May 2014 27

by Nicole Powers

One of the most intriguing characters in the new series of House of Cards, is that of hacker Gavin Orsay played by Jimmi Simpson. The political drama, which is written and produced by Beau Willimon and stars Kevin Spacey as the Machiavellian politician Francis Underwood, is highly addictive and a breakout hit on Netflix.

One of the secrets of the show’s success is that it exposes the down and dirty machinations behind the sanitized spin we’re usually presented with in the media. Indeed, much of the House of Cards action is centered around not only the insider intrigues within the White House, but the power play between politicians and the press.

We’re first introduced to Orsay in House of Cards, when a Washington Herald journalist, Lucas Goddwin (played by Sebastian Arcelus), seeks out the help of the online collective Anonymous, after more traditional forms of investigation lead to nothing but dead ends. Wanting to maintain House of Cards’ consummate sense of authenticity, when Willimon delved into the world of the hactivist hive he sought advice from one of its most respected members, Gregg Housh, who is credited as being one of the people who put the iconic Guy Fawkes mask on the group.

When it comes to recreating reality, the devil is in the detail, and one such detail Willimon included in his fictional series as a result of his association with Housh has had positive repercussions in real life. In a scene in which Orsay is negotiating his way out from under the thumb of an FBI agent, he also requests that “all of Barrett Brown’s charges are dropped.” For the uninitiated, Brown is a talented and colorful Vanity Fair and Guardian journalist with a penchant for red wine and bubble baths, who is currently residing in a Texas penitentiary facing charges related to the sharing of a hyperlink. The case is potentially precedent-setting –– and with threats of a 105-year jail term, has had a chilling effect on journalism –– so a pointed mention in such a highly respected and successful show was lauded by Brown’s supporters, online activists, and journalists alike.

SuicideGirls spoke with Simpson by phone on a Saturday in early March. The actor, who has had memorable recurring roles in the TV series 24, Breakout Kings, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Psych, and prominent supporting roles in the films The Invention of Lying, Date Night, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and White House Down, among others, also happens to be a member of our community. Our interview was arranged during enforced downtime, while Simpson was awaiting surgery on his collarbone. Though under doctor’s orders to take things easy himself, he spoke to us while he was waiting for a group of his friends to jump out of a plane.

Read our exclusive interview with Jimmi Simpson on

Nicole Powers: So your friends are Skydiving. I could never throw myself out of a plane.

Jimmi Simpson: I was introduced to it by a friend, Serinda Swan, who started this organization called Project Rescue to help the Somaly Mam Foundation. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Somaly Mam, but she saves sex trafficked girls all over Cambodia. Serinda told people she was jumping out of a plane to try to get funding to give to Somaly. That was three years ago. We did it last August for the third time and we raised over $100,000 in twelve days. So that was my reason for jumping out of a plane initially.

NP: That’s a very good reason.

JS: When there’s that much at stake you’re like, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” Then you do it and you realize it’s actually amazing and life-changing. I’ve done it three times now and I would do it again if I didn’t have a clavicle that was bashed to bits.

NP: Do you have to go into surgery and be rebuilt like the Bionic Man?

JS: I do. Well, the first bionic attachments they put in just weren’t good enough, so I’m getting an upgrade. I’m now the Seven Million Dollar Man.

NP: Where you at least able to go up in the plane?

JS: No. I couldn’t go up in the plane because I would have had to strap in to a parachute for safety’s sake.

NP: Oh, and even that would be painful.

JS: Yeah. It would have torn my stuff apart. But one guy had gone up before. I took him up about six months ago. The other three were newbies.

NP: It’s still not something I could do…I’m the kind of person that can’t even deal with roller coasters. I’m like, why is scaring myself shitless a good time?

JS: I feel that way more and more as each year goes by. I used to be like, whatever, and now I’m like, maybe I don’t need to ride my motorcycle ever again.

NP: What kind of bike do you have?

JS: Well, it’s now totaled, but it was a Honda Shadow Phantom, which as far as I’m concerned is the only bike that suits me. Motorcycles are either too aggressive, and slick and super fast, or too bulky and Harley-ish…It’s a matte black, cool motorcycle…It was my baby, I really liked it.

NP: My part-time dog, when she’s not here with me, spends time with her 80-year old Harley-riding dad, and she rides around on the handlebars of his bike.

JS: That’s beautiful. I have the light of my life, a 14-year old Chihuahua Dachshund mix.

NP: Oh my god, this is a Chihuahua Dachshund mix.

JS: Are you serious? Mine’s a lady too. She’s sitting right next to me right now.

NP: Mine’s not very ladylike. I call her a bull dyke on a bike, because she’s a total bruiser.

JS: Yes, Mouse is a little bit of dick too, but she’s always been that way. But I can’t change her. I can’t change any woman. I just want her to be how she is.

NP: When I go for walks with mine I have to watch out, because she’ll pick fights with the most ridiculously large dogs.

JS: I think we have soul mate dogs, because it’s silly, what are they, 15 pounds?

NP: Yeah. Do they never look in the mirror?

JS: Mine picked on a 120 pound French Mastiff. She was snapping and yelling at this dog, and he was like, I’m not even going to deal with you because I would kill you if I looked at you. But she was just having at him. It was brave.

NP: At night, she’s a total teddy bear though. I can literally curl up and cuddle with her.

JS: Yes. I spoon with my little bitch and she loves it. I’m glad you’ve got a good one. I don’t think I’ve met another Chihuahua Dachshund. They’re an accident. Mine was just a stray.

NP: This was a rescue. She was abandoned by her owner during the housing crisis. Someone just walked away from their house and locked two dogs in there. Bubba survived for two months drinking toilet water and eating god knows what. Now she hides food all over the place, just in case.

JS: That breaks my heart.

NP: Well, I should tell you now, I’m recording this conversation, so anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against you. Giving you full warning – unlike the NSA.

JS: I appreciate it. The disclosure’s welcome. Thank you.

NP: Talking of our surveillance state, the House of Cards series has had a massive impact in raising awareness for the plight of journalist and political prisoner Barrett Brown. Obviously this week we got news that the government has dropped some key charges, so it’s almost like life is imitating art.

JS: It’s true. It’s heartening to see that happening…but he’s still facing 70 or 80 years for other more subjective violations. It’s a step in the right direction, but they’re also being very clever. The charges that they’ve dismissed are all the ones that we can point to and say, “that’s ridiculous.” As far as I can tell, Mr. Brown saw a pile of stuff sitting on the street, and pointed to it. He didn’t hack Stratfor, he didn’t steal credit card information, he pointed at it –– and his wasn’t even the first finger pointing –– so those charges needed to be dismissed.

NP: Even just the fact that those charges were filed, I know first hand as a journalist had a huge dampening effect. Ever since Barrett was charged, I’ve thought twice before posting certain links, and have often had to seek legal advice before posting something. So even though those charges never made it to a courtroom, they’ve had a massive self-censoring effect on the press.

JS: I can imagine. I have sympathy for you guys. Being aware of these charges and then wondering what’s OK to share, what’s OK to talk about. I have no doubt that you all must have been going crazy. I just couldn’t believe that it would go though, those eleven charges that they did drop, it seemed ridiculous to me.

[Update: Since conducting this interview, in a prelude to a sealed deal, the government filed superseding charges which are expected to significantly reduce Brown’s sentence.]

NP: You must be aware first hand the ripple effect that mentioning Barrett’s name on House of Cards had. I know that you’ve been interviewed by Esquire and D Magazine, and a bunch of other publicans that otherwise might not have reported on his case.

JS: Yes, exactly…Basically Gregg Housh, he was so essential in helping us, and me in particular, figure out what’s going on and corroborating all this stuff Beau had already thought. The Barrett Brown ripple probably started with Beau seeing Barrett in Brian Knappenberger’s awesome documentary We Are Legion. We were all obsessed with it on set, and then hearing more about Barrett from Gregg in person.

NP: How did Gregg come to be involved?

JS: That was Beau’s brilliant idea. Beau’s a perfectionist…He was heading into new territory with Gavin and he wanted to make sure that what he was saying was truthful. So he got involved with Gregg Housh, both for himself and also for me. He brought Gregg in from Boston, to come on the set to meet with me, to have dinner with me and talk about everything that Gavin was planning to do…Luckily enough, Gregg is a wonderful human being that I would be friends with if he was my neighbor. We hit it off. We both have a lot of the same ideals. I’m not a hacker or a hacktivist, but we both have the same kind of moral compass. So we hit it off right away, and he’s now my friend and I’m grateful for it.

NP: How did the character and script change thanks to Gregg’s involvement?

JS: I think Beau brought him in to substantiate what he’d written but Gregg’s input became greater than that. He quickly became part of the team. Beau told me that Gregg’s thoughts on some initial dialogue helped steer Gavin into less of a shill for the Feds and more a bullied child… unwittingly gathering strength. Not to mention, Gregg would lead discussions about his friend Barrett’s situation at dinner or on set. I was thrilled when I saw Beau had put him in the script. He didn’t even tell Gregg. I think he just called him up after we shot the scene and was all, “Guess what we just did.” He’s rad.

NP: You character’s in a very tricky situation. He wants to be an Anon of the moral persuasion, but the government has something over him, so he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. That must be interesting to play as an actor, because you’re collaborating with the enemy, but you need to play it in a sympathetic way. What challenges did you have trying to reconcile that?

JS: I was aware of just the stuff with Lucas at first. When I was going in my take on this character was based only on that information…I was a lucky hacker… Then, once more details were revealed, it was even more fun to play. He became more real. Because life is difficult and more often than not you’re living as you must, not as you choose…That’s truth. And a finger can only be bent back so far before it snaps…That’s truth as well. That’s why playing Gavin has just been so satisfying.

NP: One of the most intriguing and polarizing characters within the Anonymous community is Hector Xavier Monsegur a.k.a. @anonymouSabu, who, like Gavin, was turned by the FBI, but continued to work within the community for a long time. There are those for whom it’s very black and white, who view him as nothing more than a snitch and an asshole. Then there’s others that hold a more nuanced view, that he had children within his charge that he maybe didn’t want to see go into care and that perhaps we don’t know all the pressures that were brought to bear. It was actually two years to this day that Sabu was outted as an informant, so it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation today.

JS: It’s one of the first things Gregg talked to me about, you know, being friends with this person and working together and being deceived by someone. It’s shocking and it breaks your heart, but it’s the truth of the situation. Humans do what they have to do to get by. That’s why I think transparency and visibility across the board is mandatory. It just makes sense. When you disorient human beings, they do terrible things. That’s why I applaud anyone who’s trying to do what Barrett was doing or Snowden. Even though most Americans are still deciding how they feel about Snowden. Because I think most people are genuinely frightened of whistleblowers. It’s a little easier to accept the vilification of one man over the fallibility of the government or the notion that you’ve been led to believe something that just isn’t true.

NP: Right. A lot of Americans don’t seem to understand Snowden revealed information they should’ve had access to anyway.

JS: Exactly. They’re still very confused. But, I do think we’re moving towards a collective consensus that, as off-putting as some of it is, more information is better. Transparency is a good thing. It will help us break some really old, really bad habits. I actually believe pretty strongly in government at its best. Not only for infrastructure and teamwork, but also a way to mitigate the suffering of the unlucky. But it’s such a huge source of power and control as well that it’s always going to attract some of the more greedy humans. So keeping an eye on what they’re doing and why they’re doing it just makes sense to me.

NP: I was reading Snowden’s testimony that he gave to the European Parliament, and one of his paramount goals is for all of us to be having these exact conversations –– conversations that shows like House of Cards are helping stimulate. But they’re tricky conversations because, when it comes to these issues, the truth is stranger than fiction…It’s almost a reverse paradigm in that traditionally fiction would be exaggerated truth, but in this case you’re having to tone down the truth to make it believable.

JS: It’s so true. I’ve had people say to me, “Francis is just too evil.” Cause he’s murdered a couple of folk? Clearly the death toll from political injustice is generally much higher than that.

NP: I’m so excited for the third season now. I’m like a junkie waiting for my next fix. The way Netflix release their series, obviously it’s not like regular TV where you’re drip fed shows –– they release the whole series at once. It’s interesting to observe how that changes people’s viewing habits. I mean, some people went on an absolute binge and disappeared completely for a couple of days when season two was released.

JS: I know, it’s funny, they come out like they’ve just been doing crack for two days.

NP: You’ve turned TV into a true addiction. People lock themselves indoors, turn the lights off…

JS: They come out blinking their eyes, they can’t look at the light.

NP: They’re all weak and pale, they’ve not eaten or washed for days.

JS: Filthy bastards, just stinking up their bedrooms, sitting in their beds for two days straight.

NP: Talking of being in bed for days; how are you familiar with our SuicideGirls brand?

JS: Well, first of all, I like ink and stuff, especially clever variations, and girls with a little ink is always a little pleasing…Conventional ideas of beauty don’t really do it for me. I like people who show their individuality. I like people who like to express themselves and that seems to be…

NP: That’s SuicideGirls in a nutshell, absolutely.

JS: Yeah. And it’s so wonderful. Actually, I don’t know if this is super illegal anymore, but I had a guy mod my Generation 1 Xbox back in 2002 or 2003. One of the bonuses he gave me for having him do that was his password to his SuicideGirls account. It was a free introduction, and I apologize, because I freely looked and read your website for a year. Then it stopped working.

NP: I’ll send you an invoice in the mail.

JS: Feel free.

NP: So you were violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act with unauthorized access of a protected computer.

JS: It was so completely unauthorized and I abused myself.

NP: I’m going to call the Feds immediately.

JS: And I deserve it because I looked hard. However, three years ago I think, a girl walked by and she just reminded me of SuicideGirls. I saw this girl and she just made me think of you guys and so I’ve been a paying member for two or three years now.

NP: You’re on the site?

JS: I am. I am.

NP: That’s absolutely awesome. I love that.

JS: I find the girls really attractive and interesting, and I like to read what they’re saying. It’s infinitely more interesting to me than any other outlet that the internet offers presenting women to me. It’s just infinitely more exciting. It seems just more real.

NP: Well, it’s one of the few social networks that you can actually be an adult on.

JS: It’s refreshing as hell. It’s a great site.

NP: Do you have any tattoos yourself?

JS: I do. I have the obligatory ex’s name somewhere, that’s just your standard. Then I have one that I’m pretty proud of –– I’ll text you a picture of it…It’s on my right arm. It’s not huge but it’s not a small one. It’s on the space between my elbow and the top of my shoulder going to my neck. My friend Kim Saigh did it for me and she’s a genius. It’s a silhouette of a boy in flight. One fist is up, gripping a mess of strings and attached to the strings are some kind of beautiful birds in flight. A couple of them have snapped the strings and are flying away, and he’s just still holding on and happy with the ride, whatever it’s going to be. It’s something that occurred to me as I was reading a Pema Chödrön book. She was talking about the discipline it takes to truly let go, versus the notion that it’s a passive choice. It’s the discipline it takes to actually embrace the fact that you’re not quite sure where you’re going and you know you’re going to be okay.

NP: I believe that in life, instead of having expectations and clinging on to your idea of what something should be, that you should let go and appreciate what is. Just wanting something too much, whether it be another human being or a job, even that needy energy can destroy the very thing you want most.

JS: So very true…I think it’s the key to happiness. I suppose it’s possible — I don’t know if it’s lucky or not –– to be faced with circumstances where everything that you expect and want always happens, but good for you. I had a really loving mother and father, I had two brothers, we didn’t have much money or anything, but the love was big. I got through a whole large chunk of my life without really having to reset or restart or reevaluate what my take is on what the world is…When that did finally happen, I found it to be, although terrifying, one of the more enriching experiences in life. It’s going to be hard, but you can handle it, and when you do handle it, you grow in such amazing ways. My empathy, my sympathy, my love for how weird this life is has grown each time something difficult or unexpected has happened or something that I wanted hadn’t gone my way. It’s like you said, letting that stuff go, it’s essential and it’s kind of magical. I’m not saying I like chaos, but I’m prepared for it.

NP: So, given that your tattoo symbolically represents your philosophy on life, are you one of the birds flying away from its tethers?

JS: I’m not only one of the birds that’s flying away from it’s tethers…The tethers, these are opportunities, and I’m also some of the birds that are taking this kid along. I’m also the kid who’s up for it, despite the fact that some birds are still there and some aren’t. I’m all three.

NP: There’s a theory in dream analysis that you’re actually all the characters in your dreams.

JS: Exactly. I’ve done a little dream therapy and that’s one of the more mind-blowing aspects of it; that each character, even the ones you know, are all versions of you. It makes a lot of sense. They’d have to be.

NP: What do you dream about? What do you hope is in your future?

JS: As we’ve been discussing, I’m not a guy that’s big on expectation. I started going to Bloomsburg University to get a business degree to earn a living and I fell into theatre my junior year. I became a major and then found myself an apprenticeship at Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts for acting and I caught a little luck there. Lewis Black, the comedian, his agent happened to see me do some stand up, and then I had an agent. I was from New Jersey and then I went to school in Pennsylvania, and now I had an agent and was auditioning for Law & Order, and that was weird and lucky… I’ve approached it all with extreme gratitude.

My dream is pretty simple, hurt as few people as possible and live happily and simply. From what I can tell, that’s where it’s at. I know a lot of people who have a whole lot of stuff, and I’m not saying that that’s not a direction or a decent goal to have, but I don’t see it leading to more happiness with anybody. So literally my dream is to keep my feet on the ground, it’s to proceed how I have, which is by [taking] each good thing that happens with extreme gratitude, and each bad thing that happens with extreme patience. I think life is way more simple than a lot of people choose to believe. Maybe I’m naive and I’m just going to be a raving homeless man in 20 years saying the same shit to strangers on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s very possible. But again, I’m not terribly frightened of that.

NP: I think life is as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it and I choose to keep my life very, very simple. Having a simple life buys me a lot of freedom to do the stuff I want to do, which makes me much happier than many people I know who have so much more in material terms.

JS: You are undoubtedly happier…The more you have, the more concerned you are about it. People that I see who are earning more and more money, just get more and more concerned about money, and things, and stuff. I can sympathize with wanting to keep up with the Joneses in that kind of way, but I don’t personally have any desire to do that…To me, the way you go to sleep with a smile on your face is that you know that you didn’t screw anybody over that day. You didn’t get more than everybody else. How does that make you feel good? That’s just not where my priorities lie. It’s how you feel about what you’ve done that day, not what you’ve accomplished, but how you’ve treated other people.