House of Cards, Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood and Robin…
It was Baltimore steaming hot even after the sun set, and I didn't get to see the big street protest scene that I came to see filmed for "House of Cards."
But after two hours Wednesday night of standing around on Centre Street with about 40 others, most of whom seemed to have some connection with the Peabody Institute where the crew was filming or were drinking at the Anchor bar across the street, there was Kevin Spacey standing in the street in tuxedo pants and a T-shirt with his suspenders hanging down around his knees. And he was still looking good, Hollywood makeup artist good.
If you were into celebrity gazing, you could do a lot worse than Mount Vernon at 10:30 Wednesday night in front of Ted's Music Shop where I was standing.
Robin Wright and Kate Mara, the other two stars of the $100 million Netflix series, were on set with Spacey. And all three were dressed for a glittery fund-raising gala at Georgetown's Hotel Cotesworth.
That's what the plaza area on the Centre Street side of the Peabody Institute was transformed into for Wednesday's filming. It was filled with lots of extras in black tie, evening gowns and elegant little black dresses.
It took more than two hours to set up a scene of a few minutes that featured Spacey and Wright on a landing halfway up the Peabody plaza steps greeting guests as they arrived. Because I promised the Netflix publicists I would do everything I could to report the story honestly without giving away story elements that the producers felt they needed to keep under wraps, I am not going to talk about the nature of the event at the Cotesworth.
The staging involved a crane as tall as the Peabody itself holding a huge bank of overhead lighting above the plaza set. There were serious lights on Ted's roof as well. Five limousines were lined up curbside and polished non-stop for two hours, and just before the cameras rolled, a tank truck arrived on Centre so that crew members could wet the street under the cars to make it it glisten.
That kind of attention to detail was what most impressed many of those watching.
"I had no idea what went into making a set," said Teri Steinberg, of St Louis, who is at the Peabody for a piano camp and has been enjoying the backstage look at "House of Cards" all week.
"They did everything from laying sod to power-washing the plaza this week, and it's just incredible the details they have gone to," she added. "They were even steaming tablecloths to take out all the wrinkles just before they started a scene.
Steinberg says previous piano camps that she has been to at the Peabody have been quieter, but she likes this one best, thanks to "House of Cards."
"I like seeing the extras, and I actually caught a glimpse of Kevin Spacey, which is very exciting," she said.
Jim Webster, of Brattleboro, Vt., another Piano at Peabody camper, says he's fascinated by the production as well. He spent hours out on Centre watching Wednesday.
"I really like the choreography among all the workers," he said. "They really seem to all know what they're doing. And it's fascinating how they are doing all this effort to set up something that's only here for a little while and then it's going to be gone."
Robert Sirois, a resident assistant and teacher in the summer bassoon program, said the presence of the filmmakers has "complicated" lives at Peabody a bit insofar as they have to take detours to get to classrooms so as not to interfere with the sets.
"But other than that, I think it's a thrill," he added. "I just graduated from Peabody in May, and going up in Peabody the last four years, all your heard about are all the famous people and cultural icons who have passed through the halls: Charles Dickens, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein. It's just a spectacle to see Leon Fleisher walk around campus. But to now see stars like Kevin Spacey and all the other stars and directors, it's another kind of spectacle to hold and cherish here at Peabody. To witness that is exciting, I'm not going to lie."
Even standing on Centre Street in a T-shirt with his suspenders hanging down around his knees at 10:30 on a steamy summer night.
For all the industry buzz about David Fincher directing the first two episodes and how Netflix is trying to bring a new business model to television with "House of Cards," in the end, it is still all about the stars -- as it's always been in Hollywood and was Wednesday night in downtown Baltimore.