Photographs courtesty of http://constancezimmer.com
Living In The House of Cards (@livingintheHOC) caught up with the multifaceted, talented and beautiful Constance Zimmer (@oczimmer), who in addition to playing Janine Skorsky on Netflix’s House of Cards (@HouseofCards), had a memorable run as the indomitable Dana Gordon on six seasons of HBO’s Entourage and as Claire Simms on ABC’s Boston Legal. She’s currently on set of the second season of HBO’s The Newsroom and took some time out from her crazy schedule to talk with us about how she breaks through the media clutter, what its like working with TV’s best directing and writing talent, her role on HOC and the loyal following Janine Skorsky is rapidly building in the brave new world of on-line binge-watching.
LITHOC: You have a background and an acclaimed career in the theatre. As an actor, what is the one considerable adjustment you have to make between the stage and the set of a television show?
CZ: Onstage you have to know exactly what you’re going to do before the curtain goes up. Although there’s room to adjust from performance to performance, the choices are mostly made. But on set, for me anyway, I like to be prepared and have an idea of what I’m going to do, while leaving room for surprises once cameras are rolling and I’m in the moment.
LITHOC: Your television career, whether it was on Boston Legal, Entourage or as Janine on House of Cards, has seen you play strong-willed, out-spoken and ambitious people. What inspires you as a performer and above all an artist in this golden age of television where there is so much great writing and talent?
CZ: I’ve been fortunate, especially lately, to work with some amazing writers (and directors!), which makes going to set that much more exciting. Getting to play such strong-willed characters has been fun, but the character has to have a back story and somewhere to go. It was a true collaboration with Beau [Willimon] on HOC because we wanted Janine’s rage to be grounded, but I wanted her to lighten up as well, to find a way out of that rage.
LITHOC: House of Cards looks at the corruptibility of news and politics, both of which demand people’s trust. Would you consider yourself politically engaged and do you struggle trusting what you read in American newspapers or what you watch on broadcast news? How do you break through the clutter?
CZ: I’m definitely not as politically engaged as Janine, but I try to stay informed. I feel The Daily Show presents the craziness of politics in terms we can all understand, despite being billed as satirical. Jon Stewart is so good at identifying the hypocrisy of both the politicians and the media. So although I still get the NY Times delivered to my door, it’s nice to have somewhere to turn for a little perspective. And a good laugh.
Photography Courtesy of http://constancezimmer.com
LITHOC: House of Cards is a show about morality, power and the loss of integrity. Where do you think Janine stands on that scale of ethically questionable behaviour and motivations on the show? What is the essence of your character?
CZ: I think Janine’s stance is very obvious in the first few episodes; she’s one of the few who doesn’t believe Kate [Mara] is working hard to get her information. We wanted Janine to represent a journalist trying to stay true to her work ethic but realizing that it’s getting harder to fight social media’s influence. Her overall essence believes that if you stay alert and aware of the world around you, don’t stop asking questions, the information will unfold before your eyes.
LITHOC: Women have made tremendous strides in the fields of media and politics and are becoming increasingly more influential in the hallways of power. Do you think Janine or Zoe reflect the kind of approach it takes, for anyone man or woman, to make it in those worlds?
CZ: Let’s hope that no woman has to go to the lengths Zoe chose to! There are missteps my character had made in the past in the name of good storytelling, but clearly she learned the errors of her ways before it was too late. Ultimately it was her hard work that put her back in the right spotlight. Everyone should be rewarded for hard work, no such thing as free rides, in my opinion.
LITHOC: Janine believes in old-school journalism but over the course of Season 1 she has to adapt to the changing tides, sacrificing some of her values in the process. Where do you think the line is between professional survivalism and personal integrity?
CZ: I think that in Janine’s world the two must coexist. Janine’s a smart journalist who loves what she does and wants to survive with her integrity intact. Is that too much to ask?
LITHOC: You’re currently straddling three shows, most recently joining The Newsroom playing a spokesperson for the Romney campaign. That’s another show about the relationship between politics and media. How do you as an actor adjust from the bleak view of the world on House of Cards to the more idealistic/optimistic world of The Newsroom?
CZ: As an actor it’s more about adjusting to the differences in the roles than it is the show. It’s been pretty amazing getting to play both sides of the politics game on such well written shows, allowing me to create these vivid characters in such a short amount of time.
LITHOC: Netflix’s model has allowed the audience to get to know Janine quite quickly and it didn’t take long for her and her flare for language to become a big part of the Zeitgeist, winning her a loyal following. Some say the Netflix model will change the way we watch original TV. What will it mean, if anything, for how actors approach their characters knowing that you have to make a connection with the audience over a very short amount of time?
CZ: It’s amazing! In a way it’s like doing theatre—instant gratification. And binge viewing means the subtle choices an actor might make, become more noticeable; there’s a cumulative effect to the performances that might not get noticed when you’re waiting a week in between episodes. It’s also crazy to imagine that most of America had seen all 13 episodes even before some of the actors on the show.
LITHOC: David Fincher has developed a reputation for his own brand of genius perfectionism on set. What was it like as an actor working within his process, particularly when you may have felt satisfied with your delivery on several takes only to find that he still wanted to do another one — or twenty.
CZ: Working with David has been one of the best experiences of my career. Yes, he’s a perfectionist, but I love and appreciate that. I never questioned his direction even if it wasn’t my first instinct. When you have David Fincher satisfied with a take, no matter how long it may have taken to get there, you feel pretty good—you don’t leave set feeling like you could have done better, that’s for sure.
LITHOC: Can we look forward to seeing more of you on stage, on the big screen or perhaps behind the camera one day?
CZ: It’s been a very busy year (thankfully), but I always try to find time for theater. I’ve been part of The Blank Theatre’s Young Playwright’s Festival for years now, acting and directing one-act plays in the summer for short runs, which works well with my schedule. I have a film coming out this year (hopefully!), which will mark my foray into horror films, with Lance Reddick and Bill Fichtner, directed by the great Danny DeVito.
Stay tuned later this week as we’ll be talking to Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper) and Corey Stoll (Peter Russo)!