"Boxing is a metaphor for life when you think about it. You have to overcome obstacles just like you do in life, and you have periods of adversity. You have all of those things and you have to take risks. Boxing is a metaphor for life. The longer that you live in life symbolizes the older fighter that is facing different kind of obstacles than a younger fighter is facing at the early part of their career. There are so many things about boxing and arts that are dramatic. There is a reason that there is a long love affair between Hollywood and boxing," remarked Holt McCallany, star of the new FX drama series "Lights Out", as he talked about his role and the relationship that exists between boxing, Hollywood, and life in general. Check it out!
PC: Hey man, it's a pleasure to be speaking to you. How are things going Holt?
HM: It's a pleasure to be here. You know, things are going really well. People seem to like the new television show. I got very good reviews, good word of mouth, and the network really seems to be behind it. It's nice, as someone who has always been passionate about the fight game, to have a television show to explore that world. It's really the first time that boxing has been the central theme of a television show that I remember. We're having a great time.
PC: You have done a ton of movies and television shows. what was the difference for you going into the filming of "Light's Out"?
HM: You know, you can work for many years as an actor, but you need that special part that's going to get you wider recognition, that's really going to resonate with the audience. I have been lucky in my career because I had a chance to work on a lot of great movies with great directors. I did "Fight Club" with David Fincher, I did "Three Kings" with David O. Russell, and I've worked with everybody from George Clooney, Robert De Niro and just really talented people. But this was...first of all, the lead role, the central character, it's about a sport that I really love. And after having all of those different kinds of experiences, it really felt like this was my chance to shine, my chance to be the protagonist, and I was lucky. I got a great project and I got great writers and really great actors around me.
PC: You took this role to another level and really took this part seriously. You went out and got guidance from Teddy Atlas and guys within the sport. How important is it to really get into character when not only playing a professional athlete, but a boxer?
HM: That's a great question. The most important thing, and this is something that my great friend Teddy Atlas talks about and something that I think he has a deep understanding of, it's something that he shares with his boxers too, but the most important thing, whether you are an actor, boxer or just a guy, is the way that you feel inside of yourself. When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you like what you see? Do you behave in a way that you can respect and admire when you're faced with adversity or under pressure? Do you look for a way out or do you rise to meet the challenge? Do you have that fighter's mentality and how can you develop that and hone that so that you can really rely on yourself in those moments and not be tempted to doubt yourself or not be temped to look for a way out? That's kind of like all the things that I learned from Teddy; and I learned a lot because the man has an Encyclopedic knowledge of the sport of boxing. He also really understands the psychology of fighters. It's like you're going to have moments in your life where you're under pressure, but they're just moments that are going to pass. If a man comes across the ring and he starts throwing punches at you, yes, you are under pressure, but eventually, the bell will ring and there will be a break in the action. Eventually, the man will stop punching because nobody can punch forever. Eventually, you will have an opportunity to move out, spin around, and use your legs; get out. So you have to remain calm and in control of yourself and behave in a way that you can admire because you're going to be left afterwards with the result of the decision that you made. If you look for a way out, yeah, you might cause a break in the action, but will you have gained anything? It's the whole thing about a hero dies but once and a coward dies a thousand deaths. That's one of Teddy's things. Another thing he talks about is the hero and the coward feels the same emotion. They both feel fear; it's what they do that makes them different. It's how you react to those emotions. Do you accept that fear and recognize that, okay, that's a natural part of being a human? If I didn't have fear when I'm going into a situation that's dangerous, there would be something wrong with me. You would be missing something that everybody else has. This fear is not unusual; it's normal. So instead of trying to fight it, I'm going to accept that it's fear and I'm going to accept that this is going to help me to make sure that I do everything right. And these were the things I was working on as an actor, as a person, and as a boxer.
You're going to walk out in front of those cameras in front of millions of people and you're going to play the heavyweight champion of the world. You have to ask yourself as an actor, what did you ever do in your life where you should be permitted to have that honor to be able to walk out there and play the champ, and to have people respond to your performance, and to view you as credible, authentic and believe you in that part? Why should we believe you as a champion fighter? Well, you have to be able to answer those questions for yourself. You have to know what you did in order to earn that right and feel as though you deserve the opportunity to play that character because you can do it justice; because you understand something about what that man would feel, something that you can impart to an audience. So you see what I'm saying? The most important thing is how you feel inside of yourself. If you believe in yourself, then other people will believe in you too.
PC: I definitely understand what you are saying. You basically took life lessons and incorporated them into boxing and moreso your acting.
HM: That's exactly what it is because boxing is a metaphor for life when you think about it. You have to overcome obstacles just like you do in life, and you have periods of adversity. You have all of those things and you have to take risks. Boxing is a metaphor for life. The longer that you live in life symbolizes the older fighter that is facing different kind of obstacles than a younger fighter is facing at the early part of their career. There are so many things about boxing and arts that are dramatic. There is a reason that there is a long love affair between Hollywood and boxing. It's because of all of these things that we are touching upon. You get into that squared circle and you can't really lie anymore because you're going to be exposed. If you're not who you say you are, you haven't done the work that you know you needed to do, then you will be exposed. You know Muhammad Ali used to talk about that. He used to say, "The fight is won long before I dance under those lights. The fight is won in the gym away from everybody. You put in those long hours training and you're awake at 5 in the morning doing your road work and making those sacrifices that you have to make as a fighter to become a champion. That's where you won the fight and then you get up in the ring and if you've done all of that work, you have a chance to succeed, but if you haven't, its going to show." As an actor playing a boxer, you have to understand that and you have to know that you need to do all of the work. Every bit of the work that that boxer will do to try to be champion, you have to do all of that work too. As a matter of fact, you may even have to work harder because maybe you don't have all of the natural gifts. If you don't have them, you have to work very very very hard. And if you really do that, then maybe people will believe you and you can enter that rare pantheon of guys like Robert De Niro when he played Jake LaMotta, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, Russell Crowe as James Braddock or Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward; that rare pantheon of actors that have played fighters in movies that we will always remember. How are you gonna break into that group of guys? You gotta be able to answer that question for yourself.
PC: That's one of the many reasons I love the show because you guys really incorporated things that an older fighter deals with, such as you changing your training regimen and dealing with eye issues and all of the things that a older or comebacking fighter has to deal with.
HM: That's it, and that was one of the advantages of having a guy like Teddy Atlas, who was my technical advisor and who worked very closely with the writers. Teddy, as I said, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and we wanted everything to be rooted in reality. So if I say, "Look Teddy, I'm an older guy who retired for a couple of years. I'm coming out of retirement to face a younger opponent, who is very strong and explosive and he's got knockout power." He'll say something like, "Oh, that reminds me of Larry Holmes against Mike Tyson." And then we'll sit down and look at those tapes and break it down. We tried to create everything that is really grounded in reality, so you would understand what the fighter would be thinking, where he is at in terms of his career, and what are his physical attributes and shortcomings. Who is the opponent he is facing and what type of style that guy brings to the ring? What does this fight mean to that guy? What's been your period of inactivity and are you coming off of a loss in your last fight? All of these questions have to be answered, and when you do that, then the staging of a fight scene starts to kind of emerge. Because if that's the situation and I'm the older fighter, then I'm probably not the fastest starter. The younger opponent is probably going to try to come out and blow me out and try to end it quickly, so what am I gonna do? I'm going to try to tie him up, set the pace and slow the fight down and fight at my pace rather than let him set a fast pace that's going to put me at a disadvantage. These are the questions that we would ask ourselves and we would try to find the truth in that; whatever it is. And that's another thing, these things may sound like clichés, but they are true. When you get up in there, you can't lie anymore. You can lie if you are flipping hamburgers for a living, but you can't lie if you are up in that ring in front of all of those people and you got a man moving forward throwing punches at your head. You can't lie now. That option has been removed. You have to do what you are trained to do. It was just a great experience.
I've always loved combat sports. I've always loved boxing and I love MMA also, and unlike some of those movies I mentioned earlier where you have a 2-hour movie and...let's say it's a biography with Will Smith playing Muhammad Ali or Robert De Niro playing Jake LaMotta. You're trying to tell the story of a particular fighter's life and you have these very narrow barometers in which to do it. We have a television show that's open-ended. We like to believe that we have a chance to tell our story over the course of years and season after season. We get to really explore this very wrench dramatic terrain and that is boxing. Our hands aren't tied by an obligation to tell a particular story within a very fine line timeframe. We have the chance to really explore something in detail and that's what's very interesting about this opportunity.
BE SURE TO CHECK BACK LATER FOR MUCH MORE FROM HOLT MCCALLANY
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