Rachel Brosnahan was not expecting to make friends with a pigeon in Malta, but strange things happen on film sets, as the young up-and-coming actress can attest.
That fowl friendship in the Mediterranean was a fringe benefit while shooting "The Dovekeepers," a new CBS miniseries from husband-and-wife executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, airing March 31 and April 1.
The Biblical-era romantic drama, based on the best-selling novel by Alice Hoffman, tells the story of Yael (Brosnahan) and Shirah ("NCIS' " Cote de Pablo), two women trapped on Masada, the fortress atop a rocky plateau near the Dead Sea, where some 960 Jews waged a dramatic fight against attacking Romans in 73 A.D.
Brosnahan, 24, is perhaps best known for playing Rachel, a Washington, D.C., prostitute on the megahit series, "House of Cards," which just released its third season on Netflix. She also co-stars in "Manhattan," a WGN America series about the development of the atomic bomb, and will soon be seen on the big screen in "The Finest Hours" (with Chris Pine) and "Louder Than Bombs" (Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne). She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
So what's a bonny Irish girl like you doing in Judea?
That's a good question. [She laughs.] But funny enough, I fit the description of Yael in the book very well. So it's a lucky coincidence. She has pale skin, and flaming red hair. I don't have flaming red hair [for real] but got it, which was a blast. It was so fun I've kept it for a bit.
What did you know of Masada going into this?
Very little. And there isn't a lot of information about what this may have been like for the women.
What was it like shooting that scene with doves, doves, doves flying all around you?
It was wild. Sort of amazing. There was a Maltese dove handler. He trained the birds -- a lot of them were white pigeons, actually -- to fly back home to his house. Which is extraordinary. I made friends with a dove named Gertrude. We hung out for a day.
You and a bird?
Gertrude and I became besties, yeah. We took selfies together. [She laughs.]
What was it about her?
It's hard to describe. I'd never touched birds before. To hold them properly, you tuck their legs under and hold the meaty, back end of their bodies against yours -- and a lot of them get antsy. But this one dove just sat in the middle of my hand and hung out. They're really peaceful, gentle . . . exactly what they symbolize. That's one of the coolest things about being an actor -- we get to do all this stuff you'd never dream of.
This is a whole lot different from "House of Cards," eh?
The polar opposite.
I want to ask you about that, but I don't want to ruin any surprises for folks who haven't seen all of season three yet -- or the first two seasons, for that matter. I hate when critics and bloggers just give away the plot . . .
I know, right? In interviews I still feel like I can't talk about anything that's happened in any of the seasons. I'm not even all the way through season three yet. And some people are just discovering the show. It's hard. I don't know how you regulate it. I guess there has to be some communal rules about what to post. Or maybe -- I suppose this gets into all kinds of ethical issues, but since your computer knows where you are in a series, it would be great if it could warn you before you end up looking at something spoiler-related. There are people out there who actually get pleasure in spoiling it for people. Season three came out and there was a guy tweeting at me saying he watched the end first and went backward and I was like . . . why would you do that? Just to tweet spoilers to everyone.
Is it weird to play a character on "Cards" with your own name?
Initially she didn't have a name. She was just "Call Girl." I remember the episode where she finally says her name, in season one. I read it and had a little giggle. I was like, "Why would you do that?" [Series creator] Beau Willimon never gave me an answer, actually. It's been nice, in a way. "House of Cards" was my very first job out of college. So I've grown up with Rachel in a lot of ways. I've learned a lot from playing that character, finding out certain things about her. I think it changed me. I guess it's easier, too -- if someone calls my name or the character's name [she chuckles], I'm always gonna turn around.