'House of Cards': Kate Mara talks The Thing That Happened to Zoe

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Image Credit: Nathaniel Bell/Netflix

The second season of House of Cards begins with a shocking development for ambitious journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) — or, at least, one that’s shocking for anyone who isn’t familiar with the original British version of House of Cards. (If you haven’t watched yet, you might want to stop reading… now.)

A brief recap: In season 2′s premiere, Zoe descends into a shadowy subway station to meet with her number one source/ex-lover/mortal enemy Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) one last time. On his request, she deletes all their previous texts and his contact information from her phone, then starts to press him with questions about the mysterious death of troubled congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). When Frank dismisses her, she has the gall to press him about whether he murdered Russo — and he responds by callously tossing her in the path of an oncoming train.

You were shocked, right? Well, Kate Mara wasn’t; she’s known about Zoe’s ultimate fate for eons. But she’s never been able to talk about it… at least, not until now.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m really excited to talk to you.
KATE MARA: [laughs] I feel like I can finally say things that I have not been allowed to say for like, a year and a half.

Yeah – how does it feel to finally be able to discuss this?
I still feel like I shouldn’t. Like, I feel like I’m doing something wrong by talking about it. [laughs] I’ve known about it from the beginning, from before I was ever officially given the role of Zoe. In my very first meeting with [Cards executive producer David] Fincher, he basically said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, I want you to play Zoe. The bad news is, you’re not going to last throughout the whole series.” So I’ve just been sort of keeping it a secret this whole time.

Did Kevin know? Did the rest of the cast?
Yeah. I’m pretty sure most of the cast knew. I know Kevin knew. The reason I was so excited to be a part of it — and I wasn’t bummed about it — was because I thought it was such a ballsy move to do it on the very first episode of the second season, and not do it halfway through, or [in] the last episode of the second season. It’s a pretty shocking way to start season 2. Even if people have seen the original [House of Cards, in which the Zoe character meets a similar fate] even if they know what happens to the character in that one, you don’t know when or if it will happen or in what way. So I thought Beau [Willimon, Cards's creator] did such a great job in coming up with that whole thing. And I know the way she goes was really thought out, and it took a very long time to decide what the best way would be.

Do you know what other ways they were considering?
Yeah, but they probably don’t want me to tell you. But it was very surreal when we shot it. It was such a crazy thing to shoot.

Tell me about the technical details of the shoot – how, precisely, did they do it?
Well, we did a couple things. We were shooting in a real subway in Baltimore. I guess we only had one night to shoot, and then we had another full day in our studios in Baltimore, with a green screen and all that. We shot the stunt there. But we also had some additional shooting in the soundstage, and then also in the subway again. Because we had a lot of extras and stuff, we had to sort of be really sneaky about the whole thing.

The extras must known what was happening, right?
No! They had some people screaming at one point, but I think they told the extras at that point that like, a dog or something was thrown in front of the train. They didn’t give them specifics at all.

Man, things do not turn out well for dogs on House of Cards.
[laughs] Yeah, apparently Kevin Spacey doesn’t like dogs.

Did the cast send you off after your last day of shooting?
What did we do? Well, my last day of shooting was not that scene. It was a scene between me and Kevin — a much more civil scene. The scene of us in the park [from season 2's premiere]. Which was actually really lovely, because my very first scene of shooting House of Cards was with Kevin in the subway in season 1. But you know, I knew that I was going to be seeing everybody a few weeks later. We had the Emmys and all this other stuff. And I’ve become friends with a lot of the cast. It was definitely bittersweet, because I was bummed to leave, but I was also so excited about what we had done.

Have you watched the scene where the Francis character kills the Zoe character in the British version?
I have not seen the British version at all. I asked Fincher before we ever started shooting if I should watch it, because I wanted to. And he told me I shouldn’t because we were doing a very different thing. And I decided to wait. Now that it’s done for me, I’ll probably go back and check it out, because people say really great things about it. But I know all about how Zoe died in the English series.

It’s really messed up – as she’s falling off the roof of a building, she yells out “Daddy” after Francis.
[laughs] I know! It’s so dark.

Besides, like, “oh sh–,” what do you think is going through Zoe’s mind in her last moments?
Oh, nothing. There wasn’t even time for her to scream. It’s completely out of the blue. If you’re crossing the street, you see no cars are coming, and then you get hit by a car, you don’t have time to – it just happens. It’s like, over. Unfortunately, I had no last thoughts. [laughs]

Right before he kills her, he asks her to delete all their texts and his contact info. Why do you think she does it?
I think because she knows him, and she knows if she doesn’t do what he says, then he’s not going to cooperate and she’s not going to get what she wants.

So you don’t think that it’s because she trusts him, despite all evidence that she shouldn’t?
I think she has to trust him a tiny bit in order to show up. Of course there’s a little bit of trust left, for sure. Not very much. But that small amount of trust mixed with her desire to get the truth and to feel morally okay, that small amount of trust is enough for her to do it and to take that risk.

Do you feel like she deserved what happens to her?
[yelling] No! Of course not! But it’s one of those things that I love about the show. The first season, Russo was one of my favorite characters — but I loved the way that they handled that death. And I love the dark comedy aspects of the show as well. You know, it happens, and then they just sort of move on. There’s no moments of him [Frank] — or at least I don’t know, because I haven’t seen the rest of the series.

You haven’t seen anything past the first episode?
I haven’t even seen the first episode. I’ll be seeing it tonight at the premiere for the first time. [Note: We spoke to Mara Feb. 13.] So I don’t really know what happens in the rest of the season, but from my castmates anyway, I don’t think that Francis has any moment of mourning over Zoe.

I was wondering if you could try to maybe eulogize her.
Oh my God, absolutely not. You should get Spacey to eulogize her, because it would be absolutely hilarious. You can’t eulogize yourself. I mean, I can’t. I’m not clever enough.

There’s been some chatter about how there’s nobody on the show who’s Frank’s equal, except his wife. He doesn’t really have a worthy adversary. And that might make the show less exciting than it could be. Do you agree with that?
Oh, I don’t think that’s fair. No, I don’t think that’s fair to say because there’s lots of other characters that you meet in season 2. I mean, who knows. Like I said, I still haven’t seen the season, and I don’t know the story at all, so I really have no idea what it’s going to be like. But I don’t think people should worry about that. I think that there’s going to be plenty of other characters and situations with Frank that will be just as entertaining and satisfying.

Do you hope he gets away with everything? Or do you hope he gets taken down?
One of the things I love about the show is that you root for this evil guy. I do, anyway. I don’t want him to get found out. I mean, I’m not watching the show for moral reasons. [laughs] It’s entertaining, and there doesn’t have to be a good guy for me to like it.

It kind of seems like developing a conscience is what gets Zoe killed.
Yeah, it seems that way. But in my head, it wasn’t like, “oh, if all of a sudden you develop morals, and if you have a conscience, then you’re going to die.” I don’t think that that’s the message.

Do you think there is a message?
I don’t think there has to be a message. And I don’t know that there is one in season 2. But I’m not one of those people that watches movies or television in that way. I don’t feel like I need to learn something from a character or from a story. I am cool with just watching something and sort of losing myself in this crazy world. I’m okay with that.

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