Arcelus in the House…of Cards

The Arcelus brothers at the House of Cards premier
The Arcelus brothers at the House of Cards premier

Warning: contains spoilers

Sitting in our beds, struggling to stream Netflix on the Conn Internet, there is a tendency to look at the actors and actresses in our favorite shows as having attained success instantaneously, somehow jumping straight from childhood onto the silver screen. We don’t think of them as college students, majoring in political science at a liberal arts college like our own, working for international business firms and volunteering for the Clinton/Gore campaign in the summer. However, this is exactly the path that Sebastian Arcelus found himself on as an undergraduate at Williams College. He described his time at Williams as “an amazing four years” and even decided to forgo studying abroad to spend as much time at Williams as possible, saying that small schools “light a fire under you.”

Arcelus explained that growing up in a politically charged family has given him a lifelong interest in politics. It wasn’t until after graduating did he believe that a “career in the arts might be possible.” He explained, “I didn’t lose that fire to make a difference, but [looked] into making a difference through the arts.”

Arcelus, who plays Lucas Goodwin, The Washington Herald editor on House of Cards, is the brother of our very own Dean of Student Life Victor Arcelus. “I was always fascinated with politics and that whole world,” said Arcelus in an interview with The College Voice, “but by the end of my college career I found myself studying the drama of politics rather than the art thereof.” Arcelus’s graduation from college in 1999 coincided with the release of Aaron Sorkin’s television show The West Wing, a series, said Arcelus, “that compiled all of my interests into one perfectly constructed piece of art told through a political world.”

Though he got his acting start on Broadway, appearing in musicals ranging in content from Rent to Wicked and originating the role of Buddy in Elf The Musical, Arcelus said he has always found himself “circling back to the political world.” When he landed the role of Lucas in the first season of House of Cards, Arcelus was overjoyed. “To end up in a political series, albeit what some have called the anti-West Wing, has been a total dream for me,” he said.

While there have been a good number of drama series that have a political focus, none have been met with the success that House of Cards has found in since its premiere in February of 2013. House of Cards happened to come about at a time when confidence in Congress is at an all time low, and Arcelus suggested that the show presents “a stark, ruthless and extreme kind of realism at a time in [our country] when we wish we could have more hope but we are disillusioned with our government.”

That said, Arcelus deftly points out that HoC has also come about “in a timely fashion in the entertainment world where the anti-hero has become the hero.” Characters like Walter White of Breaking Bad or Don Draper of Mad Men are characters you love to root for but in many ways are “despicable or unlawful or downright evil.” The actor noted that HoC follows this trend of anti-hero but “takes it to a new level by having Frank Underwood [speak] directly to the audience so the audience becomes complicit, in a way, in his dealings.”

The series also comes at a time when the world of journalism is shifting from traditional printed news to the online social-media world, a complex relationship between the two mediums juxtaposed by the characters of Lucas Goodwin and reporter Zoe Barnes. In Lucas and Zoe’s relationship, Arcelus asserts, the viewer can see “two generations colliding in the middle ground – one born out of traditional reporting and the honor that comes with a top line daily newspaper and a new wave of folks more interested in headlines” regardless of the truth of the content.

Lucas and Arcelus struggle with the same conflict of immediacy and the debate between sacrificing either accuracy for time or sacrificing time for substance. Arcelus expressed his intrigue with the role of journalists, being able to “blow the whistle” and create real change. Journalists, he said, must find  “[their] way through the noise…and really get at the heart of a social discourse. Journalists have an amazing ability and platform to do that.” As an actor, Arcelus recognized that he has a platform to create change, as well.

He continued, Lucas “is a man of reason, practicality and idealism but he gets swayed away from his own center by the basic notions of love and retribution.” By this, Arcelus is referring to Goodwin’s downfall in the second season where he is imprisoned after he tries to illegally obtain information about the death of Zoe Barnes. When asked if he thought this was the end for his character, Arcelus was hopeful that “there is an avenue through which Lucas can reappear” in the third season, but admits the writers and playwrights are “very secretive, so none of us really know.”

While we’re left with little reassurance as to the fate of Lucas Goodwin, Sebastian Arcelus’s career is certainly on an upward trajectory. The actor is currently in New Orleans working on the film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’s novel The Best of Me, alongside Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden. But despite his success, Arcelus hopes to honor his connection to Connecticut College. Be on the lookout for an on- campus event in the future featuring the House of Cards star. •

Additional reporting by Dana Sorkin and Hallie Grossman.