Emmy Watch: 'House of Cards' star Corey Stoll on pretending to be 'as drunk as I could possibly be'

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Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.

It’s been almost five months since the Great House of Cards Binge Watch of 2013, but Corey Stoll, who played alcoholic Congressman Peter Russo, isn’t worried about the show — or its compelling characters — being forgotten.

“I don’t feel like a TV show has to be a constant companion to somebody to have resonance in their life,” he says of the series’ unique approach to distribution and the flare-and-fade online discussion that followed. “That’s how I watch TV. There are maybe a few things I watch in real time, but for the most part, I watch in chunks. I think The Wire will remain with me even though I watched it all very quickly.”

As Emmy season continues in full force, EW spoke with Stoll about his journey in the shoes of his complicated — and, ultimately, tragic — character.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going into it, did this role seem special to you, and did it feel like a character that was going to strike people the way he did?
COREY STOLL: You never know the size of the role or what the impact is going to be within the show or movie as a whole. I had loved the script when I first read it, and, obviously, the creative people behind it made it really worth pursuing, but … I remember very clearly sitting in a bar back in New York, months after I auditioned for it, and it just kept popping back into my head — the scenes and the character. I remember thinking, when I first got into the business, there were a few people who were like, “You’re going to get hair plugs, right?” or “You’ll be great at playing a villain.” And this character was such a whole person, and part of what was great about it was he was compelling with it all. It really felt like it was a part where I could be very much myself in the raw — even the unappealing parts of myself. So that was exciting.

Personality-wise, what stood out to you about him?
He had this incredible contradiction of being very confident and headstrong and brave in a certain sense — he was somebody who had an infinite amount of confidence that he could get himself out of any situation he could get himself into. He could just sort of tell everybody yes and pick up the pieces later. But at the same time, he had this really gaping whole of need right at his center that he was only vaguely aware of. It seems from the pilot that you were going to be able to see that other side of him. Then as the season progressed, what was so great about the role was how encyclopedic it was. You really got to see this character at his strongest and his weakest, at his most articulate and most clumsy. That was really fun because you never knew what you were going to be playing from one moment to the next.

Everyone I know binge-watched the show, so it almost felt like a 13-hour movie. But how was it for you getting it script-by-script?
We got them two-by-two. We shot them in blocks of two, and we all had a sense of broad strokes of what the season was going to be, but there were definitely surprises. And Beau Willimon, the creator, was always on set in a trailer and we’d see him at rehearsals for each scene and at lunch. And if he was particularly excited about a scene he’d write, he’d come out and tease it. So it was kind of exciting to be sort of a part of all that from the ground floor and see how he was formulating what was happening. And the read-throughs were always a fun event because the show is so segmented. There was a lot of the cast that I had never interacted with. So it was nice to have a moment where we were all in the same room, breathing the same air.

You had a lot of great scenes this season — like the bathtub scene, which was very eerie. Do you have a favorite?
There were so many — especially toward the end. They were all so juicy. I think one, on a certain level, is when I’m going to jail and try to reconnect with my children and my daughter rebuffs me. I thought it was a beautifully written scene and so charged. There’s another scene in that episode where, there’s not much to it, but I’m going into a police station to give myself up and they, instead of arresting me, have me wait while they call the authorities. It was just … in the physical sense, me trying to be as drunk as I could possibly be. [Laughs] But you know, just trying to get myself into that [mind-set] — he’s suicidal at that moment, and the only thing that can save him is to be arrested. So that combination, in that moment … he’s got this incredible pride and he’s really trying to be a man and at the same time, he’s just a mess as a person could be.

Peter was murdered at the end of last season, but you’ve already secured a new project. What’s the progress on The Strain?
We’re still casting, but I’ve been reading with some people and had conversations with Guillermo [del Toro] and Carlton [Cuse] about the character and about just getting ready for the show. It’s really exciting to have the time we have to prep. I think it’s almost unheard of on TV. So we’re trying to take as much advantage of that as possible so the world can be as rich and lived in as possible once we start shooting. That’s one thing about the pilot model of doing TV shows — often you’re cast, and a week later you’re on set. There’s been no time to really prepare. So … that’s one thing I’m really excited about. There are so many things I’m excited about for this show. I think it’s really going to be kind of mind-blowing.

Is Dr. Goodweather a complete departure from Peter?
Well, I don’t know. There actually are some similarities. They’re both guys who have pretty big blind spots. They’re both really capable and have a certain charm, but are also pretty blind to certain basics of human interaction, which is always fun to play. It’s in different ways, but they’re both definitely flawed.

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