Actor Michael Kelly has finally reached the top — and we’re not just talking about his career.
Sure, he’s racked up four Emmy nominations as Frank Underwood’s sinister consigliere Doug Stamper in “House of Cards.”
And he’s now set to appear as Mike November, the CIA’s chief of station in Venezuela, alongside John Krasinski in the second season of Amazon’s action-packed “Jack Ryan” series (out Nov. 1).
He’s even landed what he calls his “dream role,” playing acting FBI director Andrew McCabe in a forthcoming ripped-from-the-headlines CBS miniseries about former FBI director James Comey (played by Jeff Daniels) and his impact on the 2016 election.
“I’m so f–king excited,” Kelly, 50, tells Alexa of the McCabe role. “You can’t keep me out of the White House.”
But the real pinnacle is his freshly renovated apartment on the Lower East Side. After 15 years, multiple subleases, a failed duplex conversion and four other apartments in the tower, he now enjoys the penthouse view at his longtime home.
“In all honesty, when we were looking to buy our first apartment, this was one of the only places we could afford,” says Kelly, who is the father of 10-year-old Frankie and 7-year-old Clinton with wife Karyn, an accomplished personal trainer. “It wasn’t easy to get what we have now. It’s a testament to our willingness to buy, renovate and live in sublets or through construction. We couldn’t have gotten it without suffering. Hard work or not, I’m very grateful. We’re so fortunate.”
Located within a sea of public housing south of the Williams-burg Bridge, the East River Housing Corporation complex (built in the 1950s) may seem an unusual homestead for such a recognizable TV fixture. But this isolated corner of the LES has recently become a green and tranquil bastion for creative families.
“It’s off the beaten path, right on the river, with parks, playgrounds and parking,” Kelly says. “This area is a jewel.”
While he may love to rep his adopted hood — until recently, when he switched to a bicycle, you might have caught him cruising on his longboard to Top Hops on Orchard Street — Kelly is hardly a native East Sider. Raised in Lawrenceville, Ga., he attended Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, where he discovered his passion for acting almost by accident.
“I studied business because I thought that’s what you do,” he says. “One semester, I went to my advisor with a lot of big chunky classes in my schedule and he was like, ‘You will fail. You need to put an elective in here.’ He said, ‘Take this acting class.’ I loved it.”
Encouraged by his first theater professor, Kelly became an acting major and bid farewell to his Southern drawl.
“I’ll never forget, in one of the first weeks of my Intro to Acting class, we had to pick a partner and pick a scene,” he recalls. “After [my] scene, my professor said, ‘Can I see you after class?’ She asked how long I had been acting and I said that I had never done this before. She said, ‘I think you really have something.’”
After graduation, Kelly followed a childhood pal to New York to “raise hell.” They lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, in a renovated horse stable in Hell’s Kitchen and eventually on 12th Street in Alphabet City. Kelly spent those early years flipping through Backstage and auditioning. It was during that time — in the late 1990s, while hitting bars on Ludlow Street and schlepping to his agent’s office on Park Avenue South for pilot scripts — that he fell in love with a bartender.
“I walked past the restaurant Park Avalon and she was behind the bar,” he says of his now-wife, who he’d “been crushing on” ever since he spied her guest bartending on Ludlow Street. “I happened to be looking in and she happened to be looking out. We got to talking and she gave me a free beer. After that I started picking up my scripts when I knew she was working.”
Eventually, Kelly made a move.
“I was like, ‘Hey, a bunch of us are going to see a band tomorrow night. Do you want to come?’” recalls Kelly, who was in the short-lived show “Level 9” at the time. “She said, ‘No, I want to go out with just you.’ I was like, ‘Oh! Um, alright. Cool!’ We’ve been together ever since. She is such a badass.”
The couple, who married in 2005, started life in their building on a smaller scale, buying a modest one-bedroom on the 14th floor in 2004. In 2007, after landing a part in Clint Eastwood’s “The Changeling,” he upgraded his family to an 18th floor spread with “a monster terrace.”
And in 2012, with a second child on the way and a slick new role on the groundbreaking “House of Cards,” he saw yet another opportunity, picking up a pair of apartments on the 19th and 20th floors, which he planned to combine into a duplex. But when the co-op board nixed his staircase, he zagged and picked up an adjacent unit on the 20th floor, sold the 19th-floor apartment and slowly created his current 1,900 square-foot four-bedroom, three-bathroom with architect Greg Colston and Lower East Side Construction.
“I had my skateboard and a six-pack and was just sitting on the floor,” Kelly recalls of his first meeting with Colston, who has worked with the actor on his last three homes (and by coincidence once owned a portion of Kelly’s current unit). “He came over, we had a beer and he got on the skateboard and started skating back and forth through the apartment. I was like, ‘I like this dude.’”
Colston stripped Kelly’s new unit to its bones, removing walls so that light from both sunrise and sunset would flood the apartment. He rebuilt it with a focus on concrete, steel, white oak and marble. The architect also added a fireplace, a bar and a master bedroom. He even designed a custom steel shelving system that has become the living room’s centerpiece.
“Karyn and I joked back when we bought this place that it’s the house ‘House of Cards’ built,” Kelly says. “Now we are putting the finishing touches on everything. There’s a Moroccan rug and furniture on the way. We haven’t found dining room chairs yet. We’re choosing to live in it and see what we need as we go along.”
They’re also working on their eclectic art collection — including portraits of former President Obama by Martin Schoeller and Tupac by Ken Nahoum, which were gifts from his friends, celebrity designers Robert and Cortney Novogratz.
As for his next creative project, Kelly is eager to look beyond renovations and serious political thrillers. “I’ll put it in baseball terms because I’m a huge Braves fan,” he says. “After being on ‘House of Cards’ for six seasons, being a free agent feels really good. I want to show another side of myself. I’d go jump on a comedy.”
He’s particularly impressed by Danny McBride’s “The Righteous Gemstones” and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag.”
“I’m hoping to do something like that,” Kelly says. “Something smart and funny. But honestly for me, it’s always been about a director, actor or writer I want to work with. I’m very fortunate to do a lot of incredible projects with a lot of incredible people.”
Photos: Christopher Sturman; Prop Stylist: Brice Gaillard; Groomer: Cheri Keating at The Wall Group using YSL Beauty; Stylist: Amber Simiriglia