Playing an ex-president’s secret service detail in the USA Network miniseries Political Animals, actor RJ Kelly was immersed in a world of Special Forces and international politics. Perks included finding the best beer, bourbon and burger in Philadelphia, where the show was shot. All in all, it’s quite different from his quiet family life in Wilton.
The show stars Hollywood royalty Sigourney Weaver, but Kelly is quick to point out, “I spent most of my time with LaMonica [Garrett] and Ciarán [Hinds]. LaMonica’s character breakdown was ‘gorgeous African-American.’ There was none for Sam, so I penciled in ‘very average/nondescript white guy.’” Kelly is often noted for his humor, and self-deprecation seems key.
When asked about filming in Philly, Kelly responds with street wisdom: “As a beer drinker, I loved it. Monks Cafè has something like 400 beers from around the world and Ciarán and I sampled many. Village Whiskey had the best burger in Philly and an amazing selection of whiskey and bourbon. Lesson learned—it’s not smart to leave Monks after drinking beer to meet at Village for bourbon. Long train ride home the next day.” Westport Magazine took on the role of a fellow train passenger and started up a conversation with the actor. Here’s a snippet:
What’s your character like? “Charming, very funny, looks fantastic in a Speedo. On a warm day, he is almost James Bond–like. At least that’s the way I felt at hair/makeup and craft services. On camera Sam is a quiet but solid guy who would do anything for his friend Bud Hammond. He knows two forms of karate equally well. He was Special Forces—because he liked the hats. He has probably killed with his bare hands—twice. None of this was in the script, but if you watch the show and freeze-frame on me, that is what my eyes are saying.”
How did you land Season 1? “Greg Berlanti, the show creator/executive producer/writer/director is an amazing soul. …I met Greg’s sister Dina in Wilton [and] she set up a meeting with her brother. He advised me on some things I should do to present myself better, and a few months after that, I was called by his office and had an audition for one of his pilots, which was picked up—Arrow. Very cool script, great part as a detective—tough, sensitive. I requested to fly out instead of videotaping myself and e-mailing it in. Well, I bombed! Thankfully, he gave me a second shot for the part of Sam.”
What’s a typical day on set like? “Everyone gets a fantastic breakfast cooked to order and a fresh juice drink. At hair and makeup, we bullshit with the other actors about how fantastic and beautiful we all are. Then we go back to our trailers, finish getting dressed and wait and look in the mirror and wait and look in the mirror some more. When I had copy, I would go over my lines. Yes, into the mirror. Then we go to set, be fantastic, go back in the van and laugh some more, often go out to dinner, laugh and joke about the day and life—oh, and we get paid for it.”
What’s next? “A sex scene—on anything. I am hoping for seasons 2 through 5 of Political Animals. Auditioning, working on the house and playing with my wonderful family.”
Best place to live: Wilton, LA, DC or Philly? “I love the East Coast, the water—love Wilton.”