Neve Campbell is getting rave reviews for her turn as
political strategist Leeann Harvey on the current fourth season of Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
Thrusting her back into the spotlight after 25 years in the business, the role was exactly what the actress, who’s partner to actor JJ Feild and mum to their four-year-old son Caspian, was looking for.
“I’d been offered the leads in some network shows, but I’ve done that schedule and 10 months a year, 17 hours a day, and that’s not who I want to be as a mum,” Campbell recently told Business Insider. “I want to be more present for Caspian than that, so I knew that what I wanted was a cable show with a good cast, and good writing, and it was respected, and an ensemble where I’m not carrying it, and then this came along. And then I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Campbell, a Canadian who’s been acting since age 15, was introduced to most on the 1990s Fox teen drama “Party of Five,” and landed indelible roles in movies over the years like the “Scream” franchise, “The Craft,” and “Wild Things,” among many others. She’s popped up in small guest roles in recent years, including on “Mad Men” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Business Insider talked to Campbell about her return to TV on “House of Cards,” the current election, why she took a break from Hollywood, and her take on the state of women in the industry.
Business Insider: What was it like joining “House of Cards”?
Neve Campbell: I was daunted by entering the show. I was excited, obviously, because I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning. It was scary, because the actors are so good, and I wanted to make sure that my entrance into the show would be seamless and would be in keeping with the other characters. But everyone was really welcoming, and they’re all such pros on-set that it’s not difficult to get into the groove.
BI: Honestly, your character feels like she had been there all along. It felt natural.
Campbell: Good, that’s what I was going for.
BI: You play Leeann Harvey very quietly. Was that your choice or was it in the script?
Campbell: I think considering that she’s a woman in a very male-dominated world, I had to think about what that experience would be and what kind of strength it would take to exist in that world and certainly be successful. To me, it made sense that things wouldn’t throw her too often, but she’s probably experienced a lot of tough stuff and she’s strong and she’s determined and she’s successful for a reason.
BI: Did you conciously decide your portrayal of her wouldn’t feed into into the stereotype of emotional women?
Campbell: Yeah, I think she probably felt there wasn’t any room to. That would be weakness, and she wouldn’t get very far.
BI: She’s a bit of a mystery. If Leeann returns for season five, do you think we’ll dive into her past?
Campbell: Perhaps. I think with this show, what’s beautiful is you get little shades of characters’ history slowly. I think it takes a while for the show to really reveal each character. And I think there’s something wonderful about that, because if you just get into people’s drama from the beginning, it becomes a soap opera, and the politics is the main platform and the main focus and obviously the Underwoods are. You slowly get to witness aspects of the characters that are surrounding them over a period of time, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens next year. I have no idea.
BI: Leeann goes head-to-head with Doug Stamper [Michael Kelly] and then she gets pushed into the background a bit when Claire [Robin Wright] starts a romantic relationship with Thomas [Paul Sparks]. How do you think Leeann felt about that?
Campbell: I think more than anything, she cares about the success of the Underwoods, and I think she sees Tom and Claire’s involvement with Tom as a threat, a possible threat to their success and their being able to accomplish what they want to accomplish. I think she thinks that their relationship could be dangerous and harmful to the election. I think that is more important to her than her being an equal to Tom. I don’t think it’s about that. For Leann, it’s always about success.
BI: Many people say that Washington, DC, and Hollywood are similar. How do you feel about that comparison?
Campbell: I certainly learned a lot more about politics from being on the show, just from the ins and outs of the process and what that world is like. I do in some senses feel that Hollywood and Washington are similar in that first of all, they are, again, male-dominated worlds, which is not unusual. There are a lot of industries like that, but also, there’s a lot of politics when it comes to the ins and outs of getting things done, getting a film made. There’s a lot of different things that have to happen, a lot of people have to be on the same page, there’s a lot of game-playing in a lot of ways. I suppose that would be a similarity to Washington. All of the entities that have to come into place to actually make a film come to fruition. It takes a lot. I would imagine it’s very much the same trying to get a bill passed in Washington.
BI: Leeann has a hard edge to her, and you’ve played dark characters over the years. Are you especially drawn to those roles?
Campbell: No, I just like to play characters that have a lot of dimensions to them and there has to be reasons behind any darkness or reason behind any light — there just has to be depth. That’s what I look for, and it’s important to create a history for a character and have a very clear idea of who that person was before they came onscreen and what made them. So for me, it’s not necessarily about a dark character or a light character, it’s just an interesting character.
BI: You took a break from Hollywood for a while. What led to that?
Campbell: I got tired of Los Angeles, and I got tired of the game a bit. I wanted to have a different life experience, so I moved to England, and I lived in England for eight years, and I worked there. I didn’t stop working, but I worked there and I did theatre and some film and some television and just enjoyed my life and got some culture, which was very important to me. I just kept out of the Hollywood scene a little bit. At some point my agents were like, ‘Do you care about your American profile at all?’ and I realised I probably needed to focus on that a bit, so my partner, JJ, and I decided to come back to the States.
We very quickly got pregnant, which was not what my agents had been talking about. I, as a mum, wanted to be really present for my son in the first couple of years, because I know that those years are very important for a kid. So I decided not to work during that period.
I was working in Europe for eight years and then I was a mum for a few years, so I’ve had to be very conscious of how I wanted to step back into it. It’s baby steps. For me, doing a nice little role in something good like “Mad Men” or “Manhattan,” or going and doing some comedy like “Welcome to Sweden,” or those kinds of choices felt right for me to get my feet wet again.
BI: How do you feel about the US being one of the few Western nations that doesn’t guarantee pay for maternity leave?
Campbell: I think it’s incredibly important to spend the first year with your child, and it should be made possible for all women. There are countries like Sweden, and I think even in Amsterdam, where my mum lives, there is paternity leave as well. I think both males and females should have the opportunity to connect and bond with their child and not be persecuted for that by not getting paid, and having your lifestyle have to go down a bit, or struggle because you’re choosing to spend time as a family. I think it’s really important, and I don’t believe people don’t get paid anything — I just think it’s a lot less. It’s a lot less time here and less money… I’m lucky enough to have earned enough that I had the freedom to do that, but the majority of people don’t have that freedom.
BI: Pay disparity between male and female actors has been a big topic of conversation in Hollywood recently. Is that something you’ve experienced in your career?
Campbell: Absolutely. I know for a fact that I’ve not been paid equally on any job for whatever position I’ve been in. I know that when I started, I don’t want to be specific, but when I started a television series, I had worked a lot more than my male counterparts going into it, and I was offered quite a bit less and made quite a bit less the entire time.
I knew it at the time, and my agents at the time said that’s just the way it is: Men get paid more. And it’s terrible at this day and age that that still exists. How is that possible that we’re not being paid equally and that we’re having to have this conversation in 2016? It’s insane that we’re even discussing this. It shouldn’t exist. Listen, we’re lucky, as women, to be in this country, because there is a lot more inequality in other countries. But at the same time, it’s America. We’re smart enough to know better.
BI: Have you ever had to put your foot down?
Campbell: I haven’t had that power yet. Maybe, on the “Scream” films. When you have a lot of weight behind you, when there isn’t a choice in the matter, then you can push. But if there’s a choice, you’re always going to get less.
BI: Is there a role or a project that you’d still like to do?
Campbell: For me, inevitably as an actor, it always comes down to the scripts, and there’s not any specific kind of character that I’m dying to play. It just inevitably comes down to good writing, and something intriguing, and interesting, and different, or new in some way. I had in the past wanted to direct, and I think at some point that is something I would like to do.
As a mum, at the moment, it just takes up too much time. I don’t want to have that much time away from Caspian, but it is something I am fascinated by. And I’ve been doing some writing, which I’m enjoying. So for me, it’s just continuing to be creative, working with creative people and people who challenge me, and challenging myself in different ways. That’s all I can do.
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