House of Cards is the wildly successful show that airs in its fourth season this week on Netflix. It’s a political drama starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Neve Campbell that takes a look at the sordid underbelly of US politics and what it takes to ascend to power. We spoke with Michael Bergen ’03 who ended up with a role in the show this season as a secret service agent and asked him what it was like to be part of the show.
Q: When is the show airing and when are you in it?
A: Since House of Cards is being released all at once on March 4, 2016, they are not telling us which episodes we ended up making it in. Initially they wanted me to be the head of Claire Underwood’s (actress Robin Wright) secret service team, but since I had recently started a job with an aerospace consulting firm, I couldn’t just leave. I opted instead for filming a few times when they needed additional security.
Q: Where did you do the shoot?
A: I worked on set at a large farmhouse mansion outside of Baltimore. I wore my own suit (which they had to visually approve), and the props department gave us sunglasses, badges, guns, ear mics, and overcoats. While we were filming, it was supposed to be winter in our scenes, but it was summer in Baltimore, so it was 95 and humid outside while wearing our winter gear. If it looks like secret service agents just ran from Washington DC to Baltimore, now you know why.
Q: What were the days like?
A: I will give credit to the cast and film crew as they work 14-16 hour days. I didn’t also expect there to be so much scrutiny around personal devices like cell phones and tablets. The set had better security than Department of Defense briefings I’ve been too. They siloed off certain parts of the cast to ensure they didn’t get a full idea of what was going on in the story as plot leaks were something they took very seriously. All devices were banned from the set and they were pretty explicit about the legal action they would take if you were caught trying to take pictures. This made it difficult to grab selfies with the actors! I didn’t realize how much time it takes to get workable footage. Sometimes we would do 30-40 takes on the same scene making it fairly tedious.
Q: Did you meet the cast?
A: Robin was directing the episodes I was in, so I was able to interact were with her a fair amount. After taking numerous shots of scene, she stopped and asked everyone what a security team on “high alert” look like. Having prior military experience (Mike was a former Marine), I offered some basic maneuvers to which she replied “do it, let’s finish this.” The first take of me sprinting ended up with her shouting “cut” and telling me I run too fast for camera and slow it down! The actors and the crew were all really great and had no pretentiousness. It felt like a team. The cast and crew ate meals together and everyone was pretty welcoming. The only issue I faced was having a table of minor actors finding out I wasn’t part of the Screen Actors Guild, which I had to defend myself to the union members (Needless to say, I didn’t join…). Besides that, Neve Campbell was extremely friendly and talked about being a mom, and Kevin Spacey was like a rock star pumping everyone up in between takes.
Q: What’s next?
A: Being an “F-list” celebrity has made me realize I want to claw my way up to the D-list. I was able to get this part by using pictures of me at a Lehigh friend’s wedding as my headshots after a talent agent saw me on the street in DC and asked if I was former military or secret service. I probably need to upgrade those headshots, I hear the Brown & White could use a political correspondent.
Michael Bergen graduated Lehigh University in 2003 and currently works for Avascent, an Aerospace & Defense Advisory firm in Washington DC. He is also the co-owner of the Shoot Indoors firing range in Denver, CO.
Interview by Deidre Martin