“All we wanted it to be was as good as we could possibly make it.” Michael Kelly talks Season Six and his character arc in House of Cards.
THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS!!
His character, Doug Stamper had a shocking ending on the final episode and final season of Netflix’s House of Cards. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) stabbed him to death in the Oval Office. It was quite an ending for the character who season after season has had one great character arc after another. With Frank Underwood dead at the beginning of the season, Doug Stamper became the main protagonist, stepping into the limelight.
Kelly talks about this season and playing Stamper for six seasons. He talks about THAT ending and what he knew. Read our chat below.
I think when you speak to any fan of House Of Cards, most will tell you how much they love Doug Stamper. But, also how much they’ve loved your character arc. However, that ending. Did you know how it was going to end for him?
No. None of us did. Because of everything that happened, we were behind that 8-ball there. I give so much credit to the writers there. I can not believe what they were able to pull off. They basically had to re-write the whole thing in two months.
I’m so thankful that they included me in things. They started to talk about the arcs with the actors, and certainly with me around the latter part of season 3. I was really grateful they included me with this season because we were under the gun there. All we wanted it to be was as good as we could possibly make it.
We were going over that ending for a while. We were going over who killed Francis for a while and going back and forth. The one thing I can say about those writers is we could never be disappointed by them as an actor, as a person fortunate to play Doug. They always give me such great stuff to do. They equally terrify me and pleasantly surprise me.
What I enjoyed was seeing Doug become the main antagonist with Francis dead.
I was incredibly grateful. I would never wish ill will on another person to better myself. But being that the chips fell where they did, I was so grateful to be given the opportunity that I was given. I don’t think that would have happened had things not gone the way they did. On one hand, you’re dealing with the loss of what happened, and on the other, you’re being challenged as an actor on a level that you haven’t been before. It’s scary. It was really scary to take it on.
Another arc was seeing the storyline with Rachel.
With Rachel, I think we talked about it before. She was meant to come and do a few scenes and her character’s name was ‘Prostitute’. I felt like every scene I got with her and everytime they extended that character’s arc and it tied so closely to mine, I was so grateful. No only do I respect her as an actor, she is a grounded and extremely talented performer. I felt the two of us were able to connect on that level and to pull from Doug’s perspective, that sense of love. Yes, they had a sexual relationship, but yes, there was something he loved about her.
Having to do what he did and to see that go to where it did. It was gratitude. I think the writers saw something when the two of us were together. When it ended, it was heartbreaking for me as an audience member because I loved that character. When you connect with someone with that, it doesn’t happen all the time. I miss her all the time.
Doug has always prepared. He’s always been one step ahead and even with that finale, you get that sense too. Did you feel that too as the season progressed?
Yes, he’s always one step ahead of everyone. He knew going into that room and that Oval Office. He knew if he didn’t get the pardon. He was willing to settle for her to say she is who she is because of him. He was willing to walk out of there. He was willing to say, here’s the list of people who want to kill you, just give me the pardon, I’ve done the work. She says, “No.” I think he knew at that point that it was going to be him or her.
We kept going back and forth with the writers. I said, “this is not Doug to do the work for the shepherd’s and do the work for them.” They agreed. We had to really navigate that ending and it made sense to me.
He got what he needed from the shepherd. At the end, I tried to convey this sense of relief. It’s over. If you think about it, he has nothing left. Francis is gone. His job is gone. He’s not going to get another job in DC. He believed Francis was in it for the right reasons, and he doesn’t believe Claire was. When the world came crumbling down around him, I think there was a sense of relief and for it to be done. For him, he couldn’t kill her because he saw Francis in her with the baby. He couldn’t bring himself to do that. He was like, “It’s time.” He didn’t fight back.
You get that sense of release. That acceptance with that line that goes back to Season one. Take us into that shoot?
The two of us both requested to be there for the last day of filming so we scheduled the actual ending of the show for the final day. If I remember correctly, she wanted two days to shoot that scene. I remember thinking, “two days?” but when we got into it, you have the VFX, the blood and everything that goes into it. There are so many different levels to that scene but she was so right.
The best way to describe that last day was fumes. We went to such high emotions. It was just so exhausting, but Robin, just like she was when the news broke – she was a leader that day and she carried us through. We were dead at the end. We just kept going and kept pushing. The crew was the same. Everyone wanted everything to be great for Robin this year.
When we were done, this crew being amazing that they were, rigged the office and put disco lights in the Oval Office. You’ve never seen anything but dark in that room, but this was amazing. We partied until 4 in the morning. It was fun. It was also bittersweet. When they said, “that’s a wrap on Michael Fucking Kelly” I bawled. It was a family. The crew was appreciative that we could come together and just do it.
Doug finally broke the fourth wall this season and that was great to see.
It was terrifying. [laughs]. When I first read that. I thought, “oh God. It’s not Doug.” People always ask, me if Doug is going to be President. It’s not him. The same way, the same thing is applicable here. It’s just not him, but it was terrifying.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I went to the writers. They said that Kevin loved to do it, but Robin and I were the same. I just went to work on it. I concluded that he was losing his mind that season. Maybe he’s talking to himself or to Frank. Even when he’s talking to “Claire” I’m talking to me, to myself. That’s how I made it make sense, just to internalize it all. I had to make it about him.