Actor Michael Kelly discusses his role in The Adjustment Bureau, working with Matt Damon, The Firm TV series, and more
Michael Kelly is one of those actors you practically have to take notice of, not just because of his chops, but because he keeps popping up in high-profile projects. He portrayed Andy Kaufman's brother in Man on the Moon, but I first noticed him in one of the most memorable episodes of my favorite TV show, The Shield, in a Season One episode where he played a serial killer. Most will recognize him as the hardened CJ in the Dawn Of The Dead along with the many roles that followed in movies such as Invincible, Changeling, Defendor, and Law Abiding Citizen, just to name a few. His latest movie is The Adjustment Bureau, where he plays Charlie Traynor, the campaign manager of Matt Damon's David Norris.
This is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, and his stories have long been fodder for movie adaptations. I was wondering if you were familiar with this particular short story before signing on?
Michael Kelly: No, I hadn't. I had been a fan of his other adaptations. I read it before I think I even knew it was an adaptation. The second I finished reading it, I called my manager and said, 'Dude, I want to do this movie.' It's such a cool story and, I think if it was done right, it could make a really cool movie. Then I met (director) George (Nolfi), and I was like, 'Wow, I really want to do this movie.'
One of the things I really liked about this movie, is there are all these great sci-fi elements, but it really does feel like this could happen in present-day New York. Was that one of George's goals, to keep this visually grounded in reality?
Michael Kelly: Yeah. I think that he and (cinematographer) John Toll had this real vision. It comes off as this amazing, beautiful postcard of New York City. I think it's one of the prettiest New York City movies ever made, at least in recent history. I think that definitely was the plan though. I can't tell for sure, but in looking at what you get out of it, I think so.
You play Matt Damon's campaign manager in this film. Were there any actual politicians or campaign managers you spoke with to prepare for this?
Michael Kelly: Yeah, we did, actually. I had actually done a lot of research on James Carville for another role. I wasn't actually playing James Carville, but it was based loosely on him. I'm a really big fan of his. George is really good friends with a politician, and he invited him over to his apartment and talk with Matt and I. He spent a good hour with us, and it was great, and very informative. He gave us a lot of books to read. I had actually studied political science in college. I had dreams of being a lawyer at one time. I think most importantly in my character, it wasn't as much of the politics, but being his childhood buddy and everything we go through.
Did you have a lot of time with Matt before shooting, to build a rapport between the characters?
Michael Kelly: Yes and no. They had a kick-off party for us, and I had a couple of beers with Matt. I just said, 'Look, I'm around if you want to get together.' I had just had a baby girl, and he just had a kid, and we both realized that there wouldn't be a lot of time for that. We just hung out a lot on set, and he's got to be one of the most easy-going people to be around. People always ask me, 'Hey, what's Matt Damon like?' He's just a dude, just a really good person and one hell of an actor.
I read that the original ending was scrapped, where they actually meet the Chairman. I don't believe this ending is on the Blu-ray or DVD. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about that, without spoiling too much, and if you think the regular ending is better?
Michael Kelly: Yeah. Nothing against the actress who played the Chairman, because she was fantastic, but to say for sure who the Chairman was, to give that a face, I think it just takes away from it. I think it's nice to leave it open. Let's say it is this God or higher being who turns out to be this beautiful woman with this beautiful voice, I think too many people might have said, 'Oh, of course she's a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice.' I loved when they left it open. I think the greatest thing about this movie, is it doesn't answer every single thing. It has made people talk, and that's one of the greatest complements I've ever gotten on the movie. They just talk about fate versus free will, and I think that's great.
Can you talk about your work with George, and how you might compare him with other directors you have worked with in your career?
Michael Kelly: Oh, George is amazing. He's just this very easy-going guy with a very fun personality. He's also very smart, intimidatingly so at times, especially for someone like me. I'd love to work with that guy again. I've really been very fortunate to work with some of the best directors in my career, and I consider George to be one of them. He's a first-time filmmaker, and there's a lot to be said for that. He's somebody who knows exactly what he wants and gets exactly what he wants. We're not running super-long days or going over. He instills confidence in everybody, and it all comes from him and his belief in what he is doing.
You mentioned before that you were studying to be a lawyer. Did you have aspirations to be a politician at that time?
Michael Kelly: I was in college and I studied everything, but was really not good at anything until I found philosophy, and, then, political science. I thought, 'Wow, this is something I really enjoy.' I kind of got into that whole world of law and political science. I was really into it and enjoying it, and then I took an acting elective, and that was it. I ended up changing my major (Laughs). I'll never forget calling my mom. I said, 'I'm changing my major. I think I want to be an actor.' She said, 'If you're a lawyer, you get to act every day!' (Laughs) Yeah, I probably got in too much trouble as a youth to be a politician.
Is there a big juicy political role that you're always looking for?
Michael Kelly: If I get one more person telling me I look like Eliot Spitzer, I'm just going to have to play the guy one day (Laughs). He's somebody who would be really interesting to play, especially in the last couple of years. I have people in New York who will yell across the street at me, 'Spitzer! What's up?' I like Eliot Spitzer. We have all made mistakes in life, and he's handled his pretty damn well.
Is there anything you can say about the project you're working on now in South Africa?
Michael Kelly: Yeah, it's called Chronicle. It's a Fox film and really super interesting and supr cool. Basically, it's these three young high school kids who develop super powers, so to speak. With all power comes problems, and all hell breaks loose, so to speak. I play the father of one of the main kids, a horrible, abusive, terrible man. It's a really interesting script. Max Landis wrote it and Josh Trank. I'm just thrilled to be a part of it, because it's so original. I guess the way I described it just now wasn't so original, was it? (Laughs) To be honest, I'm trying to think of what I literally can and cannot say. OK, here you go. Three friends who gain super powers from a mysterious substance, turn on each other when personal problems arise. They already have a release date for it, February next year. These kids are so talented and they're really making an incredibly unique film that will come out of nowhere. It's really exciting.
Is there anything you're looking to join up with after you wrap Chronicle?
Michael Kelly: My buddy Josh Lucas is doing The Firm for NBC. Right before I left, I auditioned to play his brother. Josh is one of my closest friends, and I texted him saying, 'What do you know about The Firm? Are you going to do it?' He said, 'It's looking like it.' I said, 'Well, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior was just canceled.' He said, 'I was kind of selfishly hoping it would, so you could be available for this.' We're working on it. We're waiting to find out and I'd really like to do it.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see The Adjustment Bureau, about why they should pick up the Blu-ray or DVD?
Michael Kelly: I think the coolest thing about The Adjustment Bureau is it has something for everyone, and I'm not just saying that. You have the love story, you have action, you have sci-fi, it's a great drama. You really can't go wrong. I think it's something worth checking out. It's a great movie for a guy to watch with his girl, where both of them will be happy.
Michael Kelly: Thanks a lot, Brian. I appreciate it, man. It was great talking to you.