‘House of Cards’ star Michael Kelly on Kevin Spacey’s exit, season 6 (EXCLUSIVE)

It’s been six months since Kevin Spacey was ousted from “House of Cards,” the Netflix political potboiler that helped put the streaming service on the map when it launched five years ago. The cast and crew are now in production in Maryland on the sixth and final season — without the Emmy-nominated actor at the top of the call sheet.

After allegations of sexual assault and harassment came to light against him, Netflix and studio Media Rights Capital first shut down production, then announced that they were severing ties with him. When production resumed in January, the new scripts featured Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood taking center stage in the Oval Office, alongside Michael Kelly’s chief of staff Doug Stamper. Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear also joined the cast, alongside Jayne Atkinson, Patricia Clarkson, Constance Zimmer, Derek Cecil, Campbell Scott and Boris McGiver.

Here, Kelly — who’s been nominated three times for his role — talks for the first time about “House of Cards” since Spacey’s departure, saying he “couldn’t be happier” that the show was able to resume production and put the crew back to work, getting to end the show on their own terms.

How is production going? Last season ended with Robin Wright installed as the new President, which I would imagine sets the stage for the new season.

The crew was out of work for a long time, and when everything went down, it was sort of like, “How do we do it? How do we keep it going?” Thank God she was President at the end of last season or else we might have found ourselves doing pretty badly. But it all worked out, and Robin is so frigging talented. I don’t want to say effortless because she works her a– off, but the way she portrays that character, it just … you work with her, and now the two of us have a lot together, where everything before was with Francis (Underwood). Now everything is with Claire, and it’s really been an interesting time. To have all those years to have learned from Kevin, and now all this time to learn from Robin, it’s just like as an actor, you can’t ask for anything more than that, to learn under those two people. (It’s been) the greatest acting classes for the last six years.

What have you learned?

I think that it doesn’t have to be so damn hard. I’ve always been someone who pushes myself really hard, and it’s not that I try any less. It’s that I don’t put as much stress on myself anymore. I don’t make myself mentally go through the things that I used to go through, which was just torture. It was senseless torture, and it was added pressure at work. I saw how the two of them did their work, and you can’t help but to learn and take from what they’re doing. So I still do the same prep work. It’s just the mental prep that I do with myself on set is a little bit different now. I think that also comes with knowing and learning about a character, and growing with that character over these six years. It’s a combination of both, probably.

Is it going to be hard to say goodbye to Stamper?

I can’t even imagine. Robin and I both asked to be the last scene on the last day because we want to be there with our crew, but at the same time, now that I’ve asked them, I’m somewhat apprehensive. I know it’s going to be so hard to not just break down and cry. My son, he’s six now. He was born when we started that show, and I’ve watched all the crew have babies, and they’re my second family. My wife and kids stay in New York, and I drive back and forth to Baltimore, and I keep an apartment there. Just to say goodbye to that chapter of your life, it’ll be tough. To say goodbye to that character will be tough. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll know what it’s going to be like until it actually happens.

What was it like coming back to the set after the news broke about Kevin Spacey?

It’s such a mixed bag of emotions because I was with that guy every single day. Almost the majority of my work other than the Rachel (Brosnahan) stuff, most of my stuff was with Kevin. To go back to the same stages, to the same sets, slightly altered with a new President obviously, but to go back to those sets and all of a sudden be with completely different people, it was a strange feeling. I don’t even know how to put it into words because you know one thing for so long and then all of a sudden it’s a completely different world you’re living in. There’s obviously a million emotions that I went through, that I processed during this whole thing. I don’t want to talk too much about it because it was heartbreaking in so many ways.

Do you still talk to him?

I haven’t, no. All I know is what I hear, but I don’t know. It’s tough. You go from talking to someone often to not at all, and in any profession, in anything, circumstances removed, what happened removed, it’s strange … and I’m still processing. I haven’t formulated any opinion, and I haven’t talked publicly about it. This is the first thing I’ve ever said. I think I’m still going through a lot, processing the whole thing. It’s tough.

What does the future hold? What are the next steps to be taken?

How do we, as a country, as a people figure out what’s right for everybody, for the safety and well-being of all people, no matter what you are, no matter what your sexuality is, no matter what your race is? I think sometimes you have to take steps backward before you take steps forward. I can’t speak for the whole country, but with this current administration, it’s like we are seeing that good will rise to the top, that the right thing will happen. Sometimes you have to do the wrong thing for a little bit before the right thing happens. The youth proved with the marches after the shooting in Florida, the youth of this country I truly believe is going to save us. The old mentality of that whole “Make America Great Again” thing, that was offensive to me. This is the greatest country in the world, and to say we’re going to make it great again, is what you’re saying, “Make the 1950s great again?” Because that wasn’t great for all of us.

Well, it was for old white men.

I’m an old white guy, and it was fine for me, but not for the whole country. I think what the youth is saying in this country right now is it’s us, and that’s what we need. We need someone who can address all of us and care for all of us. It’s kind of why I want to throw my hat in the ring politically, but I’m not done acting yet.

Would you seriously do that? Are you going to go into politics?

I do spend time on the Hill. I lobby for seniors. I do a lot of work for seniors in the country. That’s a bipartisan issue. I’ve met with Republicans and Democrats every time I go down there, and what I see is that people have hearts. What I see is the biggest problem in this country right now is that Republicans and Democrats, voters, and senators and congressmen and women is that they’re just voting their party line. Sure, the Democrats might take the house in 2018, and they might take everything in 2020, but then what? Are the Republicans then just going to say no to everything that they put forward? When is this cycle going to end?

So what’s your solution?

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about these past few years is why don’t we have a third party? Let’s just say hypothetically, and I’m not saying it’s me, but why don’t we have someone who could get up and talk publicly, who could get in front of people and convey the message that I want to do what’s right for all of us as a country. So what if we had someone like Bill Gates that came along and found a candidate like Michael Kelly. I’m not saying I want to do it, but found someone like that who had a personality, who could speak to people honestly and openly, and hear them all, and runs as an independent. Then they get to put bills forth and the Republicans and Democrats don’t have to vote their party line. I can say, or that person can say, “Vote from your heart on this issue.”

We can all agree that AR-15s are bad machines and we don’t need them in this country. So just eliminate that. Sure, the NRA is always going to be in someone’s pocket, but just what if. I asked Mike Bloomberg at the (White House) Correspondents’ Dinner after party one year, I said, “Sir, would you run?” He said, “Why?” I said, “Because I think you’d make a great President, and I think you would be fiscally what a lot of people on the right want, and socially what a lot of people on the left want, and you could run as a true independent and pull the two sides together.” He said, “I think I’d be the first person to get one vote.” I was like, “No, you can do it.” I was like, “I’ll be your staffer.”

After so many years of playing Stamper, you’ve got on-the-job training.

Yeah, but right now I’m having so much fun acting and getting into things like “House of Cards,” and then getting to do something like “The Long Road Home.” I’m living the dream, man, and I don’t want to give that up for politics yet. Maybe one day.