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Polish Filmmaker To Bring Her Political Eye To 'House Of Cards'


Director Agnieszka Holland's most famous films chronicle the extreme measures that real people took to survive fascism, persecution and repression. Her work is highly acclaimed. "Europa Europa" won a Golden Globe, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for her latest film "In Darkness." Her upcoming project takes her into a different sort of darkness, time a fictional one. She's a guest director for the third season of "House Of Cards." It's the bone-chilling political serial about a Machiavellian congressmen named Frank Underwood played by Kevin Spacey, who schemes and murders his way right into the Oval Office.


KEVIN SPACEY: (As Frank Underwood) The only thing more satisfying than convincing someone to do what I want is failing to persuade them on purpose. It's like a do not enter. It just begs you to walk through the door.

LAKSHMANAN: The third season of "House Of Cards" is due out from Netflix later this month. And we spoke to Agnieszka Holland at her home in Warsaw. She told me how she came to immerse herself in a series about American politics.

AGNIESZKA HOLLAND: I was, you know, I was always interested in the political series, for example, "West Wing." And "House Of Cards" has a little different dimension because it is not totally realistic description of the politics. It's a little operatic description of the politics, and it's more Shakespearian than, you know, than the real drama. The truth of that, I think, the deep success of the series not only among viewers, but also in the world of politicians, is that it tells some deeper truth - not about what the politics are doing really, but what they would love to do. I think that the politicians over the world are watching this series as some kind of the dirty pleasure, you know, a guilty pleasure.

LAKSHMANAN: (Laughter) So it's fascinating - an idea that it's sort of like showing their inner desires of what they could do if they weren't reined in by the actual law, for example.

HOLLAND: Exactly. Exactly. You know, it also explains the real fascination for the political figures like Putin. I was watching pictures from Minsk where it was a negotiation about Ukrainian situation. You are watching Putin, and you see that the fact that he can do whatever and that he doesn't have, you know, the same restrictions Democratic politicians have makes him like, you know, that they are watching them in some kind of the disgust and envy. So I think that everybody around watched Frank Underwood with a similar kind of feelings. It speaks something about the nature of the contemporary political limits and exactly about this generation of the politicians of today. They are more the players than the servants of the cause.

LAKSHMANAN: Well, let me ask you. I mean, Frank Underwood is really one of the most conniving and cold-blooded characters who we've seen on-screen in some time. Is there someone who he reminds you of in American politics?

HOLLAND: If it was based on somebody, it was more on, you know, Shakespearian figures - Macbeth and Lady Macbeth or, you know, Richard III or somebody like that - than on the real American politicians. I think that some American politicians would love to be like Frank Underwood, but I actually I don't know anyone who I can tell that is the model for Frank Underwood.

LAKSHMANAN: Well, thankfully for us, I guess.

HOLLAND: Oh, yes. Thankfully for us.

LAKSHMANAN: So as a director, how do you approach material that is essentially fantasy as opposed to the real life-and-death issues that you normally tackle?

HOLLAND: Sometimes I have impression that, you know, when you are really trying to concentrate on the fiction, you can wake up some things in the reality or you can anticipate something so you can feel some things, which are not visible, but which exists already, which are latent. And, you know, to me, because I never did the commentaries, you know, I always did fiction. Some of my things have been based on the real evidence, some was not. To me, fiction and the reality are mixing together, and it doesn't matter really if something really happened or it just happened in my head or in the writer's head.

LAKSHMANAN: Well, let's hope that whatever you've portrayed in season three isn't going to happen for real in American politics.

HOLLAND: Well, we'll see. It will be - you know, it would be difficult and interesting times in front of us I think.

LAKSHMANAN: Agnieszka Holland. She's a Golden Globe winner and an Academy Award nominee and now a guest director for the new season of "House Of Cards," which goes up on Netflix later this month. She joined us from Warsaw. What a treat. Dziekuje bardzo. Thanks so much for joining us.

HOLLAND: Dziekuje. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.