Today, House of Cards Season 6 drops on Netflix. And I’m in it.
I honestly never thought I’d get the chance to work on House Of Cards, one of my favorite shows. When it premiered in 2013, I thought, “Whoa.” I was very hooked. So were a lot of other people, since the series became an award-nomination magnet. It’s so good, it literally launched Netflix as a network.
My experience was a crazy roller coaster ride that taught me a lot, and of course along the way I followed my own rules for getting booked again and again. So here are five things I learned from my time working on House of Cards:
Lesson 1: Never stop dreaming.
In 2013 I didn’t have many TV credits and self-taping hadn’t yet caught on. Realistically, my chances of getting seen for HOC were pretty slim. It would have been easy to say, “I’ll never work on that show,” but I never gave up on it. I just put it on my bucket list, and followed the series as a fan like everyone else.
But in the fall of 2017, I got a call to audition for HOC and the dream started to seem like it could become reality. I was so excited, I about pooped my pants.
I worked on those sides like crazy. I worked with a coach. I put more time into that audition than a lot of others. Which brings me to:
Lesson 2: Work hard for all your auditions, not just the ones you really want.
Look, actors are not fans of everything we’re sent. There are times when we get an audition and are like, “This isn’t the greatest stuff I’ve ever read.” Unfortunately we don’t usually get to choose what to audition for, and it’s easy to do the bare minimum for the unimpressive ones.
But what if you prepped for every audition like you’re reading for one of your bucket list shows? I bet your booking ratio would go up.
I self-taped my HOC audition, sent it off, and forgot about it. I follow the ten minute rule, where I take a short time to think about how the audition went, then I forget about it. I don’t dwell.
Three weeks later, I’m in my car and my manager calls with news of the pin for HOC and I almost rear-ended the guy in front of me. A pin isn’t a booking, but the dream was one step closer to reality.
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After another few weeks of waiting and wondering, it became official: I was the choice for Special Agent Bowman, Claire Underwood’s lead Secret Service Agent. If you were there the moment the call came in, you would have witnessed a grown man literally jumping for joy.
After years of wondering what it would be like to work on HOC, I was going to get the chance to find out. I was booked as a guest star with the possibility of recurring in later episodes, though casting didn’t yet know what the plan was for Agent Bowman.
The very first step in my prep involved stopping my mind from racing. I was wondering how many eps I’d get, what my story line would be like (RIP Agent Meechum in season 4), what it would be like to shoot, whether the job would lead to future bookings. My brain was humming with what it meant for my career, if anything.
Lesson 3: Ignore the “What if’s,” and go with what you know.
I had one episode, and letting my ego take over wasn’t a good choice. My goal was to be ultra-prepped for my first day on set, and give the writers and producers every reason to bring me back for another episode. Spending time thinking about everything that could happen was just going to distract me from what was definitely going to happen.
On the day, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast. I usually don’t get star struck, but the self doubt was creeping in hard. I wondered if I was good enough to be there. I wondered how long would it take for them to figure out that I don’t know what I’m doing.
It was surreal walking through the sets, all perfect models of iconic rooms in the White House: the Roosevelt Room, the Residence. My first scene was in the Oval Office (!!) with my two new besties, Robin Wright and Campbell Scott. Both were amazingly friendly and generous. Shooting was fast-paced, and Robin collaborated with director Alik Sakahrov and co-showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese to keep the pace even more brisk.
Lesson 4: Don’t repeat yourself.
We were shooting the opening scene of the season, and Robin never played the it the same way twice. She’d do it one way, then say, “Ok we’ve got that, what do you want to see differently?” She was always pushing to be more specific, asking more questions, looking for more input from the team until she was convinced the editor had enough options. I just kept my mouth shut and tried to learn because school was in session and the lecture was pretty riveting.
Often we come into a shoot having made choices about what we’re going to do with a scene, and we beat that drum over and over because we’re convinced that’s the “best” approach. It can be hard to let go of those choices when you’re so convinced your way is the right way. But that’s the job. Flexibility, the ability to listen to others and be open to changes will always bring out the best performance.
In my down time I walked the halls of the pretend White House, soaking in all the nooks and small offices I’d seen a thousand times on my TV at home. There was a strict no phone policy, so I couldn’t take any pictures, but I didn’t need a camera. I won’t forget sitting in chairs many of my favorite characters sat in over the years.
I did get one shot: a costumer took a pic of the knot in my tie so she could refer to it later if we needed to re-tie it. Here it is:
Then, disaster struck.
Lesson 5: Literally Anything Can Happen.
A week after returning from Baltimore, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a headline about accusations against our lead actor. The #1 on our call sheet was called out for sexual misconduct. I thought, “This is really really bad.”
Turns out it was bad enough that production on the season was stopped entirely while Netflix assessed the situation. The crew was told to hang out for a month, but were asked not to take work on any other shows. Eventually they were told to take that work if it came to them. The longer production was stopped, the less anyone knew about the show’s fate. As more people came forth with accusations, it seemed Netflix wouldn’t allow the show to continue.
For me personally, the situation meant my dream job might never see the light of day. If you shoot a TV show but no one ever sees it, did it really happen? I used to say, “Don’t count on anything until the check clears.” Now I think it’s more like, “Don’t count on anything until you see yourself in it a year later.” The end of 2017 wasn’t an easy time for anyone involved with the show.
In the end, the decision was made to finish the season and bring the series to a close. Our #1 was fired and Robin was our new #1. The season was completely re-written, and fortunately Agent Bowman made the cut. I flew back to Baltimore in January for re-shoots, and came home hoping that I’d be written into a few more episodes.
Sadly, that didn’t happen. But I’m there, in the first episode of season 6, in the first scene, helping set the tone for the last season of one of the best shows on TV.
I’ll take it.