with their cameras and crew that was a mixture of script and improv. A bunch of the things Stephen said were a mix of our stuff and his, but the line about the lampreys sucking the crouton dry, that was all him.

Beau Willimon Wants Hillary in 2016