'House of Cards' creator says running for president is 'a form of insanity'

Cable Risdon Photography

He created the devious and conniving commander-in-chief Francis Underwood on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but Beau Willimon says in real life, running for president is “a form of insanity.”

“I think that for anyone who wants to be the president… To think I’m going to occupy that gleaming White House and be the most powerful person in the free world, is a form of insanity,” Willimon told a packed audience Tuesday at the Warner Theater in downtown Washington.

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“Think about the weight that’s on your shoulders, the decisions you have to make, the absurdity of being able to, with the stroke of a pen, to change millions of people’s lives,” the scribe explained.

Willimon appeared alongside documentary filmmaker Ken Burns to discuss the parallels between his fictional political thriller and Burns’s latest PBS movie, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”

“Both of these series get at a kind of sense of an essential human striving,” Burns said when asked by a moderator about the similarities between the “dark, scheming fictional Underwoods” and “the Roosevelts: the most revered bloodline in American politics.”

Willimon, 36, also weighed in on solving fractured relationships in the nation’s capital: “You hear about gridlock in Washington, it ‘s like these numbers don’t add up, and this and that, and columns, and counts, and it has nothing to do with that,” he said. “The artistry of politics has to do with, in time, gradual and oftentimes almost invisible ways, shifting someone’s mind just a little. And then shifting that person’s mind just a little, a little, a little.”

The “House of Cards” creator noted the challenges of “incredibly dry” and complicated legislation on the small screen, disclosing “for a good long while in season two” he was considering a plot line based around a less-than-thrilling subject. “[I] was like we’re going to do a story on patent reform because I think patent reform is fascinating. I truly do. And I want the rest of America to think patent reform is fascinating,” Willimon said to laughs from the crowd.

“If anybody’s going to make it sexy, it’s Francis. But you can’t always achieve miracles so we dispensed with that story.”

Burns, 61, also dispensed a bit of a history lesson to the audience when he described Eleanor Roosevelt’s all-female White House press corps. “Because women were barred from the president’s press conferences,” Burns said of the first lady, “she barred men from hers.” 

Willimon was tight-lipped on his show’s third season, but was freely dispensing his thoughts on any frustration with Congress, “Complicity is much more serious when it comes to politics. I think that we have the leaders that we deserve. The onus is not on them, it’s on you. So if you’re unhappy with Washington, it’s not their fault.”

“The Roosevelts” premiered on PBS stations over the weekend and airs through Saturday.