Long-time Democratic media consultant and former “House of Cards” actor, David Eichenbaum, discussed aspects of truth behind the Netflix original series, during an event hosted by the GU Politics Student Advisory Board in Old North on Tuesday night.
“House of Cards” depicts the political rise of a U.S.-Senator-turned-President Francis Underwood, played by Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, and his relationship with his wife Claire, played by Golden Globe winner Robin Wright. Through four seasons, the show documents the fictional couple’s tense relationship and their rise to power through corruption, violence and murder.
Chris Maloney (GRD ’17), a student in the School of Continuing Studies and GU Politics representative, began the event with a series of questions and answers between Eichenbaum and moderator Rachel Hirsch, a first-year student at the McCourt School of Public Policy.
Hirsch began by showing a compilation of clips of Eichenbaum in his role as Frank Underwood’s campaign manager in season two of “House of Cards.” She noted similarities between his TV role and his career as a media consultant for Democrats, including his role in the 1996 Bill Clinton presidential campaign. She also said that his character has the difficult job of supporting the controlling President Frank Underwood, played by Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey.
“As a director I am used to giving orders, you do this, you move that and for the most part people listen to me, but the way the script is written, no one tells Frank what to do and he is the one giving the orders,” Eichenbaum said.
Eichenbaum highlighted his experience in political campaigns and explored his uncommon decision to transition from the political world to the entertainment industry. His first forays into acting were influenced by one of his friends in entertainment.
“Since the year 2000 I have been a media consultant. Almost exclusively, I have worked for campaigns. I have been a media consultant for lots of different campaigns,” Eichenbaum said. “A few years ago, I thought it would be nice to mix things up in my career. Let me try some other things that I wanted to try. And at the same time I had a friend of mine who was involved in television, who said you know you should come back to acting.”
Eichenbaum spent much of his career working on sets, both as an actor fresh out of college, and as consultant for political campaigns. He explained how he found similarities in both roles and adapted to life on a production set easily.
“Being a director, in my political career, what I do is I write, direct the advertising and after spending years behind it directing the candidates being in front of the camera was different but I am used to being on a set and I know the lingo. It was not a completely foreign experience,” Eichenbaum said.
Eichenbaum said there are parallels between the show’s signature couple, Frank and Claire Underwood, and the Clintons, but does not think the Underwoods are a direct emulation.
“The issues were different. The Clintons were certainly accused of a lot of things,” Eichenbaum said. “I don’t know if it based on them at all. I don’t think it was … but you could certainly make an analogy to two powerful spouses.”
Josh Levitt (MSB ’17) said he really enjoyed hearing about Eichenbaum’s unique perspectives from the political and acting worlds.
“I think David brought a lot of experience and answered questions and he came about it with a perspective on politics that I was not as familiar with from the media side of a campaign,” Levitt said. “It was interesting to hear the sort of behind-the-scenes workings of how to target voters and to learn about which things in the shows he has been in,”
Helen Brosnan (COL ’16) said she appreciated hearing someone involved in two industries separate fact from fiction.
“The event was another example of how politics and entertainment often can create some blurry lines on what is real and what is not,” Brosnan said.