Michael Kelly

In the Cards

Actor reaches new heights in a brilliant career

Earn an Emmy Award nomination. Check.

That was a goal Michael Kelly ’92 set for himself after he earned a bachelor’s degree in performing arts from Coastal Carolina University. In July 2015, the seasoned TV and big-screen per- former was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role as the ruthless political fixer Doug Stamper in Netflix’s House of Cards.

“My mom always encouraged my siblings and me to write?down our goals and go after them,” said Kelly, who grew up in Lawrenceville, Ga. “It is such a thrill to get my first Emmy nomination. I was absolutely beside myself. It’s an incredible feeling.”

The fourth season of House of Cards will premiere in 2016. The political drama series, the first to be offered on Netflix’s streaming service, earned 11 Emmy nominations in 2015. Kelly admits that when he first signed on for the project, he was somewhat skeptical about whether or not anyone would even see the show.

“At the time, Netflix wasn’t what it is today,” he said. “For me, that was the unknown. Now, looking back three to four years later and seeing what Netflix has done is totally amazing. It’s a very good representation of who we are as a people now. We want our information when we want it. You can Google anything and get the answer immediately. That’s the times we are living in. And that is what Netflix gives you.”

In the series, Kelly’s Doug Stamper serves as the chief of staff and loyal hatchet man to Frank Underwood, a cutthroat South Carolina politician who rises from Democratic majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives to become the 46th president. Underwood is played by Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Underwood last year.

Kelly says the opportunity to create a character outside of his wheelhouse is what he enjoys most about playing the icy Stamper.

“I’m the type of person who can never stop smiling,” Kelly said. “I am so grateful for everything that I have and for everything I have been able to do. So to play a guy who never smiles, who hardly even emotes, I get a real kick out of doing that.”

When Kelly came to Coastal on a cross-country scholarship in the late 1980s, his plan was to study political science and become a lawyer. But, after taking an elective acting class, his whole out- look on life changed. He credits his pursuit of an acting career on constant encouragement from now retired CCU theatre professors Sandi Shackelford and Chuck Whetzel.

Kelly’s big-screen career is also soaring, thanks in part to his distinguished work in House of Cards. He appeared with an all-star cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightly) in Everest, playing mountain-climbing author Jon Krakauer. Another of his recent films is Secret in Their Eyes, a crime thriller starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. In all, Kelly has appeared in 27 moviesand21TVshowsandseries, including The Sopranos, The Good Wife and Law & Order.

“I would not be where I am today without my degree from CCU,” Kelly said. “I was the first person to graduate [from Coastal] with a performing arts degree. I was naïve enough to believe that since that is what I earned my degree in, that is how I’d make a living. That naiveté would serve me well. When I got to New York, I never gave up. I knew I had the education and the foundation from Coastal Carolina University to pursue what I wanted to do, which gave me great confidence. Coastal holds a very special place in my heart.” 

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