When Kevin Spacey was preparing to play ruthless House majority whip Frank Underwood on House of Cards, he turned to then-actual House majority whip Kevin McCarthy.
The Bakersfield, California, Republican vaulted into that leadership job after a record-fast four years in Congress, and now the 49-year-old moves up to the No. 2 spot in the House – majority leader – on Friday.
But how much does he resemble Spacey’s fictional vote-wrangling whip, Frank Underwood? (Aside from the murder, we mean.)
For one thing, you can sometimes hear McCarthy’s words coming out of Underwood’s mouth.
Before shooting started, Spacey shadowed McCarthy on the Hill for the popular Netflix series. The actor said he was interested in the mechanics of the job, but also in knowing: “How much do you twist arms?”
Says McCarthy: “I told him I say to members, ‘You vote your district, you vote your conscience, you just don’t surprise me.’ And he stole that line for the show.”
By the season 2 finale, Underwood was in the Oval Office. Does McCarthy aspire to it?
“I laugh when people say that,” says his wife, Judy, 49, a marketing consultant for the California GOP, with whom McCarthy has two children. “We haven’t even considered it.”
And don’t expect him to cross over into show business anytime soon.
“He thinks he knows every word of every song, but he sings them all wrong,” teases Judy.
Instead, his priorities in his new role will be early votes on jobs and energy bills, as well as another attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act.
“We’ll have votes on better ideas for going forward,” he says. “I don’t think anybody thinks this healthcare system is working as-is,” he says.
Supporters of Obamacare will surely fight that effort, but McCarthy says he is open to ideas from both parties and has a unique approach to bipartisanship: Sweating out the differences in the gym.
He’s been seen working out with Democrats like Rep. Joe Kennedy, and taking long bike rides with the White House Chief of Staff.
So far, he hasn’t adopted any of Frank Underwood’s tactics, and when asked if he learned anything from watching House of Cards, McCarthy answers: “Things not to do.”
For more on the new House majority leader, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday