'House of Cards': Reg E. Cathey talks his possible return, barbeque, and why D.C. needs Frank Underwood

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Image Credit: Netflix

[Spoilers for all of season 2 of House of Cards]

It’s no surprise Freddy is a fan favorite on House of Cards: He’s one of the only characters whom you can root for with a clear conscience. He’s always been Frank’s favorite barbeque man, but in season 2 viewers got more backstory and learned about the sometimes-dark past of the jovial owner of Freddy’s.

“It was like an old shoe,” Cathey explained to EW about his scenes with Kevin Spacey in the restaurant. “I mean, it was so easy. And I think he would say the same thing. The days when we were there were almost relief days. [laughs] You know? We would do our scene, we would laugh, we had a nice rhythm. And it was usually very fast…The Freddy’s scenes were always happy days at the set.”

EW spoke with actor Reg E. Cathey last week about his beefed up (no pun intended) role on the second season of the D.C. drama, working with director Jodie Foster on his big episode, and whether Freddy could find his way back into Frank’s life in season 3. An edited transcript is below.

Do you watch it at all?
You know, I don’t. [laughs] It’s funny, when I was a young actor, I watched everything. I watched everything and and now, I just don’t. You know? I know how it ends. [laughs]

So, what was your reaction when you found out you’d be playing a larger role this season?
It’s interesting. Because I loved the way it was the first season. During that first year, I did an A.R. Gurney play here in New York with Annette O’Toole and Kathy Najimy, I did a tour of soul opera I had done in England the year before, so I did a tour and an album of that. And two other shows while I was doing House of Cards. And you know, all the theater stuff, because Kevin’s past and Beau Willimon, you know, they love for you to do theater. And so they work around, and so it was perfect. So when they were saying there might be more, I was like, uh, well now, wait a minute. [laughs] We got a good thing here!

But of course I was happy. The team is so good that I was really pleased to do more. But that’s, you know, I loved not doing a lot. [laughs] And from the first meeting, you know, when I first got the gig, I met with David Fincher and Beau Willimon and Kevin, we sat down and we talked about what we wanted the scenes to be, the tone, and the back stories of the characters, and I knew at that meeting that this is going to be special and even though it wasn’t a lot, it was going to be, it would be the type of thing that you’d want to see more, which is always good, you know?

People are loving this show, but I’m sure it was a little bit scary with Netflix in the beginning not knowing how a new medium would play out.
You know what’s funny about those guys, and because I was only with Kevin, you know, even this year when there were more people involved, it was still mainly just Kevin and I, so I would go to work and that would be it, it would usually be Kevin and I. And so I didn’t know any of the like, the show, and some stuff I was sorry I missed. Like when we got nominated for Emmys, there was a whole big celebration on the set that day. And so when I came in, of course I wasn’t there, when I came in from my little day with Kev, that’s all people were talking about. It was like, well, come on, I don’t get a celebration? And so some of the crew came around with coffee cups and went “YAY!” [Laughs] And I was like, thank you guys! I appreciate it.

Well, that’s great. Tell me about your favorite scene to shoot this season.
This season was Jodie Foster. You know, it’s funny. It was love at first sight. …We got along famously. We both are Yale-ies, she knows a lot of the same people I do, so even though we’ve never met, it was like we’ve known each other.

Did she give you any specific directions that really helped with your performance?
Well, she’s so smart in seeing what I do and what I do best and how I get in my own way, and so she was great in keeping me from getting in my way. She would come around, and just say one or two sentences, and I’d go, ‘Okay, great. Thank you. Perfect.’

Now that Frank is president, is there a chance you could come back next season?
You know, I don’t know. It’s funny, there was a whole superstition that I had started by not eating any ribs [on set the first day]. …Then it became a joke that Freddy doesn’t eat his ribs on the set. And then it became a thing if I eat the ribs, then the show won’t do as well. You know, and this is, we’re still shooting the first season, so then it was like, ‘Don’t eat the ribs!’ And so when I didn’t eat any the first season, when we came back [for season 2], then people were joking, now you can’t eat it. You can’t eat any ribs, because then you won’t come back. So when we shot the last day of the Jodie scene, the joke was everyone went up to Beau, and said, ‘Is Reggie gonna eat today?’ And Beau would be like, ‘No, no, he’s not gonna eat! [laughs] No, don’t you dare eat!’ And so I think I’m going to be back.

I hope so! I mean, if the most powerful man in the world likes you then…
But then that’s what’s great about the storytelling that they’ve done. That that could be, it could be Freddy not coming back as a source of vulnerability for Frank.

That’s fair.
So they might go that way. You know, if it were David Simon, if this were a David Simon show, I would say I’m not coming back. Because David likes to kill off your favorites. So does Tom Fontana, you know. When I did Oz, you could die at any time. [laughs] And so, because of that though, nobody was late, there were no diva fits, there was no, like, screaming, there was no, none of that actor crap. …And on The Wire, you know, we all hated that Larry Gilliard was killed off in the first season because not only is he a wonderful actor, he is truly one of the nicest, nicest, human beings in show business. And so  people were dying left and right, you know. It’s fun, and it makes for good TV, but for the actor, you’re like going, “damn, I hope I don’t get killed [next].” [laughs]

Do you find yourself rooting for Frank?
Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely. I think, especially now, with our political system being so fractured and partisan, you kind of want a Frank just to get in there and [shake things up].

I know that you said you can’t eat barbeque on set because of superstitions. Do you actually barbeque yourself?
I don’t barbeque myself because that would involve me cooking. And whereas I can, I’m not a very good cook.

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