Entertainment

The Fate of 'House of Cards' in Question As Kevin Spacey Scandal Unfolds

House of Cards
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

On Tuesday, Netflix indefinitely halted filming on the sixth season of House of Cards, the streaming service's flagship series starring actor Kevin Spacey. The company released a joint statement with the show's producer, Media Rights Capital, saying, “MRC and Netflix have decided to suspend production on House of Cards season six, until further notice, to give us time to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew.”

This news followed an announcement on Monday that show's sixth season, which was filming in Baltimore and was originally scheduled to air in 2018, would be its last. The cancellation arrived less than 24 hours after Buzzfeed News published an interview with Rent and Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp in which he claimed that Spacey, who also serves as an executive producer on the Netflix series, made unwanted sexual advances towards him in 1986 when Rapp was 14 years old and Spacey was 26.

The incident allegedly occurred after a party held at Spacey's apartment when both performers were starring in Broadway shows. According to Rapp, Spacey picked him him up, laid him on a bed, and pressed his body against him, before Rapp managed to squirm away and leave the apartment. "He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp told BuzzFeed News. “I don't know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually."

After the story was published on Sunday night, Spacey made a statement in which he apologized for his "inappropriate drunken behavior" but also claimed to have no memory of the encounter. Spacey's response, which you can view in full below, also included a section in which he came out as a gay man. 

The response has been criticized online by figures like the writer Dan Savage, actor Zachary Quinto, and comedians Wanda Sykes and Billy Eichner for being both an offensive attempt at damage control and for perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that conflate pedophilia with homosexuality. In a series of tweets, Sarah Kate Ellis, the President and C.E.O. of GLAAD said that, "Coming out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault. This isn’t a coming out story about Spacey, but a story of survivorship by Anthony Rapp and those who speak out about unwanted sexual advances. The media and public should not gloss over that.”

House of Cards
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

With the scandal still unfolding, Netflix has issued a statement saying that they are "deeply troubled" by Spacey's behavior. House of Cards, which was created by writer Beau Willimon and adapted from a British series of the same name, debuted in 2013 at a time when a big-budget television series produced by a web-only company with movie star-level talent was still a novelty. (Prior to House of Cards, Spacey was best known for his roles in films like American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, and L.A. Confidential.) Spacey's performance as Frank Underwood, the conniving and ruthless Southern politician, earned him rave reviews and five consecutive nominations for the "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series" Emmy. The show itself became the first streaming series to be nominated for "Outstanding Drama Series" at the Emmy Awards.

While Netflix has produced many award-winning and popular series in the years since, House of Cards immediately established the company's place in the pop culture zeitgeist. Spacey's distinct drawl, along with his tendency to speak directly to the camera, was often parodied on comedy shows, and the show itself was celebrated and watched by Washington D.C. insiders, who presumably enjoyed the show's Machiavellian view of politics and outrageous twists. The series was even watched by President Obama, who imitated Underwood in 2015 as part of an April Fool's Day joke.

house of cards netflix
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

The popularity of the show and the controversy surrounding Spacey puts Netflix in a delicate position: They would clearly like to continue one of their name-brand properties, but they don't want it associated with a now toxic star. In the past few days, there's been increased speculation about the possibility of a House of Cards spinoff, which could focus on one of the show's other stars like Robin Wright's Claire Underwood, the ambitious and steely wife of Spacey's Frank. (Spoiler ahead: At the end of Season 5, Claire became President of the United States after Frank was forced to resign the position in disgrace.)

But Claire isn't the only option. An article in Variety suggests that Netflix and Media Rights Capital are in the early stages of developing a possible spinoff centered around Doug Stamper, the scheming political operative played by actor Michael Kelly. The project would be written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Eric Roth, who was an executive producer on the first four seasons of House of Cards and currently oversees TNT's upcoming drama The Alienist. Like the Game of Thrones spinoffs currently in development at HBO, the new show would take place in the same universe as House of Cards.

The dilemma of whether or not to go ahead with production on an ongoing project engulfed in controversy is one that more film and television studios will likely face in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which has led to many victims of sexual harassment, assault, and inappropriate behavior to come forward with their stories. In addition to Spacey, filmmaker James Toback, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, and Amazon Studios head Roy Price have all faced accusations about improper behavior. As studios attempt to grapple with the fallout of these allegations, expect more high-profile projects like House of Cards to be left in a state of flux.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.