If you plan to binge-watch Season 2 of “House of Cards” the day it’s released, you’ll have company in at least one of its stars.
Kate Mara — alias ambitious Washington, D.C., reporter Zoe Barnes in the acclaimed Netflix political drama — also intends to dive into all 13 episodes when the streaming-media service debuts them simultaneously Friday, Feb. 14, the same way Season 1 premiered.
Mara knows how much the show has helped reshuffle the deck in terms of how television is watched, and of how it has brought made-for-online series into mainstream awards, having won three of the nine Emmys it was up for last fall.
“Regardless of the groundbreaking format of the show,” she tells Zap2it of the Americanization of a celebrated BBC miniseries, “being in something like this, with the people I get to work with, is really special. It’s a rare opportunity. As soon as I heard about the project and everybody who was involved, and then read it and couldn’t put it down, it was a no-brainer to be a part of it.
“Also, being a fan of [executive producer David] Fincher‘s work, I knew it was going to be amazing — without question. And I knew that even if I wasn’t in it, I couldn’t wait to watch it. It’s so smart and so unique, but people reacting the way they do to it is still surprising to me today. And so gratifying.”
Revised for U.S. television by executive producer Beau Willimon, “House of Cards” ended Season 1 with Zoe trying to get the goods on her ex-lover Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the scheming congressman out to avenge being denied the position of secretary of state. A prime target for him and his equally conniving wife Claire (Golden Globe Award winner Robin Wright) is President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), now even more in the crosshairs since he has offered Underwood the vice presidency.
Jodie Foster is among the directors of “House of Cards” Season 2, in which Zoe worries her past involvement with Underwood may have been a factor in the death of one of his rivals … supposedly a suicide, but actually engineered by Underwood. Mara politely refrains from talking about Season 2 details, mindful of how much trickier the spoilers can be in this case, depending on whether viewers watch everything the first day or spread it out.
“As an actor playing this character, it’s a very exciting and satisfying thing that she gets to dig a little deeper,” she confirms. “Zoe’s sort of trust in Frank in the first season has definitely shifted in the second season. The stakes are higher, and she seems to be questioning things a lot more. She’s grown and changed so much, there was never a boring day for me on the set. Which is pretty awesome.”
Though she had stints on “24,” “Entourage,” “Nip/Tuck” and “American Horror Story,” Mara admits one of her fears about doing series television was of being limited in playing one character steadily. Another round as Zoe may be in her future, though, since “House of Cards” already has been renewed for Season 3.
“I know myself,” Mara says. “I start to feel like I’m not being challenged if I’m playing the same part for a certain amount of time. With this, though, it was very much the opposite.”
The canny way Zoe exploits her attributes, including the physical ones, has brought many related comments Mara’s way. “People mention her use of her sexuality a lot,” the actress says. “They seem to be surprised and affected by her moral choices in that arena, and I find it funny.
“There’s really nothing new going on here. Men do that kind of thing all the time. There’s that age-old conversation still being had about women doing the same things as men, yet Zoe is judged more harshly than Frank Underwood. He’s a pretty evil guy, so people judge him for other things, but it still seems they’re not as affected by that with men as much as they are with women.”
Fincher also directed the first year’s first two “House of Cards” episodes. Mara had met him earlier, while her fellow-actress sister Rooney was being guided by him (to an Oscar nomination, ultimately) in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Her initial sense of him proved accurate when she worked with him later.
“When I first sat down with Fincher in the very beginning, before I officially got the role, he gave me the overview of Zoe. I would have done it even if he hadn’t told me what would happen with her, because I trust him so much, but he gave me the basic arc for the first season and a lot of the second season.”
Willimon also has proven Mara’s initial faith in “House of Cards” was well-placed.
“Beau has always been super-honest,” she reports. “There were never any secrets, and that’s also a different thing from being on a regular network show. They don’t want to tell anybody anything, and that gives me so much anxiety. To be a part of this sort of team, where I felt like I could ask anything and they would give me the most honest answer, I always felt very safe. It was such a relief to have that relationship.”
The same applies to the other “House of Cards” actors as well, Mara attests. She gives immediate praise to Spacey – also another of the series’ executive producers – and she says she’s been a fan of Wright, who makes her directing debut on the show this season, “forever. My only complaint is that I didn’t have enough scenes with Robin, but that one with her (in which a coolly controlled Claire visits a mildly panicked Zoe at home) was one of my favorite days of work.”
Also a star of such movies as “127 Hours,” “We Are Marshall” and “Transsiberian,” Mara (whose family founded football’s New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers) admits she was “lucky” enough to get to see Season 1 of “House of Cards” before most other people. “That is not the case” this time, she allows.
“I haven’t seen anything, and I’m going to spend 13 hours on Valentine’s Day watching it. If I’m in a movie that’s coming out, I think it’s really fun to sneak in a theater and watch it with the audience, to feel that sort of excitement.
“With this,” Mara notes, “even though I’ll be watching it at home, it’ll still be the excitement of seeing it when everybody else does. I’m happy to have that experience with Season 2.”