Ever since the first season of House of Cards, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) has been a silent, deadly and domineering presence in the Netflix series. President Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) ever-faithful assistant did just about anything the boss asked of him, be it murder or taking the fall for something else.
Now confined in a psychiatric ward and without Frank to guide him, Doug must contend with President Claire Underwood’s (Robin Wright) rise to power, which may or may not have included a significant sleight against her late husband’s right-hand-man. Kelly, an acting veteran who recently produced his first film All Square, spoke to Metro about his final turn as Stamper. He also opened about the fact that, before Spacey’s firing, he almost directed an episode.
Michael Kelly almost directed an episode of House of Cards season 6
“I was going to direct this season, but when we went from 13 to 8, I lost my slot, which was tough,” he says while conversing about performers who do (and do not) watch themselves on screen. Kelly actually doesn’t mind watching his past performances, and he even went back and watched the previous 5 seasons of House of Cards as a sort of “homework assignment.”
“I feel that, when watching yourself, you can actually learn a lot,” he explains. “I’m an actor who doesn’t mind it at all. I actually want to watch it, to see how I did and figure out which things I need to fix. It’s all to make sure I’m not getting into bad habits or getting lazy. I think it’s a great learning tool for an actor.”
It’s also a great tool for learning how to direct, be it for television or film.
“I haven’t directed anything since I was in college, and that was a play,” he says. Once Spacey was fired and the production had to regroup, however, Kelly lost his slot when the episode order was reduced. But as he said before, he doesn’t mind at all.
“I completely understood and I had no problem saying, ‘Okay, that’s fine. I totally get it.’ It’s something that I want to do, but I would only do it once I felt comfortable with the crew,” he tells us. “I want to have that shorthand with the crew. It’s an incredibly difficult job, but it’s one that Robin Wright just kills at doing. Watching her grow over the years as a director has been amazing. Her first time doing it was on House of Cards, and by the time we had wrapped, she had directed almost more episodes than any other director on the show.”
As much praise as Kelly has for Wright’s direction and acting, not to mention all the hard work of his fellow cast members and the crew, he can’t escape the acclaim others have given him for his performance. For much of House of Cards, Stamper has been one of the more frightening and least understood players in the game. Much of this has to do with what creator Beau Willimon, current showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, and the writer’s room, of course. But it also owes everything to Kelly, who describes the experience as the acting lesson of a lifetime.
“It’s difficult to do as an actor but it’s an incredible exercise,” he says of playing Stamper, who tends to express himself nonverbally. “You have to be able to say something without saying anything. It was one of the best exercises I was ever given, and I’m so grateful to have played this character. It was just such an incredible acting lesson.”
The sixth and final season of House of Cards streams Friday on Netflix.