The Netflix series "House of Cards" unveiled its fourth season on Friday. The show focuses on the machinations of South Carolina congressman-turned-president Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey. Here and Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Michael Kelly, who plays Doug Stamper, Underwood’s chief of staff, about the show and its cultural impact.
Interview Highlights: Michael Kelly
On the cultural impact of 'House of Cards'
“I think it’s incredible. I’ve often said that when I first signed on to do this show, you had David Fincher and Kevin Spacey and Beau Willimon and Robin, everyone was already attached. I read the script and I was like wow, I know we’re going to make a great show, I just don’t know if anyone’s going to see it. Netflix was the unknown, funny enough, in the equation at that time. So to see what’s happened with that, around the world now, with them is just so impressive what they’ve accomplished.”
You’re in a show now that the president of the United States watches, there must be something surreal about that.
“It’s so – and I am such a big fan of the president, so to know that – from my understanding he gets the season early before anyone else because of that spoiler tweet that he did a year or two ago, maybe it was part of that thing there. I was fortunate enough to meet him this year, the president and the first lady. They introduced my wife and I, they said 'Mr. President, this is Michael Kelly and his wife Karyn Mendel' and we’re walking up, he turns to Michelle and he says ‘Don’t worry, Michelle, I hear he’s not nearly as diabolical in real life.’ She was like, ‘We love your show,’ and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, they know who I am.' It’s incredible, the reach of 'House of Cards.' I feel so blessed.”
Did you base your character on a real-life political staffer?
“No, no thank goodness. I mean, I did speak with a prominent New York chief of staff, and that person gave me some insight as to the daily workings of a chief of staff. The monotony, and sometimes boring tasks that one does. I did that and I had a decent political background from studying political science in college, but I don’t think anything could prepare me for playing Doug. But no, there’s no specific person. I do believe he’s probably based on a combination of people, and obviously from the original show, may be taken a little bit from there I’m sure.”
Is having your character killed off a worry for you while working on this show?
“Yeah, of course it’s something I worry about. I still finish a script and breathe a sigh of relief. We don’t have a problem killing off characters on 'House of Cards.' Yeah, for me to have made it this long, and almost not at the end of season two there, everyone thought he was gone. Yeah, I feel – man, this really is, this character, this job, has just been the greatest gift to me ever. The writing is so incredible, so I would hate for it to end there. I just love it so much.
Was there pressure on you and everyone working on the show when it first debuted, because of the kind of medium Netflix was?
“Funnily enough there wasn’t pressure on us because none of us knew what it exactly was even. I remember, like I said, saying 'I know we’re going to make a great show, but I don’t know if anyone’s going to see it.' We didn’t know what Netflix was, you know, at the time and granted, I’m a little bit older, I’m not so tech-savvy, so I’m sure there were kids saying 'oh, of course it’s going to be streaming show, it’s gonna be great.’ But for me it was like, that’s where I got my DVDs in the mail. So, the pressure wasn’t really there. I remember, I think it was Constance Zimmer, who played Janine Skorsky, said to me, you know we were filming and a few of us were hanging out, we were many episodes in, and we’d seen the first couple of rough cuts and we knew we were making something special. She said, ‘do you think we’ll be eligible for an Emmy?’ I was like, I don’t know. What is it, is it like TV, is it streaming. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around what it was we were doing at the time.”
What do you think it is now? Do you consider it TV?
“Yes. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I think that I will tell - my children are now 3 and 6, and I’ll tell Frankie and Clinton one day and I’ll say, ‘Hey guys, you know how you watch TV? We started that.’ I don’t think we’ll have 1,500 cable channels anymore, I think you’ll pay for what you wanna consume. I think Netflix is responsible for what will become how we view television.”
On the current presidential race
“I think all of a sudden we don’t look so crazy anymore, do we? I don’t know, this is a – I’ve certainly not seen anything like this before. I can’t wrap my head around all of it. All I know is that, when you watch the GOP debates and you watch the Democratic debates, and there is a big difference, Kasich aside, I think he is talking about real issues. It’s very refreshing to watch a Democratic debate and see these candidates talk about issues that matter to me and should matter to everyone in this country. They’re talking about things, instead of name calling and all of this stuff. That’s unfortunate to me, that we’ve gotten to a place like that.”
How many more seasons of 'House of Cards' will there be? What do you know at this point?
“I don’t know, they don’t tell me anything. We know we’re going back for a fifth season. I have no inside information. I’m saying it from a fan’s point of view, because my wife and I are very big fans of the show. I would probably say five or six, I don’t know. Look, I’ll do it forever, as long as they’re making and telling great stories like they’ve been, I’m happy to do this show forever. We have a blast, it’s a great group of people, and it’s the greatest job ever.”
This segment aired on March 7, 2016.
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