House Of Cards star intimidates real-life politicians

Actor Michael Kelly stars in the new FX/BBC period drama Taboo.
Actor Michael Kelly stars in the new FX/BBC period drama Taboo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PASADENA (California) • House Of Cards star Michael Kelly ought to be talking to reporters, but instead he is working the room, trying to persuade a movie executive to cast him in Deadpool 2.

The American actor is used to getting his way, thanks to confusion with his most famous character, ruthless White House chief of staff Doug Stamper in Netflix's hit political drama.

It is a mark of the impact that the chillingly cold-blooded Stamper has had on popular culture, that real-life politicians are intimidated when they see Kelly in Washington lobbying for one of his causes.

"Doug Stamper walks the halls of Congress and people, they listen. It's funny - it's real," says Kelly, 48, when he sits down clutching a beer.

The issues closest to his heart are care for the elderly - he played a key role last year in the reauthorisation of the Older Americans Act - and the epidemic of opioid abuse.

His character cajoles, blackmails and murders his way to the top in House Of Cards - a political drama starring Kevin Spacey as the United States president - but, as is often the way, Kelly turns out to be a teddy bear in real life.

"I'm a very happy man. I'm really nothing like that guy... I usually walk into a room smiling and saying hello, so the guard goes down," says the Irish-Italian father-of-two, who grew up in the southern state of Georgia.

Kelly is at the plush Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, southern California, to talk about his new show, the eight-episode FX/BBC period drama Taboo.

Set in London during the early 19th century, the series is the proudest achievement of his career, with a lead actor in Tom Hardy, whom Kelly believes is now the best in the business.

"When you have a certain level of success, it gives you a certain level of confidence to be a little more free than you were, say, five years ago," he says.

"Hopefully, I'm at the point one day where I'm completely free, but it's really hard to just let everything go. It's what we all strive for."

Before Netflix came calling, the actor had enjoyed a steady career in television, often playing a policeman in crime dramas, and a burgeoning big-screen resume which included parts in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable (2000) and Clint Eastwood's Changeling (2008).

Over four seasons of House Of Cards, he developed what would become one of the most deliciously cold-blooded, pitiless characters in modern drama, earning an Emmy nomination along the way.

Higher-profile, big-screen roles followed, including in Superman reboot Man Of Steel (2013) and reallife mountaineering disaster movie Everest (2015), alongside Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin.

The role involved enduring altitude sickness during two weeks of trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas.

"It's tough, man, and what's funny is how it affects people differently. I'm in good shape, but I had headaches," he says.

"It felt like Brolin was taking his palms and smashing my temples as hard as he could."

As a passionate politico, an ally of the Clintons and a Hollywood name, it should come as no surprise that Kelly is contemptuous of US President Donald Trump and is happy to list his many reasons.

But he echoes a sentiment which got fellow actor Nicole Kidman into trouble early this month - that Americans should get behind Mr Trump now that he is in the White House. "I will be a critic, but I won't bash him. I'm not going to use any bad words," said Kelly, who was interviewed days before the President was sworn in.

Netflix has announced that House Of Cards 5 will be available on May 30, with a trailer that promises even darker storylines.

Regardless of whether he gets the Deadpool gig, Kelly will have been working pretty much non-stop since 2008, and it is tempting to wonder whether he makes much time for himself.

"No, I love working, man. I feel grateful," he insists.

He laughs at the suggestion that, with his single-minded ambition and unshakeable work ethic, he might be more like Stamper than he cares to admit.

"I guess so," he replies sheepishly. "It's a blast. I love it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2017, with the headline 'House Of Cards star intimidates real-life politicians'. Print Edition | Subscribe