When Kevin Spacey’s limo pulls up at night to a big, pleasantly shabby house in scene 4, episode 12 of the Emmy Award-winning “House of Cards”—that’s our house in Roland Park. Its five minutes of fame was the culmination of months of visits and four days of filming in October 2012, by a crew of 30 cast members and stagehands—much to the delight of most, but not all, of our neighbors on St. John’s Road. Here’s how it happened.
The doorbell rang in August, just as we were talking about getting a new roof.
A young, easygoing guy named Eric introduced himself as a location scout for a new Netflix series that was filming in Baltimore. Would we be interested in letting our house be used as a location?
My husband, Dan, whose office is just off the entrance hall, and who never looks up for visitors, looked up. Not one to be overly impressed by celebrity, or even the possibility of celebrity, he listened and chatted with more than his usual animation, holding off on asking the question that those who know him well could see was uppermost in his mind. “Would it pay for a roof?”
Eric was invited in to look around. He walked through the main rooms—complimentary but noncommittal—and said they were checking out other houses in the neighborhood as well. He would be in touch. Our hopes sunk.
A few days later, he called to see if he could bring over some more people to see the house. A set designer and a producer showed up and admired the “sightlines.” Soon after, cameramen and an art director came, noting that the wide hallways would accommodate the large cameras.
Our hopes rose again. Finally the director arrived to give the green light—and Dan lit up.
Note to film and TV buffs: Allen Coulter of “Boardwalk Empire,” “Sex and the City” and “Sopranos” fame directed episodes 12 and 13. Executive producer David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Fight Club”) directed the others.
Weeks passed while the cast and crew filmed at other Baltimore locations, including the nearby Baltimore Country Club. By the end of September, things were heating up here. Set designers came and went, explaining the look they were trying to get and what changes they would need to make in the house. The color palette for the show, they told us, was neutral. So out went the rugs, the red sofa, the curtains and the upholstered chairs. The walls were painted, and there was a lot of discussion about removing some distinctive wallpaper in the front hall. (In the end, it stayed.)
In “our” scene, Frank Underwood (Spacey) takes a night flight to the Midwest to visit the home of a character loosely modeled on Warren Buffett. Raymond Tusk, the Buffet character, lives in a rambling, unpretentious, shingle-style house that suits his down-to-earth personality. The script describes him as “the modest billionaire.” Just like us! He lives there with his 60-something wife, a pet cockatoo and lots of brown furniture that’s seen better days. Even our kitchen, last updated in 2001, was too modern—and so they installed new blinds (with better light control) and added net curtains on top. Our countertops were replaced by butcher block, and all of our light fixtures were removed.
Days before filming started, we were told that they would be filming in our bedroom. Kevin Spacey in our bed! Would we mind leaving the house to spend three nights at the new Four Seasons Hotel downtown? Um, sure, that would be OK with us—even with the teenage son, who would have his own room overlooking the harbor to compensate for “the horrible inconvenience” of having to do homework in a different room.
While we packed our bags, Eric started working the street, talking to the neighbors about what to expect. Politely, he apologized in advance for the giant trucks that would be lining narrow St. John’s Road, and for the dazzlingly bright lights that would be shining on our house during night filming. He invited everyone to eat from the food truck, a gesture that went a surprisingly long way to keeping everyone happy.
St. John’s moment of fame had begun.
The first morning, five giant tractor- trailers rolled down our dead-end street, taking up its entire length, with one or two more parked on Roland Avenue. Swarms of crew members arrived with microphones and walkie-talkies, bringing scripts, makeup and props for the day. A black Escalade (preferred vehicle of movie stars) pulled up with Kevin and his dog, a black Lab mix, in the back. People started to gather outside the house to watch dozens of extras, handlers and crew coming in and out, smoking and chatting about the action going on inside.
The crew had warned us that we would probably never get to meet Kevin Spacey, because when in character for a role, “Kevin is completely focused” and “doesn’t even talk to us.” But one afternoon, still in costume, the man himself wandered out of the house and chatted at length to neighbors, kids and local dog-walkers standing outside.
He talked about dogs, about our house, about his role as Frank Underwood the manipulative senator from South Carolina, and about his time in London, where he has long been artistic director at the Old Vic theater. The next night he made another appearance, greeting us all—charming, witty and self-deprecating as you could wish a movie star to be. No photos were allowed sadly, because HBO/Netflix owns any photograph of him in costume and makeup as Frank Underwood.
There were a few complaints. A tree branch was damaged by a truck. Getting in and out of our dead-end street was time-consuming and neighbors had to park blocks away. Sorry guys.
For us, however, it was all good.
In the end, we got the house back better than before (they left the blinds). And we are proud owners of an 8-by-10-inch glossy signed by our friend, Keven Spacey, along with some fun memories and part (but not all) of a new roof. Something to remember next time a location scout knocks on your door!