It’s effusive praise indeed from a man whose most popular screen character holds his cards much closer to his chest. ‘House of Cards’ fans will know him as the extremely complicated Doug Stamper, Frank Underwood’s henchman.
In ‘Taboo’, he plays Dumbarton, a man who is simultaneously a surgeon, a spy and a pioneer in dying cotton. As screenwriter Steven Knight explains, if this hadn’t been a real historical character, he wouldn’t have dared make him up. Dumbarton is the enigmatic mentor to Jack Delaney, Tom Hardy’s central character, a man who returns from Africa to discover his father has died and left him some land.
If ‘House of Cards’ finds Michael Kelly’s character trading in all kinds of political currency, ‘Taboo’ finds him transfixed by another kind of power.
“Delaney, the main character, has property,” he explains. “And he’s realised that’s the only asset that means anything, it means he can do whatever he wants. It’s kind of intoxicating, and it’s never been more topical, despite the historical setting.”
Despite his success in ‘House of Cards’, Michael admits he was intimidated by the prospect of appearing in ‘Taboo’: “The script was incredible, Tom Hardy is an actor I respect as much as anyone in the business right now, I couldn’t believe they’d cast me. I was the only American, so I couldn’t mess up. I was really scared. But you have to go for it.”
Go for it, he did, even having his teeth painted with yellow dye to create the unpolished look of the time - “taking Pride and Prejudice and turning it upside down to show the period for what it really was,” he says – and it turns out he loved every minute, which makes it a shame that we won’t see Dumbarton again in the remaining two series of the trilogy.
“He’s done, he’s had his comeuppance, unfortunately,” explains Michael. “Netflix were happy for me to do one series, but I wasn’t going to push my luck. It was time to go back to being Stamper.”
Taboo is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital courtesy of STUDIOCANAL