Michael Kelly builds a career on House Of Cards

Michael Kelly returns in fresh season of House Of Cards with acting challenges

For actor Michael Kelly, the political drama series House Of Cards has proved life changing. The 46-year-old American stars as Doug Stamper, the scheming ex-alcoholic chief of staff to Kevin Spacey's US president.

"Before, people in the street would be like, 'Dude, I loved you in that movie you were in', and you could see them Googling on their phone to find the film," says Kelly. "Now people are like, 'Hey, Stamper!' Walking down the street is totally, totally different."

Not only has he become a more recognisable public face, his standing within the industry has skyrocketed too. "Honestly, the show's completely changed my life, especially how the business sees me," he continues.

The film he is shooting now, The Secret in Their Eyes with Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor, came his way because the director Billy Ray and his wife are big fans of the show.

"They loved what I did on House Of Cards and just offered me the role," Kelly says. "This show is popular all over the world but in our industry, it's really popular. Everyone I would want to see it, is seeing it."

He has been working in Hollywood since the late 1990s, emerging as a strong character actor in movies such as Changeling, The Adjustment Bureau, Fair Game and Now You See Me, while also appearing in the television mini- series Generation Kill.

His meatiest role to date, however, is in House Of Cards, where he plays a decidedly opaque character who will do anything to further the ambitions of the man he serves, Spacey's Frank Underwood.

"He is driven by work," Kelly explains of Stamper. "Like many alcoholics who quit, they funnel that energy into one thing and he chose it to be all about work. Doug is going to the top and he has no desire to be 'the guy'. He'd rather be pulling the strings."

At the climax of Season 2, Stamper's string-pulling leads to his being hit on the head with a brick, creating an end-of-season cliffhanger. No one was sure whether he would survive the attack, creating a number of problems for Kelly, who had to keep his return in Season 3 a closely guarded secret.

"Keeping that secret for a year was really, really tough," he concedes. "In my personal life, only my wife, mum and dad, and a couple of friends knew about it.

"I'm not a liar but when people asked about this season, I had to look them in the eye and lie about it."

The final episode of Season 2 aired while Kelly was in the Italian Alps shooting the forthcoming feature film Everest. "And I was getting these e-mails, one from my dad, saying, 'You look pretty dead!' Then my business manager was like, 'Well, it was a fun run while it lasted. You look really dead.'

"And the first journalists who wrote about that episode were like, 'Oh Stamper is dead', so not only were people I knew saying I was dead, the news was telling me too."

Stamper, of course, survives and is back on screens in Season 3, offering Kelly his most difficult acting role yet, courtesy of his character's brain injury.

"I was challenged more as an actor than I've ever been challenged before," he says. "When you have a brain injury, there are varying degrees to what happens.

"Then there is the physical aspect, which is especially challenging in the beginning because you have half of your body that doesn't work very well. You have to maintain that posture for a 12-hour shooting day, and what that does to your body is exhausting." He smiles, adding: "But it's so worth it."

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House Of Cards Season 3 airs on RTL CBS Entertainment (Singtel TV Channel 318, StarHub TV Channel 509) on Wednesday at 9.55pm.