It's mere months after the Falcons lost the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles in early 2005 when Michael Kelly returned to the city where he was born to play one of his most challenging roles yet.
It might seem like a native Philadelphian wouldn't have such a hard time playing a role as an Eagles fan, but then again, ask Kelly where he's from and he won't say Philadelphia, and he certainly doesn't claim the NFL team that plays there. On the set of "Invincible," where he played Pete, a friend of Vince Papale (played by Mark Wahlberg) in the based-on-a-true-story film of a tryout player who defied the odds to earn a spot on the Eagles roster, Kelly refused to wear green unless he absolutely had to.
A Falcons fan who will always call Atlanta his hometown, Kelly made it very clear to those around him on set that work is work, but once the filming was over, his colors were red and black.
"They had these really cool hats made for us that had our characters' names on them," Kelly said during a phone interview with AtlantaFalcons.com last month. "It had a cool Eagles old-school logo on the front and everybody was wearing them around town, going to bars and they're like, 'Dude, where's your hat?' and I'm like, 'Nope. I'll wear it on camera. That's it. When the camera goes off, it comes off.' "
Whether on the set of a Philadelphia-based movie or a wildly-popular show set in Washington — another rabid NFL town — Kelly wears his Falcons pride for all to see. He's most recently earned stardom in the Netflix-exclusive show "House of Cards" for his portrayal of Doug Stamper — the quiet and calculating chief of staff for the equally calculating US Senator Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey).
Although Kelly doesn't view Stamper as much of a football fan (more on that in a bit), Kelly did take the opportunity last preseason to break from filming the series and catch the Falcons' visit to Baltimore to face the Ravens in an exhibition game. Success breeds more work for Kelly, but he always finds the time to keep up with what's going on in Flowery Branch.
"If I'm not working or with the family, then I'm always reading about it, the Braves and the Falcons," Kelly said. "I read a lot more about the Falcons and the Braves than I do Deadline or Variety or Hollywood Reporter. I don't read hardly any of that stuff. I don't keep up with what's going on in my business, to be honest with you, as well as I do with Falcons news. It's what I love to read about. It gets me excited. There's just something about it when you're watching a game and you have all the information and you know so much more. There's a bunch of cool dudes that we've got, too, so I'd rather read about that."
Kelly moved to Lawrenceville, Ga., a suburb to the northeast of Atlanta, from Philadelphia when he was a baby and spent several years there before the family moved to Houston, Texas. During the summer of his fourth-grade year, he and his family returned to the Atlanta area and that's when his fandom for Atlanta sports started to grow.
Previously, Kelly admits he wasn't all that interested in sports. Then, Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy moved into his neighborhood and all that changed.
"He only lived there for a year after that, because then he got paid and moved out of our neighborhood, but he did live there for a year or so," Kelly said. "I remember playing Wiffle Ball with him and that got me into the Braves a little bit."
It was only natural that Kelly embrace the Falcons as his football team, but his true passion for the Falcons didn't come until the early 2000s. The Matt Ryan-Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era added even more excitement to the sport for Kelly, who did follow the team closely in previous years, but perhaps without the obsession he seems to exhibit these days.
Kelly, who has lived in New York for 20 years now, spends much of his free time consumed by Falcons news. On sets, he said he spends a lot of that time learning and going over his lines, but the rest of his free time is spent talking about sports. He said the set of "House of Cards" didn't offer up a whole lot in terms of sports banter among actors, but an assistant director on the show who was a Saints fan provided an almost daily dose of the NFC South rivalry.
Kelly said it was the set of the movie "Generation Kill" that provided some of the most memorable sports commentary of his career so far. Fellow "Generation Kill" actor Eric Ladin, who is perhaps best known for his roles on "The Killing" and "Boardwalk Empire," is a big Houston Texans fan and the 2012 season provided plenty of excitement for Kelly and Ladin with potential Super Bowl expectations for both teams.
"We're like, 'Yes! If it happens, we're going. We're going to be there together,' " Kelly said. "I guess it's easier when you've got a buddy in a different conference than you."
Kelly's role as Stamper on "House of Cards" provided a departure from his sports-crazed personal life. For those unfamiliar with the hit show, Stamper is a recovering alcoholic who obsesses over his work for the US Senator portrayed by Spacey.
But if you're thinking that the emotionless Stamper threw his support behind the hometown Washington Redskins, Kelly thinks you'd be mistaken.
"I don't think Doug Stamper is anything but a work fan. I really don't. It's pretty crazy," Kelly said. "The only thing he cared about in life — people ask me all the time about the loyalty to Frank — it's not so much about the loyalty to Frank as it as the loyalty to his job. That's what matters to him and that's the only thing that keeps him going and keeps him straight.
"As much as I would have wanted to make him a Falcons fan, because I think it'd be cool for the show, it wasn't going to happen. I don't think he would ever read about anything but work. That's it. He goes to work, he goes home, he reads a little, studies a little more about what's happening and goes to bed, and then wakes up and does it again."
Kelly's career seems to be exploding as Falcons fans can catch him in several upcoming films. Tentatively set to hit theaters late next year, Kelly just finished shooting a 3-D movie entitled "Everest," which is based on the real-life events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Kelly plays writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer in the film and stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley, Josh Brolin and Robin Wright.
Kelly just completed another film called "Viral" that portrays a family's new life following the outbreak of a virus that wipes out most of the world's population. The release date hasn't been set yet.
Kelly's looking forward to those releases in the future, but with some down time right now, he's focused on the Falcons' 2014 campaign, and he's got a positive outlook on what a healthy team can accomplish coming off an injury-riddled 4-12 effort in 2013.
"I have a really good feeling. It's a winnable division for us, without a doubt," Kelly said. "I think we make the playoffs and I think — why not? Why couldn't we win the Super Bowl? I think it's a great team. It's good that we brought in all this youth and there's time for them to grow, but at the same time, you never know, these kids could come swinging right out of the gate.
"I think last year was such an anomaly. It was not the Falcons. It's not even what we were capable of doing. … It's all about momentum at the end, as we see every year. If you go into the playoffs hot, you can do it. I don't see why we can't. I'm not going to guarantee we'll win the Super Bowl, but why not?"