Exclusive: Holt McCallany and Warren Leight interview, Lights Out a smasher for FX

FX’s newest original drama series Lights Out, which premieres tonight, Tuesday, January 11th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. 

Regardless of your feelings for boxing as a sport, the beauty of “Lights Out” lay in its artful character development.

Holt McCallany owns this series as Patrick “Lights” Leary, a former Champ, now a pedestrian fighter struggling to pay for his larger than life overhead.

Leary is still facing the scuttle that his championship loss to Richard “Death Row” Reynolds (Billy Brown) was robbery. And Death Row is sick of hearing it.

Leary’s wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack), delivers the edict, end the boxing career now while you can.

Five years later, Theresa is nearly done with medical school and en route to being a doctor, but Leary is restless, and the boxing world smells money in a rematch, and that is one thing Leary needs the most right now.

Stacy Keach shines as Pops Leary, and he does a magnificent job helping his son come to the decision he must glove up once again. Brother Jimmy (Pablo Schreiber) does the dance with money matters.

There is so much red meat and complexity to Leary’s life, and how MCCallany plays him, along with an astounding supporting cast, that this series tops the leaderboard for 2011 as best new series for me.

Monsters and Critics spoke to the star of Lights, Mr. Patrick “Lights” Leary himself, Holt McCallany, and the show’s Executive Producer and Showrunner, Mr. Warren Leight on the phone yesterday about this excellent series. 

FX premieres Lights Out on Jan. 11 at 10 p.m.

Monsters and Critics:  Thanks so much for your time this morning. 

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

Monsters and Critics:   I’m curious about 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 who has a great fight scene with you in episode four.  I want to know specifically if we will see those characters again.  Then, 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.

Monsters and Critics:     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 the patriarch of the Leary family.  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.

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