Finished bingeing the latest season of House of Cards yet?
OK, no spoilers here, but it's no plot twist to know that the dark political drama has always delighted in its ability to mimic the real Washington. There's plenty that's fanciful (homicidal presidents, as far as we know, are a rarity) and fictional license is broad, but there's much that the show nails, in terms of feel (ew, politics is slimy!) and the little details.
Getting the small things right often comes down to the Beltway insiders who serve as its consultants. The credits for the fifth season, which debuted last week on Netflix, include such old Washington hands as Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson, former Obama White House counsel Robert Bauer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission Trevor Potter. So what kinds of Beltway minutia do they impart?
Here's a peek. John Edgell, a 16-year Capitol Hill veteran, acted as a consultant for just one scene, though it was a pivotal one: the opening of the season's first episode. The action unfolds in a model of the House chamber - a set that Edgell called remarkably accurate - built in a warehouse in Joppa, Maryland, where the show films.
Edgell had appeared as an extra in two previous seasons, and when the show needed someone familiar with House floor procedure, he was called in. His job was to read the script and watch the filming to note whether anything seemed off. Egregiously, that is. "Of course, it's Hollywood, so they stretched a bit," said the longtime staffer, who found a handful of inaccuracies that the showrunners tweaked on set.
One thing he noted was that the extras assembled on the House floor to portray lawmakers positioned on either side of the aisle weren't distributed properly. "Not to get political, but I said, 'The GOP is a lot of older white males,' so they moved some extras around."
Another one, which surely would have rankled some parliamentary snobs if it had made it on-screen, happened when Kevin Spacey, the actor portraying President Frank Underwood, finishes a speech on the House floor (he's a former House member, so he invokes his floor privilege). Spacey concluded his fiery speech by referring to the presiding officer as "Madam President" - which is a complete no-no in the chamber.
It's actually "Madam Speaker," Edgell informed the crew. So Spacey reshot the speech, and the potential error was averted.
For Edgell, the experience on the fake House floor was a little more exciting than most moments on the real one. "It was definitely a bucket-list thing," he said.