Even Action Heroes Like a Big Kitchen
Up and Coming Film Star Michael Kelly raves about the luxurious space of his new Co-op Village apartment
by Helen Zelon
A ctor Michael Kelly looks like another hip, semi-scruffy Lower East Sider, in a simple pullover and well-worn trousers. But he communicates eyeball to eyeball, in a mode that’s 50% out-oftowner (betraying his childhood roots) and 50% actor-direct. Ordering coffee in a local caf? and chatting across a table, his gaze rarely wavers. Candid, camera-ripe, Kelly’s face is a blank canvas, registering emotion and insight in a mug both movie-star glam and Everyman square, a New York chameleon happy to bask in his chosen element.
Unlike the beefy redneck CJ he played in director Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (to be released on DVD October 26), Kelly is slender, light on his feet. He’s shed nearly 20 pounds “of muscle” and most recently completed HBO’s Kojak, as Crocker, the straight-arrow right-hand man of Ving Rhames, who plays the streetwise, chrome-dome DT. The project airs on January 28th, the first of four made-for-TV Kojak features. Crime-show fans have seen Kelly play plenty of TV cops. He likes the juicy bad guys, too. “I like that I can do it all,” he says. “I can play a cop, I can play a lawyer, and I can play the bad buy, the tattooed psychopath. Those killer roles are great,” he says, eyes crinkling in a sly grin.
Born in Philadelphia and growing up in Lawrenceville, outside Atlanta, Georgia, Michael was part of a tightknit family clan: two sisters, two brothers, loving parents, nurturing home. “I always wanted to do something big,” he says, “I just didn’t know what.” He ran cross-country well enough to earn a college scholarship and set out, pre-law, to conquer the halls of jurisprudence. Somewhere on the way, he wandered into an acting class and later landed the lead role of Tom in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. By the time that curtain came down, he’d been bitten - bad - by the acting bug. His mom begged him to stay with law, saying, “You’ll get to act every day in the courtroom!” but the encouragement of his teachers, directors, and peers - and his own deep desire - led him north of the Mason-Dixon, to the Great White Way.
Or at least to Hoboken, New Jersey, where he landed when he first moved to New York, more than a decade ago. From Hoboken, Kelly crossed the Hudson to live in the East Village, then moved uptown, to Hell’s Kitchen, and downtown again, to Houston near Clinton Street. After stints running the highly regarded Observers program at the Actors Studio and stepping into a role for no less a luminary than Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, Night Moves), Kelly was rewarded with a lifetime membership in the Studio. Soon after, Kelly started working steadily in television and film, winning roles in bigger and better projects. He also found himself happily entangled in a relationship with his now-fianc?e Karyn Mendel. The couple hasn’t yet set a date, but after negotiating the purchase, closing, and gut renovation of a Co-op Village apartment, marriage should be easy.
Kelly wasn’t keen on Grand Street, initially. When the couple set out to purchase a home, his mantra was, “I don’t wanna’ go below Delancey. “It’s far, it’s far,” he said, but a visit to a friend in the Seward Park co-op transformed his thinking.
“It’s awesome here,” he says now. “It’s like its own little suburb, so nice and quiet.”
And domestic life offers its charms. “We can have an eat-in kitchen here,” says Kelly, adding, “we couldn’t have that above Delancey.” Not to mention a balcony with sweeping river views, laundry in the basement, and a gym on the premises.
The young couple quickly got to know their near neighbors, and report sightings of “more carriages and young couples every day.” The M14-A bus and his trusty bike bridge the geographic gap between auditions, meetings and Kelly’s downtown life.
Kelly dreams big - of screenplays and starring roles, perhaps even directing, one day - and on a more intimate scale, too. He’s longing to be a father, he says, and hopes to start a family as soon as he and Karyn are married.
And even though he may be a movie star, he’s still his Mama’s loving son. “I talk to my mother every day,” he says, half-sheepish and half-proud at the admission. You just have to wonder if his role models - Jack Nicholson, Ed Harris, and Tom Everett Scott - can make the same heartfelt claim.
Michael Kelly purchased his East River apartment through LoHo Realty