It will be an exciting fall for Brookwood High School (BHS) grad (’87), Michael Kelly. In September and October the super-talented actor has two top grade films premiering in which he co-stars.
But that’s not all. On the evening of September 20 he will be sitting in the Microsoft Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles at the Emmy Awards with his wife Karyn, anxiously waiting to learn if he has been selected to receive the 2015 Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama for his role as Doug Stamper in the Netflix series, House of Cards!
“I’m still kinda freaking out about the whole thing,” Kelly said. “You work so hard all your life and to be recognized by your peers, it’s just thrilling.”
“The competition is fierce,” said Kelly’s mom Maureen Kelly who resides in Lawrenceville with her husband and Michael Kelly’s dad, Mike Kelly. “There are so many talented actors who could have been nominated and for him to be one of six…it was just a huge surprise and a great, great day.”
Kelly is also excited for other House of Cards nominees, including Rachael Brosnahan who received a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. The series received 11 nominations in all.
A BHS Hall of Fame member, drama never entered his mind while at BHS. It wasn’t until he was in college at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina that he developed an interest in acting after taking an acting elective. He started out intending to get a law degree but ended up being the first person ever to graduate from Coastal Carolina with a performing arts degree in acting.
If you knew Kelly when he was growing up in Lawrenceville you probably remember that he was always a happy, smiling kid. Today, he is just as happy and always smiling…except when he is playing the role of Doug Stamper, President Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) quiet, cold and calculating former Chief of Staff and chief henchman who will go to any lengths to do Underwood’s bidding. And it’s seldom legal or moral.
“He’s a complicated man who does bad things,” Kelly laughed when interviewed on The Today Show recently, adding that when people get on an elevator and see him they go, “Oh, God!” and back into the corner. “I’m a hugger, though so I smile and quickly disarm them.”
When he recently met President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Mr. Obama commented to his wife, “Don’t worry Michelle. I hear he’s a lot nicer in person.”
All this points to Kelly’s acting ability and why he was nominated for this prestigious acting award. His role as Stamper is the total opposite of who he is.
Kelly says his biggest break was the role he played in 2008 opposite Angelina Jolie in Clint Eastwood’s, Changeling. “It did a lot for me,” Kelly said, “including being chosen as one of the Top 20 actors to watch that year.”
He says, however, House of Cards has been his biggest break. “It has given me recognition. I don’t walk a block down the street without someone stopping me to take a picture. It’s crazy!” he laughed.
Of course, being on talk shows like The Today Show and Ellen doesn’t hurt his recognition factor. Neither does being in films like The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Now You See Me and Man of Steel (both 2013). (He couldn’t commit to the upcoming sequel to Now You See Me because filming coincided with filming for House of Cards.)
Less than a week after the Emmy Awards comes the premier of the movie Everest in which Kelly plays journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer who wrote the book Into Thin Air, on which the film is based. It’s the true story of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, which at the time was the most deadly day in the mountain's history.
It’s been two years since the filming in Nepal but Kelly remembers vividly the grueling climbing and trekking of Mt Everest to film the 3D/IMAX movie.
“It was three months of climbing and trekking and at 16,000 feet we had brutal headaches morning and night, but you had to work through it,” he recalled. “The hardest part was being away from my wife and kids and the monotony of climbing in freezing temps.” He added that it was like the movie Groundhog Day.
“You did the same thing over and over – staying in a small hotel, breakfast in the morning, drive to the mountain, get on a chairlift, climb for 10 to 12 hours, then back to the hotel for dinner, drink red wine, sleep, get up and do the same thing again…over and over again.”
“But the beauty of Everest and working with all those guys in the movie (Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal and others), it was crazy and something I’ll never forget.”
On October 23 a second film in which he co-stars with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman will premier. The Secret in Their Eyes is a thriller and a re-make of the 2009 Argentine film and Academy Award winner, El secreto de sus ojos. What makes the film special to Kelly is that screenwriter Billy Ray, who wrote the Hunger Game and Captain Phillips screenplays, wrote Kelly’s part as a result of his acting on House of Cards.
“He told me that he and his wife are my biggest fans and that when writing the script for the character I play, it was me who he had in his head. It’s a real thrill to think someone watched what I’ve done and wrote the script for me.”
In the midst of all the fall activity, Kelly will be busy filming House of Cards’ fourth season. It will pick up from season three’s dramatic ending when Stamper shows his dedication to Frank Underwood by eliminating a key character that could prove dangerous to the president. Fans of the show will have to wait until late February or early March for season four to see what the writers have in store for each of the characters.
Will Kelly be back for season five? Even he doesn’t know. This is a show that has no qualms about killing off their major players, except possibly the two stars, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
In the meantime, Kelly is waiting for a new project to start when House of Cards filming ends in December.
Thanksgiving or Christmas will most likely involve traveling from New York to Lawrenceville with his wife and kids to visit his parents, siblings and their families.
“I get back home twice a year. I’m tight with my family and I love it there,” Kelly said. “I still follow the Braves and Falcons and am excited about the new stadiums.”
And win or lose the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series, we will be seeing a lot of Michael Kelly through the years on our computers, TVs and on the big screen.
Good luck with the Emmy nomination and your career, Michael. Your hometown folks are pulling for you.