By Bailey Hendricks
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The final season of “House of Cards,” a web television series about the ruthless nature of U.S. politics, features Baltimore native Robert Neal Marshall who recently was cast as Scotty Tibbs.
Marshall said that working alongside big-name actors in the eight-episode sixth and final season “was very surreal, and yet at the same time, I felt like I belonged there.”
“I felt honored to be able to act, to be in a scene with these long-term pros,” Marshall told The Baltimore Watchdog in a phone interview.
Now streaming on Netflix, “House of Cards” is described as an American political thriller based on a 1990 BBC miniseries as well as a novel by Michael Dobbs. Beau Willimon created the web television series that aired its first 13-episode season on Feb. 1, 2013, on Netflix. Actor Kevin Spacey played Congressman Frank Underwood, a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and House Majority Whip. However, sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey forced Netflix to announce an end to the popular drama series in October 2017.
Marshall played Tibbs in the first episode of the final season. Tibbs was a wealthy friend of Annette Shepherd, played by Diane Lane, and her brother Bill, played by Greg Kinnear. Tibbs helped to establish power among the Shepherds.
“The terrifying, difficult, challenging part of it – and also my favorite part – was just to be in a scene with these stellar actors,” Marshall said.
Marshall said he also felt the pressure to live up to the expectations of the director.
“I will be honest, it was challenging because you can’t help but have nerves about wanting to do it right,” he said. “You want to be your best. And I think I used that. Because my character is supposed to get a little angry and a little frustrated with the president.”
Although Marshall was humbled by the experience, he said his journey getting the role was not an easy one.
Marshall was cast by casting Director Erica Arvold, who called him in for an audition for season six of “House of Cards” at the end of last year.
“It’s very hard to get on that show,” Marshall said. “There are hundreds of New York and LA actors that would kill to be on it. And I have some friends, one in particular, that I believe auditioned something like 16 to 19 times to get on the show. Finally did, but it was a very difficult show to get on.”
Once Arvold cast Marshall for the part of Tibbs, the next step was to go in for a wardrobe fitting. However, Marshall said he received an email saying his wardrobe fitting would be “rescheduled for a future time.”
“I thought ‘a future time,’ well that doesn’t sound good,” said Marshall. “I thought, ‘Had I been fired?’ I hadn’t done anything yet.’”
Twenty minutes after the first text, Marshall said he received a message from a friend with a link to an article in “Variety” magazine that explained Netflix had cancelled the show because of the sexual assault allegations against Spacey.
“I thought, ‘Oh gosh, what a tragedy all around,’” Marshall said. “Because of the circumstances connected with Kevin Spacey, because of the show shutting down, and here was my chance to do a nice little role on “House of Cards” and they were shutting it down.”
However, in January, Netflix announced that production of the final sixth season would resume. Marshall said he got a call that he was wanted back, that his character of Scott Tibbs was slightly changed, and they wanted him to audition for a second time.
Marshall traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, for his second audition to play Mr. Tibbs.
“Usually auditions are nerve-wracking, and I felt very comfortable with Erica,” Marshall said of the casting director. “I knew my lines. I knew the situation very well. She threw a lot of different interpretations of reading on me for this callback.”
The next day, Arvold called Marshall to tell him “you’re really, close, they really love you, but they want an adjustment on a tweak for the read.” Marshall explained that they wanted him to audition one more time.
Because Arvold lived three hours away in Charlottesville from Marshall’s home in Columbia, Maryland, Marshall was allowed to audition with one of Arvold’s colleagues who teaches acting. The problem, however, was that the colleague had an acting class that night.
Arvold said, “So, the only way you could do your callback is if you do it in front of her class.”
“I did my callback with this group of people sitting in front of me,” Marshall said, “and they were very supportive and cheering me on, so to speak. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I have to get this part now, because if I don’t it’s going to be really humiliating.’”
Marshall did get cast as Scotty Tibbs, of course.
The “House of Cards” role was not his first experience with acting and being on-screen. Although Marshall was born in Baltimore, he moved to New York City with his mother, Bette Marshall, when she divorced his father. Bette Marshall became an actress in the early 1960s, a single mom with “a kid in tow.” Despite this, Marshall said he remembers going to Broadway rehearsals in New York City. Also, he said he remembers seeing his mom on television.
“She would support us by doing TV commercials and soap operas in New York City,” Marshall said.
When Marshall was 5 years old, his mother took him to her Broadway rehearsal for the play “Never Too Late,” which starred old-time television personality Arthur Godfrey. There were no daycare centers back then, he said.
“I got to watch her rehearsal and Arthur Godfrey kept opening the door and said, ‘Come in Mr. Mayor!’” Marshall said. “And no one would walk in through the door. So, I’m watching this over and over again. I thought ‘I’m going to help out.’ So, I stood in the doorway and when the line came up, ‘Come in Mr. Mayor!’ I thought, ‘I’m just being helpful.’ So, I walked down the stage and I’m waving at everybody and smiling. And my mother was mortified, and the actors were laughing.”
The experience his mother gave him growing up around the theatre industry inspired Marshall.
“Even as a child, at 5, I just found that environment magical,” he said.
Marshall’s mother appeared in two Broadway shows and was a television actress on the soap opera “The Secret Storm.” Bette Marshall is now a photographer living in South Florida. She has photographed celebrities like Whitney Houston, KISS, Tim McGraw, and New Kids on The Block.
Marshall’s stepfather, who became his adopted father, Paul Marshall, also played a role in Marshall’s interest in the business of acting. Paul Marshall was a “very successful attorney in the music industry” who was “very involved in music copyright law.”
Marshall’s adoptive father also had clients such as Whitney Houston, and KISS, the rock group.
Marshall studied theatre at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and graduated from New York University as a film major.
“I was very lucky to get in [NYU],” Marshall said.
Marshall has had recurring roles on the Discovery Channel and acting roles on the History Channel, which still run on TV. He also wrote a play called “Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter,” which was produced in a number of places such as Scotland and Virginia. Most recently, he stars as William N. Selig in the movie “Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws,” which is set to be released next year.
Marshall returned to the Baltimore area after college and has been living in Maryland for 26 years now.
“It was hard to break in, even in Baltimore,” Marshall said of the theatre business. “There’s a very tight-knit theatre community and film community, and I’m very happy to be a member of both. But it’s not always easy to break in when you’re an outsider.”
Marshall now lives in Columbia with his husband Craig Whitaker and their chihuahua named Cujo, which they rescued after “someone showed up with a little, teeny, weeny creature” while working on “Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws,” said Marshall.
On Aug. 3, 2013, Marshall suffered a massive heart attack. He went in what’s called the “widow maker,” where the heart “is starved for blood, and it just starts to quiver like Jell-O. It’s not pumping anymore, and you’re basically dead,” Marshall said.
“When that happens to people, because of the rhythm, most people die from that,” Marshall said. “If you’re in the very rare circumstances I happened to be, it ended up by luck, by timing in an ambulance, that they then shock you with a defibrillator. And that broke the rhythm of the Jell-O quivering.”
“And then I flatlined, I was gone. Then they just pounded on me, and a minute and a half later, they just said they got a pulse back and they resuscitated me.”
After being close to death, Marshall started a blog talking about surviving that experience and how it changed him. He said he plans to release a book, “Providence of the Heart,” based off his blog in the first quarter of next year.
He also co-produced a documentary called “Back from the Light” with Yvonne Sneeden, sharing the stories of about 30 different people, including Marshall himself, and their near-death experiences. The documentary is available on-demand on Vimeo.
“It’s not about the near-death experience as much as it’s about afterwards – how you survived today, now, in this world,” said Marshall who has had several speaking engagements about his experience and hopes to do more in the future.
Actress Anita Gillette, who has played roles on films and shows such as “Moonstruck,” “30 Rock,” “Law and Order,” and “Modern Family” has been a good friend of Marshall’s for years.
“I love him,” she said in a phone interview. “I adore him. I feel like his second mother…. I’d do anything for him. And I think it’s because I know he’d do anything for me and he does. A lot.”
On Jan. 13, 1981, Gillette said met Marshall when she was a celebrity guest on the game show The $50,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark. Gillette brought Marshall to the Winner’s Circle.
In 2009, Gillette was on a cruise when Marshall was giving one of his lectures. Gillette said she enjoyed Marshall’s lecture, and before she could talk to him, a friend of hers from her group went over and started talking to him. The friend from Gillette’s group asked if Marshall knew Gillette, and Marshall asked the friend to please introduce him to Gillette.
Marshall met with Gillette and started crying.
Gillette recalled that Marshall said, “I know you, you changed my life.”
Gillette said, “What? I was going to say nice things to you about your lecture. And he said, ‘no, you changed my life because of you I won money on The Pyramid, and with that money I was able to start doing the kind of business that I really wanted to do.’”
“… and we’ve been friends ever since,” Gillette said.