Okay, we all know that Frank Underwood isn’t actually the commander in chief, right? That he doesn’t actually reside in the White House (and that some other, far more real guy does)?
A reality check may have been needed Monday night, when the Netflix publicity blitz for the new season debut of the political-drama series “House of Cards” was in full-blown fantasy mode. Kevin Spacey, the actor who plays the show’s POTUS, rolled up at the National Portrait Gallery in a black limo that could have been mistaken for the presidential transportation known in these parts as “the Beast.”
Faux Secret Service detail in tow, Spacey-as-Underwood entered the gallery fully in character, appearing in front of a crowd gathered for the premiere of the show’s fourth season. He unveiled a painting of himself, in the manner of an actual, official presidential portrait, then stood behind a podium bearing the presidential seal.
After a few jokes from Spacey, delivered in Underwood’s honeyed drawl, about “being hung” in the gallery, it was on to the main event: the screening of the first new episode.
The crowd was heavy on media types (NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, ABC’s Jonathan Carl, MSNBC’s Luke Russert, CNN’s Dana Bash) and peppered with a few top White Housers (including presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen, the first lady’s chief of staff). So you’d think they might be just a little skeptical about the pretense — after all, most of them actually know the real-life denizens of 1600 Penn and aren’t under the illusion that the executive branch works quite the way it does in “House of Cards.” (There’s far less murdering by top officials, for one.)
But they gamely played along with the alternate reality. “He’s a scary guy!” Jarrett said of President Underwood.
The cast, including Spacey, Michael Kelly, Neve Campbell (new to the show) and Jane Atkinson, blended in with the Washington types (more boldfacers: former chief of protocol Lloyd Hand and his jeweler-to-the-stars wife, Ann, and former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard) for the screening. No spoilers allowed, but suffice it to say that watching the risque opening scene — in which a character indulges in a solo activity once thought to make people go blind — in such august company was a tad cringe-worthy. Also, the mud-slinging on the presidential campaign trail you’ll see on cable news has nothing on Underwood and Co.
At the afterparty, real and faux Washington mingled. And gallery director Kim Sajet summed up the evening’s cocktail — part marketing stunt, part social event, with a dash of art. “Thank you to Netflix,” she said. “for making the travel into hyper-reality a reality.”