Interview with Holt McCallany and Warren Leight of "Lights Out" on FX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Holt McCallany, star of "Lights Out" on FX

Interview with Holt McCallany and Warren Leight of "Lights Out" on FX January 10, 2011.

I was sad to miss this one because this is a really great new show on FX.  If you love great drama, you gotta check this out. Even if you don't like boxing, you might enjoy it.

FX NETWORK: Lights Out
January 10, 2011/10:00 a.m. PST

Dominic Pagone – FX Network
Holt McCallany – Patrick “Lights” Leary, Lights Out
Warren Leight – Executive Producer, Lights Out


Moderator Welcome to the Lights Out Conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct a question and answer session, with instructions given at that time. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Dominic Pagone.

D. Pagone Thank you very much, and hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us today on the conference call for FX’s newest original drama series Lights Out, which premieres tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 11th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. We’re pleased to be joined today by the star of Lights, Mr. Patrick “Lights” Leary himself, Holt McCallany, and the show’s Executive Producer and Showrunner, Mr. Warren Leight. Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time today and let’s go ahead and open it up to questions.

Moderator We’ll go to the line of April MacIntyre with Monsters & Critics.

A. MacIntyre Hi, guys. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

W. Leight Hi, April.

H. McCallany Thanks for your kind words, by the way.

A. MacIntyre Oh, well full disclosure—

H. McCallany Yes, thank you, you made my friend Bas Rutten very happy, April, with that fabulous review. He was here the other night, he flew to New York for the premiere and we kept talking about your review. He’s an old friend of mine and a wonderful guy. He did a great job. I was just very, very pleased that you singled him out and gave him such a nice notice, so thank you for that.

A. MacIntyre That actually ties into my question because there are three characters—full disclosure, I’ve seen the whole series. Of course I love it and I’m curious on two small characters, the one who plays Eddie Romeo, and forgive me, I don’t know that actor’s name, and of course Bas Rutten, and I know his name but I don’t know his character’s name, Eddie Chin’s leg breaker there who has a great fight scene with you in episode four. I want to know specifically if we will see those characters again. Then also, too, Bill Irwin plays Hal Brennan. I want to know if you can talk about those three characters.

W. Leight Bas Rutten, not only do I have respect for him but I’m actually afraid of him. He’s the real deal. The unknowable is, is there a season two and then beyond that what would season two look like. There are some characters that came in this season that you would be dumb not to try to bring back. I think Bas, we have to figure out a way of doing it, but he was terrific and actually, I didn’t realize he’s a very strong actor. He really did well with the few lines I had originally given him. We gave him a few more when that became apparent, and he was terrific.

Eddie Romeo was played by Eamonn Walker, who is actually British, which you would not know from that performance. He’s stunning. I think that character, right now, he’s back up in the woods but I do anticipate that if there were a season two that at some point he would resurface.

Bill Irwin, the more we used him the more we wanted to use him. I find him a remarkable actor and human being. A lot of what we thought might happen in season one changed once production began, and you have to be aware, oh, this is working, let’s give this more. Bill, he just seemed to me to pop every time he was on screen. So if you’ve seen all 13 you saw that his storyline really grows and grows, as did Reg Cathey’s. I think they’re poised to be principal antagonists if there were to be a season two.

Also, Bill is one of those guys, you’d e-mail him a rewrite— Here’s a true Bill story. He would show up to read-throughs that his character wasn’t in because he wanted to know where the story was going. I felt very lucky to have that kind of obsessive support from someone. He was great. He’s also Mr. Noodle, which is kind of a bonus.

A. MacIntyre My follow up to all of that is, and I also greatly enjoyed Stacy Keach. To me he’s just one of those iconic veteran actors that has been in so many things but he’s so good. I’m so glad that you utilized him as your father, as the patriarch of the Leary family. I was wondering if you could talk of any anecdotes about, I know he’s funny, if you had any great anecdotes about Stacy.

W. Leight You first, Holt. I have one, but you first.

H. McCallany April what I would say to you is this—and Warren knows that I feel this way—they could have searched for 12 centuries and never found a better choice to play my father than Stacy. I have such tremendous admiration for him. First of all, he’s a consummate actor who has really done everything that you can do as an actor, from memorable film roles to an extensive stage career on Broadway and in the West End of London, and he played King Lear, and he carried his own series and he’s just done everything.

W. Leight And he’s done some cheesy work when he had to too. He’s had a real actor’s life.

H. McCallany Right. Yes, yes, yes. I mean it when I say that he’s the real McCoy. He’s had his ups and his downs, but it goes a lot further than us looking similarly physically, I think we think similarly and we see the world similarly. So there’s a tremendous bond between us and an unspoken communication that was there right from the beginning. I really like this guy personally tremendously and I respect him, and I learn from him every time we work together.

W. Leight He was the show’s patriarch in a lot of ways. Every actor looks forward to a scene with Stacy and a lot of people had, in some ways each of them had a special scene with Stacy that’s one of their best moments of the year. He’s one of those guys. I remember the last day we were shooting, we were shooting at Hellgate Studios, which is an aptly named studio at the base of the Triboro Bridge in Queens, and Stacy’s call time was 3:00 a.m. Saturday because we had lost control of the week, it was the finale and the schedule had slipped. That’s never a good sign when you’re calling someone to work at 3:00 a.m., and it was 95 degrees, we had no air conditioning in that gym and there’s flies all over the place. It’s basically saying come to Purgatory for the night.

And his back was out because the preceding three days we had been doing fight scenes and there was a lot of motion and movement, and he was supposed to do a scene where he was shadow boxing in the ring with Holt, father and son doing a little shadow boxing moment, and he could barely move. I just said, “Look, Stacy, we’ll do something else.” He said, “Well, let me give it a try.” Now it’s hard, he had to be assisted and it was just a bad, tough night.

He gets into the ring, and Norberto Barba, the director, yells, “Action,” and he stands himself up with great effort and then starts shadow boxing like he’s 29 and Norberto yells, “Cut.” So in that moment he was no longer in pain, he was no longer our patriarch, he was like he was in Fat City. Norberto yelled, “Cut,” and it clearly had taken everything out of him and Norberto of course being a classic director wants six more takes and I was like, “One more, Norberto,” but when you yell, “Action,” everything else goes away and he’s the most present actor you’ve ever worked with. He’s just a delight.

Also when he came in to audition Holt later told me, he whispered to Holt, “Which is the guy I have to play to?” He’s still worried about getting a job, which is almost obscene at this point, but he’s a lifer. I think he really set a tone for all the other actors. Every actor said, wow, you can learn so much from him, or this guy’s had the life. Also, just about every actor or actress who came to our set he had done a play with, a movie with, a TV show with, or had slept with. He was just a very social guy. Is that about right, Holt?

H. McCallany It is. Just to add something to what Warren just said, he talked about him being one of the most present actors that you’ll ever meet. He’s also—and this is something that I really admire about Stacy—he’s also one of the most economical. He does exactly what you need to do and it’s very clear and it’s very precise and there isn’t a lot of unnecessary extraneous stuff going on. He’s right there with you. He looks you right in the eyes and he connects with you and all of that wealth of experience that he has from his life and all of the intelligence that he has, the character is invested with all of that. So you just look at him and you’re right there in the moment with him.

Moderator The next question comes from Sheldon Wiebe with

S. Wiebe Warren, I was wondering, your show is so incredibly well cast, the leads are all uniformly excellent, the kids are great, the antagonists are wonderful, but I’m really wondering, how did you come to cast Ryann Shane? Daniella is such a complex supporting character and she is so brilliant in the role.

W. Leight I think she’s stunning, and I had nothing to do with casting her. It’s a little arcane, but there was an original pilot shot in April of 2009 and Holt basically made this series undeniable at that. FX saw Holt’s performance and though there were other problems with the pilot, they just thought we have to keep going. So I was brought in and I retooled things and we reshot 75% of the pilot in March of 2010, and almost every adult recurring actor we recast except we kept Holt and we kept the three daughters. I just didn’t think we could do better than them.

She’s great. She’s remarkable because she’s doing scenes with some heavyweights, literally and figuratively, and she’s a pro. She’s going to be a freshman in college this fall and she was holding her own with people with 50 years acting experience on her. I can’t say enough about her. Actually, I wrote her a college recommendation. Her talent for her age is natural, she hasn’t been overly prepped for it, I don’t think, Holt, but I just found her in the moment. This is one of those shows where because of the speed with which we shoot it and the speed for which we were rewriting and all that the actors have to be ready and game and ready to make changes and be in the moment, and she’s just a natural. I’m knocked out by her.

H. McCallany I agree with Warren completely. She is a knockout, on screen and off. She’s one of the sweetest, most intelligent and charming young ladies that I’ve ever met in my life. She makes me hope that if I’m ever lucky enough to be a father in real life that I could have a daughter like Ryann. I just adore her.

W. Leight The bad news is that I don’t know how she got hired, because that was before my time, but she was one person we had to keep and I’m glad that we did. I know that she’s about to do a Blue Bloods episode, if that’s of any interest.

S. Wiebe Holt, how did you get involved? What was it about the role that said, “I must do this?”

H. McCallany I had always wanted to play a boxer all of my life. I grew up watching great boxing films, obviously like the ones you would think, Raging Bull and Rocky and Body and Soul and Fat City, and more obscure movies, like I love a movie called The Set-Up by Robert Wise. Even more recent things Cinderella Man, which frankly before it ever got made was a script that existed around Hollywood for a number of years. It got sent to me at one point and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is a really good movie,” but it’s hard if you’re not a big movie star to get the lead in a really great project. I take my hat off to my friend, Mark Wahlberg, because I know that it took him a long time to make The Fighter and he overcame a lot of obstacles to do it, and now the film is an unqualified success. I’m really happy for Mark.

But you wonder, “Will I ever have my opportunity to realize a dream like that?” That’s what Lights Out was like for me. From the first time I read it, I understood very clearly that this was not just a part on a TV show, that this was an opportunity to do something very special. This was one of those tour de force parts that very, very rarely comes along and that it was also in a milieu that I love, in a world that I love, and in a world that I had spent time in.

I had done a couple of boxing films and I had been interested in the sport all my life, and I boxed recreationally from the time I was a boy, so for a lot of reasons, my passion for it and my background, I felt like I was the right guy for this part. But my feeling that way and the studio and the network feeling that way are not always going to be the same thing. I was really lucky on this occasion, really, really lucky, that I happened to become the choice for the men who make those decisions. They took a chance with me and showed a lot of confidence in me and gave me the best opportunity that I’ve ever had. I literally thank my lucky stars the day that I was chosen for this part.

Moderator Our next question comes from Julianna Porro with

J. Porro Holt, I saw you did some co-writing in the past. Did you contribute at all to the script?

H. McCallany Occasionally, I will come to Warren and express an idea and stuff or make a request about maybe sometimes when we’re working on one of the fight sequences or something, do you know what I mean, would it be okay if we did this or we did something like that. We’ll work on stuff in the gym and then go and present it to Warren and to the director and the other writers and stuff. Mostly I show up, and the greatest gift that an actor can have is good scripts, because then you’re relieved of the responsibility of trying to elevate the material, it’s already elevated, and you can focus on what you need to do. That’s the position that I was in. I was blessed with great writers, Warren and also the guys on his team, and so no, I just showed up and did it and it always seemed to fit.

W. Leight First of all, it’s a good writing team. We had Bryan Goluboff, who had done Basketball Diaries, that movie; we had Carter Harris, who had been on Friday Night Lights; Robin Veith from Mad Men; Stu Zicherman, who had done Six Degrees, so it was a good, smart room. But it was also people who had worked with actors often enough to know that you pay attention to them, figure out what’s working for them, and even Holt’s nature, like Stacy’s, they’ll make a typo work if they can, so you’d have to try and see if something was bugging them and ferret it out. But he knew this character and we relied on that.

Then where we really relied on Holt was when we would choreograph these boxing matches. We tried to do those on weekends at Gleason’s Gym, and we might have a storyline for the fight, an idea for the fight, but I don’t think we would have made it through. We also relied on Teddy Atlas, who is a boxing consultant to the show and a good friend of Holt’s, and fight coordinator Bobby Beckles. The story of those fights, those are, I’d say, co-written by Holt, and it’s a funny thing to think about a fight being written, but they are.

J. Porro How did you make the decision to have the series take place in New Jersey?

W. Leight I don’t know if you remember, Holt, the original pilot was set in Connecticut. I’m sure, and in fact we know that there are tough neighborhoods in Connecticut and ... but you say Connecticut and it just sounds soft. It doesn’t sound hard scrabble at all. We knew we had to shoot in the New York area, we shot the whole show in Astoria Queens because the tax breaks in New York are significant at the moment, and because of the budget we were onstage four days a week so we needed an area where we could slip out of our stage and go into Astoria. Astoria looks a lot like Bayonne, and Bayonne is a place, the famous “Bayonne Bleeder,” it’s a place people associate with boxing and boxing gyms and that sort of thing.

I also felt that boxing is a sport that unfortunately has historically, and continues to be, there’s always a possibility of corruption. Judges can be bought or favors can be exchanged, boxers kill themselves, work themselves to death, they don’t get to keep the money, there are no unions, there’s a culture of corruption that surrounds a very noble sport, and boy, the second you hear New Jersey, you don’t have to do much work to establish a culture of corruption. I say that with complete respect. There’s something about Jersey that you’ll believe a councilman might help you bribe a district attorney, and obviously that can happen anywhere, but in Jersey, it’s less of a leap of faith.

I also like the class conflict in Jersey. You can have Far Hills, New Jersey and Bayonne, and they’re not that far a drive from each other, but they’re two separate universes. I like that Holt’s character is caught in between the two. It’s not that far away but it’s another world. Jersey just helps us a lot. There’s some risk to it because there had been a few other successful series shot there, but we decided to just try to do it anyway.

Moderator The next question is from Michael Gallagher with

M. Gallagher The next question is for Warren. I read an article in the New York Times that mentioned that when you were brought on board with the project that FX wanted to avoid some of the boxing movie clichés. Can you give me an example of the one of the clichés that you were trying to avoid and how you set out to reinvent that pilot episode?

W. Leight I wouldn’t say it was cliché. There were changes made from the original pilot. One change, anything you do in boxing you’re swimming right alongside it because the world you’re in there’s going to be corruption, there’s going to be a manager, there’s going to be a guy coming back, so I can’t say that I sidestepped clichés. But the original pilot, one significant change was the manager was not his brother and he was said to be an old friend of Lights’ but he was a thief who was clearly robbing Lights blind from the get. I think when we switched that character to Johnny the younger brother who had a boxing career, who’s the favorite son of Pops, what I wanted to do was to make it more of a family drama and suddenly this Bayonne family became mortal and we had a nice triangle between a father and two sons. We had a triangle between that Bayonne family and the Far Hills family. It just suddenly became more of a multi-generational stew than it had been. So another change will be moving it from Connecticut to New Jersey.

Another change, in the original pilot the wife had been a pediatric surgeon for 20 years and I wanted to underscore the family’s financial problems. So the change there was to make here a med school student who Lights had put through med school, the same way he had put his brother through business school. So we understood she wasn’t an earner, we understood the financial pressures better, so I don’t know if I would just characterize it as avoiding clichés, it’s more just trying to make the characters more reality based. The family’s in financial trouble. I will understand that better if the wife is not a pediatric surgeon. So we made those sorts of changes to understand where Lights is more clearly, I guess is how I thought of it.

M. Gallagher A question for Holt. After all of the training that you had to endure to believably play this part, has the physicality of the role been more demanding than you anticipated? How many more fights do you think Patrick “Lights” Leary has left in him?

H. McCallany It’s a great question, Michael. First of all, a couple of weeks ago I was down in Puerto Rico just doing some promotion for the show for the Latin market, because the Puerto Ricans are big boxing fans. I went to the premiere of The Fighter with the whole Puerto Rican boxing team and stuff like this, and we were talking about this very question because a couple of nights earlier Bernard Hopkins had fought at 46 years old for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the world. He clearly won the fight. They called it a draw in one of those terrible hometown decisions, but the truth is that there are guys who are able to do it. Evander Holyfield has an upcoming pay-per-view fight, he’s in his 40s. It really depends on the guy.

I feel good. I feel strong. I’m in great shape. I would say that the wonderful thing, one of the really special gifts about playing an athlete is that it’s the best motivation you’ll ever have to get in top shape and stay in top shape because you know that you’re going to be expected to deliver. Boxing is a place where if you haven’t done the training, that’s going to be exposed very quickly. So I’m really, really happy that in a world where we get to go on and continue to make our show in a second season and potentially beyond, I think it’s really, really great that I’m getting to play a world champion athlete. Because it’s just going to keep me in that place where you think like a boxer and you behave like a boxer and you try to live your life that way, being in the gym all the time, being careful to push the plate away at the dinner table. You don’t need dessert. When you’re out having fun you ask for agua instead of vodka. It’s very important. And so how many more fights can I have? I think I’ve got a lot of fights left in me. But that will be for Warren and the writers to decide.

Moderator We’ll go to the line of Thomas Gerbasi at

T. Gerbasi Holt, obviously to get ready for a role like this, the boxing end of things, you’ve got to get in the gym and do it, but I think you captured the behind the scenes stuff, the stuff that goes on in the gyms that we may not see showing up in the newspaper the next day. What’s the research involved for you to get to that point where you’ve got the trust of these guys in the gym and they’re telling you their stories and then you put it out to the world in Lights Out?

H. McCallany Well, I think that, as I’ve said before in a couple of interviews, if you’re going to walk out in front of the cameras, in front of millions of people, and you’re going to play the heavyweight champion of the world, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What did you ever do in your life that you should be permitted to have that honor? Why should people believe you? Why should you be considered credible?” There are actors that have played world champion fighters and have done it very successfully. We talked about a couple of those films. Obviously, Robert De Niro played a world champion fighter very successfully, I think Sylvester Stallone played it very successfully, and I think my friend, Mark Wahlberg, recently did it successfully. So you’re trying to find your way into that pantheon of guys.

So every actor’s journey is going to be a little bit different. Inevitably, it’s going to involve a lot of boxing. For me, my thing was like, look, I’m going to try and spend my time and get my training from the absolute best guys that are available. So for example for the pilot I trained with my friend, Teddy Atlas, whom I had played in a movie for HBO back in the ’90s called Tyson about Mike Tyson. Teddy’s one of the best trainers in America.

Then later on when it came time for the series to go into production, Teddy was going back and forth to Russia training an undefeated Russian Gold medalist named “Sasha” Alexander Povetkin, who I think is currently ranked number three by Ring Magazine, and so I went to Gleason’s Gym and I started training with former Welterweight Champion, Mark Breland. He’s obviously one of the great amateur fighters of all time, five time Golden Gloves Champion, and he had 110 victories and only one defeat, and I really tried to train hard, train as earnestly and with humility and really give 110% every day in the gym.

When you do that, what you find about the boxing community is that they’ll embrace you. It’s not like trying to gain access to the NBA. It’s a different landscape. You can walk in and they look at you and they take your measure and they decide how they feel about you, and if they like you and they feel like you have the right attitude and your heart’s in the right place and they see how hard you’re working, they open up to you. I learned an awful lot from those guys that I just mentioned, and from, I could give you a list of other guys too that I learned a lot from.

T. Gerbasi How important was it for you to not make “Lights” to be Superman, that, yes, he was a great athlete, great champion, but he was also human? Because a lot of people think that these guys shoot out of the sky and they are who they are and they’re supermen and not fallible and all those things, how important was it for you to get across that these guys are human as well?

H. McCallany It’s a great question. You try to create a character; you try to develop an identity as a fighter inside the ring, but also outside the ring. Who is this character and how does that inform how he does what he does? There’s no point in my trying to emulate Floyd Mayweather. I’m not Floyd Mayweather. I’m not going to look like Floyd Mayweather. So it would be preposterous for me to make any kind of effort in that area. Who are the guys who have my physicality, who I can emulate, who I can look at and maybe take something from their fighting style. Maybe I’ll take something from Jerry Quarry, I’ll take something from Gerry Cooney, I’ll take something from Jeff Harding, I’ll take something from Doug DeWitt, I’ll take something from my friend, John Duddy, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

You’re watching tapes and you’re kind of becoming a student of the sport, a historian of the sport, and trying to combine certain elements and find things in the gym and what works for me, what kind of a guy is he. Is he a pressure fighter who comes across the ring, who tries to cut the ring off, tries to trap you in the corner, throws a lot of ..., who is the guy and why does he fight the way that he fights? You have to really think about these things and you have to look at a lot of ... and then slowly you start to realize, okay, here’s a style that works for me, that complements my physicality, that’s going to be believable but also be compelling for the audience and for the camera.

T. Gerbasi I read somewhere you had an amateur fight within the last year, is that true?

H. McCallany Yes, I did. What happened was I was training every day at Gleason’s Gym, and eventually Mark Breland and one of the old trainers there, Harry Keitt, who trains John Duddy, yes, they said to me, “You know, you’re looking pretty good, man. We want to drop you in an amateur fight.” I said, “Really?” They said, “Yes, we’ve got something called the Masters Division of USA Boxing, which is for guys that are 33 or over and still want to compete.” So I said all right, because inevitably if you’re going to the gym every day and you’re spending hours there and you’re doing the kind of training that you’re supposed to be doing, what it means is that you’re boxing with a lot of guys anyway.

You’re boxing with some professional guys, amateur guys, Golden Gloves guys, you’re fighting heavyweights and light heavyweights and middleweights, younger guys, faster guys, so you’re used to it. You’re doing it every day, like lots and lots of sparring, so I just figured it was something that I had always wanted to do, my little brother had been a Golden Gloves Champion when we were kids, and I always was jealous of that and I wanted to do it myself. But you make choices as a young man. I knew I wanted to be an actor and so I pursued that, but it still stayed with me, that desire to compete.

So when Mark and Harry came to me and made that suggestion, I jumped at the chance. It was a great experience. I remember a few days before my fight, John Duddy, who was in training for a fight at Madison Square Garden that I took a lot of my colleagues to, some of the actors and writers from the show to go and see. He came up to me in the locker room and he said to me, in that great Northern Irish accent that he has, he said, “You know, I’m really impressed, man. I’ve been watching your development and you’ve been really looking good and I understand that you’re going to be fighting Saturday night and I just want to say good luck. You look more like one of us every day,” and I thought, what a nice thing for John to say to me.

The last thing I’ll say is, you want to try and do everything that you can to understand what the experience of being a boxer is, so having that opportunity to really compete in front of a big crowd with your friends and your family and people in the audience. I asked the actor, Pablo Schreiber, who plays my little brother, Johnny, to be in my corner the night that I fought my amateur fight. Why? Because he would be in Patrick’s corner, he’s my brother. So why not have him there?

T. Gerbasi I think he’d bet against you in the fight, if I’m not mistaken.

H. McCallany That’s hilarious. But it’s great, warming up in the locker room. Here’s the last thing I’ll say because I don’t want to ramble on and on and on, but it’s funny the fight was at Gleason’s Gym where I had been training, and they have these amateur shows that they do a couple of times a month, and I went to Bruce Silverglade, who owns Gleason’s Gym. Actually, I went to my friend, Mark Breland, who’s a great friend of Bruce Silverglade’s, and I said ask Bruce if I can be the second or third fight of the night. Because I don’t want to wait hours and hours, do you know what I mean, and already the nerves are kind of like—you know, you have those butterflies in your stomach. All of a sudden, it’s not sparring anymore, now you had to go out, you had to register with USA Boxing, this is sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission, it’s just like the Golden Gloves, and there are people in the audience, including boxing owners.

So anyway, Mark came back and said, “Yes, yes, yes, I know. It was taken care of.” They made me dead last out of 17 fights. I didn’t get to fight until 11:30 at night. I was like, “Oh my God, you’re kidding me,” and they said, “We had to make you the main event.” You didn’t have to make me the main event. It’s my first fight!

Anyway, so I hung around and I waited and waited and waited. I had Mark Breland and Harry Keitt and Pablo Schreiber in my corner. An old friend of mine, Bas Rutten, whom we talked about earlier in this conversation, flew in from L.A. because he’s a long-time supporter of mine and somebody that I had trained with in the past and stuff. So I definitely had the most impressive corner men of any amateur fighter that I can remember. I went out and I won a three round decision, and for me it was like fulfilling a long held aspiration that had existed from the time I was a boy.

Moderator The next question comes from Lena Lamoray with

L. Lamoray Holt, can you share any stories from the set and perhaps elaborate a bit on your fight scenes?

H. McCallany Sure. First of all, if you’ll allow me to sing the praises of my co-star Billy Brown for a moment, I’ve got to tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by another actor than I am by Billy. This guy really, really worked hard and it was hard work. As Warren said, we work on the weekends, we spend a lot of time trying to choreograph the fight scenes as meticulously as we can, because you can improvise a dialogue scene if you have to, but you can’t improvise fight choreography because, first of all, somebody will get hurt; and secondly, it won’t be any good. So we have to really, really work hard. Billy is a great athlete and he has a great attitude and he’s willing to go the extra mile, he doesn’t complain when he gets hit, and that happens, he’ll go round after round after round after round, he’ll rehearse for nine hours up in the ring if you ask him to. I just had a great experience with Billy Brown.

W. Leight He’s also a beautiful actor. Where we got lucky with Holt and with Billy and with Gavin, who plays Morales and with the guy who plays Omar for us, Pedro Pascal, right, we were able to find, and it’s a tricky little subset, are they boxers who can act or actors who can box. But we were able to find guys who had a believable physicality but could also play real characters and we really got lucky, plus with Billy that physique is sort of unnecessary, I think; it sort of cast a pall over all the men on the show. But the guys are remarkable athletes and he had not spent years boxing and he figured it out for the show. He obviously arrived in decent shape, Holt, I think you’d say that.

H. McCallany The guy’s a tremendous physical specimen. He’s like an Adonis. But Warren just said a very interesting thing: Billy, unlike some of the guys that we had at various times, didn’t have a big boxing background, but he really dived into it and dedicated himself to it and spent a lot of time in the gym. I hooked him up with some trainers in L.A. that I had worked with and he worked with them very, very diligently. Then he continued that training actually with one of the guys from Gleason’s, Harry Keitt, and he just worked really, really hard and his natural athleticism in combination with his dedication, it all came together for him and he was great.

W. Leight We tend to shoot these fight scenes in a day or two days tops while we’re picking up all kinds of other scenes. One of the many reasons nobody’s ever tried to do a boxing, or I guess there have been a few attempts at boxing TV shows, but one of the things that makes it harder is we’re shooting the episode in seven days whether or not there’s a big boxing match. And fight movies, I imagine Raging Bull had a little more time to plan out their fights and to do their choreography and their editing, these guys would have put in a 16 hour day in the ring because we went to ... we went to actual venues but you can’t really afford to rent them for a week. Our budget doesn’t allow spending a week shooting a few scenes for an episode. So these guys would have to get it all done in one day while doing other scenes and while getting prosthetics attached and stuff.

I remember at the end of one 14 hour day we went and then turned around the camera to get the audience reaction shots for the fight. Holt stayed in the ring and continued to mime the fight blow-for-blow so that the audience members, his wife, Bill Irwin and the different characters knew what they were watching and where to look. I thought that was actually almost insane. The courtesy is when they turn the camera around you stay and give the other actor your lines, and in this case Holt stayed and gave the other characters the entire fight over and over and over again. So he does have the heart of a warrior. It helps.

L. Lamoray Can you talk about the preparation it took to get Lights Out off the ground?

W. Leight Well, it was a very, very slow take off. The executive producer, Ross Fineman, had this idea, I don’t know how long ago, maybe four years ago, and he took it to ..., Fox Studios, and they liked it. A script was commissioned and I think the script read well. It was turned into a pilot. The pilot didn’t really work.

At that point a lot of studios, certainly the networks, they’re done. The pilot’s not clicking and they want to put some money down and you don’t put good money after bad. John Landgraf, to his credit and to my luck and Holt’s luck, realized how good this character was and how good Holt was in this part and he basically doubled down at the point when most people walk away and he gave me a chance to do some rewrites on the pilot and come up with a second episode. Then he doubled down again and he said, okay, let’s go straight to series. So I guess, Holt, you must have been cast in, what, January of 2009, is that time right?

H. McCallany Yes, something like that, exactly, Warren. Just to follow up very briefly on something that Warren just said, there’s a reason that FX has done so many special shows and that they have the track record that they have. I think it’s because of John and his team and their instinct for material. To be very, very honest, I’m not sure that I could have ever been cast if this had been at another network. They likely would have gone with somebody who had already had a hit show or somebody who had just been in a big movie that made a lot of money. But at FX they were willing to take a chance on somebody that had some experience but was still a relative unknown, because they felt like he was the guy that gave the best audition. It’s very rarely the case.

W. Leight It’s a strange company. They took me coming off of In Treatment so I don’t know how they arrive at their decisions. But In Treatment is not a natural setup for taking over the show and they had very supportive guys. We began shooting the pilot in March. Basically we shot the entire series straight through from March to mid-July of 2010 and then there was another long wait because things had taken so long the next open production slot was this one. So it’s been good for character building. It’s just been a slow and steady take off to get this thing off the ground.

Moderator The next question comes from Lem Satterfield with

L. Satterfield As a boxing writer, I can tell that you’re really just embraced by the boxing community and you really seem to have taken this role by storm, and I’m enjoying the series so far. My question to you is this, obviously you’ve been embraced by the community and the fighters themselves, you’re in it, on Wednesday, I guess, when you had the premiere, can you remind us which fighters, I think Lennox Lewis was supposed to be or Micky Ward was supposed to be there. Which ones were there, and was there anything after they viewed the actual premiere that further validated to you from a personal note, hey, you’ve got this, you did this right? Was there a conversation that took place?

H. McCallany Yes, it’s a great question. First of all, I just can’t tell you how excited I was and how honored I was to have those guys that you mentioned, you know, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney, Joe Frazier, Micky Ward, we had Mark Breland, Ivan Barkley, John Duddy, I mean, a lot of really, really legendary champions. Some of them are guys that I have known. Some of them are guys that I met that night. Obviously, Mark and John are people that I had trained with, Larry is somebody that I had known, that I had done some work with earlier in the year. Lennox is somebody that I had met, but I didn’t know Wladimir. I had met Joe Frazier once briefly a number of years earlier. When my friend Teddy’s fighter, Michael Moorer, was on the comeback trail he fought a guy named Vaughn Bean, I don’t know if you remember him.

L. Satterfield Yes.

H. McCallany But he was trained by Joe Frazier. So I was kind of ringside for that fight and I got to meet Joe, that was ten years ago probably. But yes, you know they really liked it. I had a long conversation afterwards with Micky Ward, who came to the event even though his mother was in the hospital and she was on a respirator, but Micky had given his word that he would be there, so he made the trip. I was really grateful to him, it shows you the kind of guy that he is, and I’m really happy for him about the success that they’ve had with their movie. Lennox Lewis said some very, very complimentary things to me after the screening and said that he really felt that it was authentic and that he really enjoyed it.

Larry Holmes said to me you know, how there’s that scene early on in the pilot where I’m with my wife in the bedroom and we’re having sex but there are a lot of interruptions with the kid knocking on the door and with the phone ringing and with the whole thing, and he said, man, that’s like my house. Every time me and my wife tried to get it on somebody is knocking on the door, somebody calling on the phone.

They just were great. They were really complimentary. They really liked the show. I think that it resonated with them. Things like going to the doctor’s office to get a brain scan, you know what I mean, and stuff, it’s like many of them have had that experience. They understand what’s at stake and what it means and the emotions that you feel, which it’s a complicated set of emotions, I think. They really liked it. That was so important to me that they like it. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me and how grateful I am to have been embraced by the community in the way that I have been, because you can’t sustain a television show based solely on hard core boxing fans, do you know what I mean, or people in the sport or people who love the sport. That’s not a wide enough demographic. But it was absolutely critical to me that they love the show. They were probably the most important. To have their support and to have their approval is really, really gratifying.

L. Satterfield Where was the premiere on Wednesday?

W. Leight The screening was at the Hudson Theatre and then the loud, drunken after party was at the Edison Hotel. It’s not the supper club anymore, but it’s the ....

H. McCallany It’s the ballroom at the Edison Hotel, and not to give a lot of trivia that’s maybe not relevant, but my mother, some of you may know, is a nightclub singer, an actress and a nightclub singer, and she used to perform at the Edison. Back in the ’70s they had a club there called Café … and I was a little boy and I used to stand there in the back of the room and hear my mother sing. Now all these years later, we were back at the Edison for my premiere party and my 86-year-old mom got to come as my date. So it just made it, I don’t know, even a little more special. It was a very special night to begin with, but to be back there with her, I don’t know, it just kind of reminded me of the way that things are connected in a way.

L. Satterfield How old are you now?

H. McCallany I’m 46.

Moderator We’ll go to the line of Nick Nunziata with

N. Nunziata Even though boxing is extremely cinematic and something that a lot of us can connect with and be inspired by, the sport is obviously not in the same place it was 10 or 15 years ago. I want to get your take, whoever would like to speak on this, how that affected your approach to representing the business of boxing and also how you feel the sport is going to persevere and rise up in the face of some of these MMA type sports.

W. Leight I’ll jump in first. One of the things that I liked is that boxing isn’t where it was 15 years ago or 20 years ago, although by the way, boxing has never been where it was. Whatever you read boxing works they always talk about the golden age, which was 20 years earlier, no matter when you’re reading something. But I liked that boxing is on hard times because I feel this is a show, Lights really, there’s a metaphor going on here. A lot of people have gotten clobbered in the last three years, not just boxers, a lot of people are trying to figure out how to take care of their family or provide for their own and taking bigger risks than they should. If we’d gone in and gone with the NBA, that’s a whole other world.

Boxing is a sport that’s also going through hard times, that’s being usurped by other sports. In the fourth episode, I don’t know if you got that far or have seen it, but we have Pops and Lights, Stacy and Holt, sitting in a bar hoping to watch a big welterweight match and all that’s on on all the screens is MMA, and they look like two guys from another generation. That was conscious on our part, that this is a world that is not getting the respect or attention that we think it deserves. Therefore, also it reinforces the sense of an athlete in possibly decline, America in decline, or a sport in decline, because boxing is up against it.

We have a sports journalist who says to Lights early in the season, “You think boxing’s in bad shape, try writing about boxing for a newspaper.” We’re not going into a world where the money is flowing, even if you’re doing well. We met a lot of these boxers and we know how hard they’re working to take home what little they’re taking home, and I think it reinforced the theme for the story that we were in this world of boxing and that boxing is where it is now. I’ve also written about jazz and I’ve been a theater writer, and those are two other worlds that aren’t where they were 15 years ago. What happens in those worlds is that the community draws closer together and tries to take care of its own as best as it can, and people respond to the pressure or have to get out.

I don’t think it was an original, conscious choice, but I thought it reinforced a lot of the themes of the season that we were in this world. Boxers are a different breed, they don’t really whine. ... people watching the NBA this year, they’re giving technicals for whining. That’s just nothing that would happen in boxing. When you go to a boxing gym, if it looks clean and flashy it’s the wrong place. So that just helped give us the edge that we were looking for in the show. Boxing’s decline in a way helps us tell the story. Yes, it’s an uphill battle for boxers and maybe it’s an uphill battle for a show about boxing, but the show is about an uphill battle so it’s okay.

H. McCallany The only thing I would add to what Warren just said was—and I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but it would be wonderful if the show were to become a success if in a small way we could help to refocus people’s attention on the sport. Help to remind them what a great sport it is and what they always loved about it.

N. Nunziata In the spirit of the underdog I’ve always looked to your work in films, Holt, is this guy one of those great character actors or is he going to get his chance to be leading man, at least something that gets a high profile? I wasn’t sure, because you are very good with limited screen time. You do a very good job of sticking out, but it was awesome to see you get this opportunity and just jump with it. What was it like knowing that you’re in almost every scene, you’re front and center? This is a different world for you.

H. McCallany You know what, it sure is. As awesome as it may be for everyone else; it’s more awesome for me, I can promise you that. Having had both experiences, having had the limited screen time and having lots of additional screen time, I can tell you that I prefer the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all of those opportunities that I had as I was coming up in the business. Learning my craft and working with great directors like David Fincher and David O. Russell and Lawrence Kasdan and Brian De Palma and a lot of guys that I’ve worked with that are really talented who recognized something in me, but people need to get a marquee name to sell their movies. So often you find yourself in supporting roles behind Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Robert De Niro, whoever it may be, and I’m really, really glad that I had those experiences because I learned so much and I feel like it made me ready when I finally had the opportunity to have more responsibility.

Maybe if this opportunity had come earlier in my career, I don’t know, it might have worked out differently. I was really ready for this. What can I tell you, man? I hope that I’m going to get to play this part for a long time. I hope that it will ultimately, down the road, lead to other great parts. I’m never going to turn my nose up at working with those directors that I just mentioned or other people that I’ve worked with like that, but maybe in the future after this they’ll be more comfortable offering me bigger parts and saying, hey, look, Holt has graduated.

D. Pagone We just have time for a couple more questions.

Moderator We’ll go to the line of Lance Carter with the Daily Actor.

L. Carter Holt, I have a question for you. When you’re working on the set for like 12, 15 hours a day and you’re tired, how difficult it is to keep in shape?

H. McCallany It’s a real challenge. What you have to do is you have to try to live kind of a Spartan existence and you’re going primarily from the set to your house and the only place that you go other than that is to the gym. So you literally eliminate all of your social activities of any kind and you only do the things that are directly related to the job at hand. There’s no time for anything else.

People that are your friends or your family, they just have to understand that you will see them in August after you’ve wrapped, because if I do have additional time I’m going to use that to try and stay in shape. Because if you’re going to play a champion athlete, people expect you to look a certain way and also you have to have the kind of stamina to be able to continue to perform. We did a lot of boxing on our show. It’s not just big fights, but we have a lot of scenes where there are either sparring sequences or different kinds of training sequences, running, so in virtually every episode there’s different physical stuff that you’re doing. So you have to always be thinking what can I do to stay in top shape and what are the things that I need to sacrifice because they won’t help me to stay in top shape.

L. Carter This question actually is for both of you. What’s your advice to actors? Holt, you’ve been kicking around for a while and you’re awesome in this part. What’s a little tidbit of information you can give to actors?

H. McCallany I can answer this question very succinctly, I think. My first acting teacher in New York, whom I still study with sometimes, is a very talented guy named Harold Guskin, who’s also James Gandolfini’s acting teacher and Glenn Close and Kevin Kline, and the list goes on and on, really, really gifted people that he works with. I remember my very first day studying with Harold he said, “I’m going to tell you two things today, and if you remember these two things for the rest of your career these things will help you very much.” I said, “Okay.”

He said, “The first one is this: talent will win out in the end. You have to believe that.” Orson Welles used to talk about that. An actor has to be an optimist. An actor has to have hope. Because if you sit around contemplating the odds against you and how the union has 95% unemployment, if you start thinking about those things you’re dead because you’re going to undermine your self-confidence and I think it’s largely about confidence and about believing in yourself and about believing that you will get an opportunity.

The last thing that he said to me was he said, “Don’t worry about being in with the in crowd. Just the fact that you do what you do if you do it well puts you in.” So it’s not about making sure that you show up at the right parties or that you shake the right hands at premieres, it’s about doing everything that you can do to be the best actor that you can be. And if you do that, then you’ve got a chance.

Moderator One more question from the line of Bruno Saraceno with the

B. Saraceno My question really is simple, on the FX Web site they had kind of a split decision, 60 minute preview of the show and I really wanted to get your thoughts on how that originated.

W. Leight Was this the bio film on Lights Out?

B. Saraceno Yes.

W. Leight That’s like the one thing the writing staff is not asked to do, although I did look over the script. Holt, you did some interviews for –

H. McCallany That was a really, really inventive idea by the marketing department at FX. I have to really just give some props right now to all of the people in that department because the marketing for our show has been so superb. From the piece that you’re talking about, split decision, and the promos that they cut of the show, the posters and the billboards and the –

W. Leight And the events ... of boxing ring in Grand Central Station, which is—

H. McCallany Right. How many shows are going to include something like that in their launch? We’re going to put a boxing ring in Grand Central Station and we’re going to get Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Vladimir Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Gerry Cooney, Micky Ward, all these guys and Holt McCallany and Stacy Keach and Pablo Schreiber. We’re all going to get together and we’re going to have amateur fights there and we’re going to have a big crowd and do all this stuff. They had me going to the Super Bowl as the character and making appearances at NFL parties and interacting with the athletes and with a camera crew following me around, saying hey, I’d love you to come. Hey, I’m Patrick Leary, will you come and see my next fight? Talking to stars of the NFL and some of them were prepped and some of them weren’t. I went to Yankee Stadium for the Miguel—

W. Leight They introduced Holt as former Heavyweight champ “Lights” Leary and we were in the ... section and all these guys turn around and say, hey, Lights good to see you, man. You should get back in the ring. Suddenly I realized that if you introduce a guy as the heavyweight champ everyone believes you. So part of the way this documentary took shape was just making the conceptual leap that there really is a Lights Leary and following ..., and obviously we had a long roll out here, following Lights around, so Holt in the character of Lights not Holt as Lights. It was pretty interesting. It made me nervous at first, but I think it kind of works.

H. McCallany Yes, it was ... from an actor’s point of view to have those opportunities, because you’re really getting a chance to inhabit this character and I went to Citi Field for a Mets game and I threw out the first pitch as Patrick Leary.

W. Leight And the sports announcers were trying to remember his career, and it was fascinating to me.

H. McCallany What was remarkable about it was, as Warren just mentioned, the degree to which people embraced it. I remember having, for example, down in Miami for the Super Bowl and I’m at one of the big parties afterwards and then all the athletes are there and stuff like this. The camera crew is following me around, I’m introduced to people as Lights Leary and people would come up and ask for my autograph and I would sign it, Patrick “Lights” Leary, former World Heavyweight Champion, and as I’m walking away you’d hear guys ..., “You know, I love that fighter. God, I used to love his fights. Big left hook, huh?” And they’d stay on them and you’d think, “My God, these guys have completely bought this.” It was really interesting.

The last thing I’ll say about it is, again, going back to the support that we got from the boxing community, it wasn’t just Michael Buffer introducing me at Yankee Stadium, but Bob Arum playing a cameo and talking about when are we going to get you back in the ring, “Lights”? \ Larry Holmes sitting with me for an hour at an amateur fight while we sit next to each other signing autographs for hundreds of fans as they come up in a huge line stretching all the way. Evander Holyfield and Joe Cortez and all these guys from the sport giving me shout-outs, and everybody in the boxing community kind of embraced the idea and they were all willing to participate, and that made it really fun.

B. Saraceno I also hope you do believe you are heavyweight champ.

H. McCallany You know what, I’ll tell you something, I love boxing and I really respect the guys and admire the guys who do it. I’m very, very happy with my career as an actor. I made the right choice and things are really working out for me right now, but I won’t pretend that there isn’t a part of me that always secretly wanted to be a boxer. Now I’m getting to access that part of me and I’m having a great time.

D. Pagone All right, well that was fantastic. That was the longest call I think we’ve ever had. Warren and Holt, thanks a lot guys. That was fantastic.

H. McCallany Thank you, Dominic.

D. Pagone Thanks, everyone, for joining us. Thank you, Julie.

H. McCallany Thanks, Julie. Thank you, Warren.

W. Leight Thank you, Holt. Keep in touch.

H. McCallany Okay, see you around.

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