I was just hugely struck by this week's episode the David Morse one. I did not see the ending coming at all which is a sign of great television. I want to write about it and yet I want to make super sure that I don't do anything that spoils the surprise to the readers. So, I'd like you guys both to discuss that episode in general terms. I mean it really seems to define Leary more than anything else as a conflicted character, as both good and bad person.
Holt McCallany: Sure. I guess the first thing that I would say is that we were blessed with a tremendous actor David Morse in that role. He really, really created a very, very special character-I mean very, very heartbreaking and very authentic. If you hang around boxing gyms, unfortunately, it doesn't take long before you meet guys that have taken too many punches and are in that kind of condition. What David was able to capture so beautifully was that there's very often this sort of sweetness about them. This kind of child-like, kind of gentleness, almost an innocence about them and it's really heartbreaking. So I think for 'Lights' Leary, they're combination of emotions at play. First of all, this is a guy that I fought. This is a guy that I admired. Larry Holmes has spoken very candidly over the years about how difficult it was for him to punish Muhammad Ali in the way that he did when they fought because Ali had been somebody that he looked up to and somebody that he really admired. I decided that that's how I felt about the Rainmaker. You catch a guy at the end of his career who maybe stayed in the game a little longer than he should of and he doesn't move as quickly as he used to and he becomes easy to hit. Jerry got hit a lot and now he's in this condition that he's in and like so many fighters, he's broke and essentially abandoned. Boxing is not a sport where you get a pension when you retire at the end of your career. So I have all of these things, I suppose, on a certain level I feel a measure of culpability. I feel a tremendous amount of empathy and I also feel a great deal of apprehension because I don't want to end up like him.
We really established 'Lights' as a very decent guy throughout this. Then, of course, we have the whipsaw at the ending, which shows that he also had a lot of pragmatic stuff that he has to do. Just in general terms, kind of how do you see him as just a classic good/bad guy?
Warren Leight: I think that 'Lights' is a hero as opposed to an antihero. I like that it can be gray. I go to my preschool drop-off and the moms are debating it every week, so there's room for debate. But I think he has a big heart, it's generally in the right place, but he's in a terrible bind. Early on in the season and again in this episode you see him do something that I think one way that you know a guy is a decent guy is there's regret for his action, right. I think we'll get a sense for his regret. If you stick with the series to the finale there's a beat where you understand he is aware of the compromises and the tradeoff's he made to get to the finale, to get to the Death Row rematch. I think he's a good guy in a terrible situation who has a fighter's way out when he needs to and he can think strategically under stress. Sometimes he pulls a trigger he knows will get him to the next round but it's-he throws a punch, he knows it'll get him to the next round but he's not proud of it. We definitely wanted, with the David Morse character, a sense of 'Lights' is also aware this is one possible future for him, a ghost of Christmas future we talked about in the writer's room.
Holt, you've probably been asked this a million times already, but did you have to do a lot of work to prepare for this role? Were you already really into boxing?
Warren Leight: I trained him.
Holt McCallany: Yes, I was in Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, I was watching Warren Leight up in the ring one day and he knocked out this journeyman heavyweight and I thought to myself, "Wow, if my showrunners have got that kind of punching power maybe I am really with the right guys." Yes, I love boxing and boxing has always been my favorite sport. I was always into it and I boxed recreationally, all of my life. I always wanted to play a boxer because some of my favorite films as a boy were those great boxing movies, Raging Bull and Rocky and The Set-Up and Fat City and Hard Times. I just loved those films and I just always wanted to play a fighter, all of my life. So, when this opportunity came along, for me, it was really like a dream come true. I have been wanting to play a character-they don't come very often, not roles like this one. I had been in the gym training for many, many years but I definitely stepped it up when it was time to get into shape to play 'Lights.' I began trying to live the life of a boxer and that means everything that you would expect. Early morning road work, in the gym every day, lots of sparring and conditioning, watching my diet. I took an amateur fight and I fought in the master's division of USA Boxing, just because I wanted to have that experience. It's something that I've been wanting to do since my brother won the Golden Gloves back in the '80s. That was one of the most gratifying and exciting parts of the whole process for me because I love the atmosphere of the gym. I love the camaraderie of the guys. I love the whole world of boxing and the community, the sense of community I believe exists there. I love the fact that I was going to have an opportunity to focus attention on a sport that I love in a positive way. So, I was just thrilled, thrilled to do it.
I don't know how much control showrunners have over the publicity. Has FX done a very good job of selling the show to non-boxing fans or to woman because personally, I wouldn't have watched the show because I would have just thought it was about boxing, I don't like boxing that much, but it's a great drama. It's like kind of a soap opera in a way. It's great. I'd tell everybody to watch it.
Warren Leight: Oh, thanks and I guess it's a complicated question. I think that the push early on was strong. We saw Holt's mug everywhere. I wasn't one of those showrunners who go around gripping about why aren't they doing enough to promote the show. I couldn't get on the subway, I couldn't walk on the street without seeing Holt's faces, which was of course, a tremendous pleasure for me. In hindsight, would I like to have a larger audience with more women and would women have come to the show more easily? It's a second guess. I do know that when I talk to women, they came to the show at the behest of their husbands or at somebody telling them to watch it not because they were initially attracted to what they perceived the premise of the show to be. It was the strongest way to lead with the show coming out of the box. I think that FX has in fact has since the premiere retooled some of the promos to show that clearly it's not just a boxing show. This is, I think, a big canvas to write and produce and depict a family drama on and about a family up against it the way a lot of families are now. So I think that switch occurred. I guess the other thing I would say is I feel enough gratitude to these guys because the show wouldn't be as good as I immodestly think it is if they hadn't put it-these guys know how to put shows together. So I'm grateful to them for that. Do I wish more people are watching more initially and now? Yes, sure.
I'm fascinated with Billy Brown. He was not on my radar as an actor before this series and he's now really ramped up in the next three episodes. I wanted to know if you could talk a bit about working with him and finding him for this series.
Warren Leight: Well finding him was hard because I needed to find somebody who you could legitimately believe has been heavyweight champion of the world for five years and no one's laid a glove on him. You need somebody in immediate and overt great shape who has physicality and can act. I didn't want and we didn't want to do a sort of a stock villain, maybe people framed him that way in the beginning of the show, but each week you get another layer peeled off of this guy. There's a lot going on with Death Row. He's a sophisticated guy with some early issues that are still affected his choices. I had the same problems I think trying to find someone to play 'Lights' trying to find someone to play Death Row. Billy was a gift and I remember it was an audition tape watching it on the computer scan and I thought, "Okay we're done." I just felt extreme relief when his audition came in because there are a lot of guys who look good who can't act and a lot of good actors who you just don't believe for a second would last 15 rounds or 12 rounds in a ring with me. But I had to work on his muscles and all that, get the training right for him, but other than that I think it was a gift to get a guy like that. I think he was thrilled to be asked as the character evolved, I think he was afraid that it was just going to be this sort of stock maybe an Apollo Creed kind of guy. His character has some dimension and every time we gave Billy more, he just ran with it. It was kind of great to watch. You don't like him at all right Holt?
Holt McCallany: You know how I feel about Billy Brown. There aren't enough superlatives in the English language for me to describe this actor. I think that this is an actor that literally has it all. I mean he's got a great intelligence and humor and depth. He has a tremendous work ethic and he's a joy to be around. From day one when I called him up and I said, "Hey, listen man, it looks like you and me are going to have to dance, so let's get into the gym and start working." This was a guy that didn't have a boxing background. Obviously, he's a very gifted athlete who's in just like super, phenomenal physical condition, but he committed to the work and to the training with such enthusiasm and with such dedication that I have to say, I fancy myself a hard worker and I've got to tell you I was so impressed with this guy. I just continue to be more impressed with him the longer that I work with him. I really think the sky is the limit for this actor. There's nothing that this guy can't accomplish in this business.
Warren Leight: I think it's worth it to point out most of our fight scenes have been shot in one day. The finale we had the luxury of actually two days. So it's amazing what these guys do in that amount of time, 14 hour days and just going at it. It's not the way film scenes are shot in the movies. It's really bloodier. We just don't have the time; they have to hit their mark.
I'm optimistic for Season 2. I know FX is listening, so many critics, so many people that in the industry that report on what you guys do for a living are in love with this show and the audience is coming. So I'm very optimistic for Season 2. If that occurs, will you bring Bas Rutten back? Will you bring Eamonn Walker back in any capacity?
Warren Leight: Yes, I think that by the time we got there we've already figured out his arch, but I have plans for Season 2. I remain optimistic. Part of the reason we're doing this call today is to say we're still punching and there's still three great episodes left. If there's a Season 2, we invite Eamonn back. I haven't told Holt about it but there's a clear role for Eamonn in Season 2. Bas, I'd take any chance I could get. Just to watch him beat the ... out of Pablo Schreiber was thrilling.
Holt McCallany: I think he wants to be a good guy if he comes back. 'Can I be a good guy?' He keeps asking me. I said, 'I don't know, Bas. I'll have to run that up the flag pole." But both of those guys that you mentioned for different reasons, they really brought a lot to the parts that they played this season. The reaction to Eamonn Walker's performance was so positive. People just loved that character and our relationship and we work so beautifully together. Bas is an exciting guy. He's an exciting athlete, an exciting actor and whenever he's on film, you've got to watch him. Personally, I would love to work with those guys again.
If there is a second season, the first season tag line was, "Everyone loves an underdog." What would the tag line be for the second and if there's maybe a glimpse that you can give us what a second season would look like.
Warren Leight: I don't have a tag line but wait a couple weeks. I think what we're talking about for the second season in broad strokes is once you get there now what. I guess it would be, "Now what?" I think it's like what the hell comes next for this guy? I don't want to say too much because if people haven't seen the finale, I don't want to spoiler alert it, but what happens to a guy-even though he's entered the boxing world, one of the realities of it for a guy like this is a $10 million purse by the time Barry Word takes half of it. By the time, the IRS takes a large swig of it. It's not like he's set. $10 million an average boxer takes home less than the average the take home is probably something like, it can be less than 15%. Some of the guys we've talked to talked about $100,000 purses and they took home $7,000. So, he's not out of the hole he's in completely. He's also aware that he's made a couple of deals with devils in order to get to where he gets at the end of the season and I don't think he brought a long enough spoon, if you remember those old quotes. I think he's in deep with some bad guys as the season ends. I think it's always interesting to see what happens to the rest of your family when your status changes. What happens to Johnny? What happens to the gym? When I was brought in, there was a sort of a pilot that wasn't fully successful and no one knew where the season would go. Now everyone goes, "Well, this season was obvious." I think Season 2, if we do it right, about midway through everybody will go, "Well, this was obvious," but right now it's about getting to a Season 2. I think we've also talked a little bit about the possibility of introducing MMA into Season 2 and that's an interesting place for the show to go. 'Lights' status amongst boxers changes as the season goes on and that's another place we would think about going.
Does 'Lights' delineate a difference between the family? Does he put the priority, one over the other or does he truly believe that one big family?
Holt McCallany: Well, listen, it's a great question. I think that he is definitely a guy that is conflicted on a certain level and probably this guy would have been happier living in a neighborhood that he grew up in, in Bayonne, New Jersey, in a house down the street from his dads place, but he's got the McMansion. He loves his wife and children more than anything in the world, but you can take the boy out of Bayonne, but you can't take Bayonne out of the boy, if that makes any sense. So where is my heart? It's in two places.
I think everyone wants Theresa and 'Lights' to be together, but they keep pushing all the problems under the rug. Where will that go?
Warren Leight: What we didn't want was a stock relationship and I don't think we have one. I don't think it's a predictable relationship. It's not a Leave It to Beaver time. She's just not a stock wife. At this point in the season, she's going in for it but I think we know her well enough to know that she just can't play along. She can't be the perfect sports wife and 'Lights' probably didn't want to marry that one. No one in 'Lights' life is easy. Why would his wife be easy? She's supportive. She's there when he needs them. What's kind of interesting to me with her is when the chips are down, when he's in legal trouble, when you think she should just hammer him, that's when she pulls the wagon in the circle and figures out strategy with him. So I think they're bonded. I think they're enmeshed, but it's not a healthy relationship. They don't deal-he hid so much from her. I know everyone loves Holt and loves 'Lights', but he was lying to her for an awful long time and once you have that level of dishonesty in a relationship that poison just doesn't go away. She's got other things on her plate now. She's graduating from medical school. They're in two different worlds and it would be interesting to see how the marriage can sustain the stress of the build up to the fight and then the post-fight, reaction. I think that's all stuff to watch. I think what it is, is an honest depiction of a complicated relationship. I don't think it's a perfect relationship and I think that's more interesting.
Do you think 'Lights' has perpetual bad luck or I mean thinks that he has that or that he knows that everything happens because of his decision?
Holt McCallany: Wow! I suppose that if it's the debate between determinism and free will, then 'Lights' believes that he's master of his destiny, but at the same time you definitely can get into a place in your life where you no longer are in control of events. Events are in control of you. That's where I am.
Warren Leight: If I can jump in, we talked early on that 'Lights' makes a decision in the pilot to take that job to break that guy's arm, to break that dentist arm and that sends him on a spiral. It was a bad choice. You'll see it coming up again in the David Morse episode, that choice got him down a bad path. Part of this whole season was an effort of recover from that choice, I think. It's the trails of 'Lights' Leary this year.
Are we going to see more of Brennan after that?
Warren Leight: Oh, yes, Brennan comes back big in the last several episodes of the season.
Warren, you spent this lifetime in New York and again with a lot of work on stage. I think you did this fantastic job in bringing Bill Irwin in. He's a fantastic stage actor. I've had the pleasure of seeing him many times. I wanted to ask you about the presence of New York in this series. I think it's presented very realistically. It takes the guys some time to get to New Jersey. They don't just instantly pop up there. There's a process of getting there and the kind of environment that you picked for the show. How important has this been to you to have this kind of realistic portrayal of the town in the series?
Warren Leight: I think sense of place is very important. Actually, when I took over In Treatment, one of the first things I did in Season 2 of In Treatment was I moved Gabriel Byrne's practice and his character to Gabriel Byrne because I really didn't know where Season 1 took place and it bugged me a bit. I need to know where I am before I could start writing. I need to have a sense of place. I think the original pilot was set in Connecticut and I moved it to Bayonne when we reworked it. Bayonne has history and it's a tough working class neighborhood and it's isolated from the rest of the world. It's cut off from a lot of the culture blessings of the New York/New Jersey area. It's surrounded by highway and dirty water and people kind of don't move in and out of Bayonne that often and that easily. I like the tribal quality of that and so that we start in Astoria, Queens at the base of the Triborough Bridge surrounded by dirty water and housing projects and the ribbons of highway. It was a very good-I don't believe people can shoot Toronto from New York, but you can shoot Astoria for Bayonne and I think we did and we choose every location with extreme care. To me, you learn a lot about class and culture from a place and just the exterior of dad's house, from Pops' house tells us a huge amount that to think that the two big brothers and Elizabeth Marvel's character grew up in that house with Pops Leary tells you a lot about what there life was like. We just saw that exterior from time to time and it tells us a good deal about who these guys are. To show that exterior of 'Lights' house in Far Hills, New Jersey-what we allege to be Far Hills-there's not much else around there. It's a lot of land. It's a big house and he's talking about himself and you worry what's that house like for 'Lights' when his family isn't there. What does he do? We don't have many traces of him in that house? So, I like setting up the world of Bayonne, setting up the world 40 miles away that's a whole other universe that 'Lights' is not as comfortable in. Then from a shooting point of view, to get to shoot New York means I can bring in Elizabeth Marvel as his sister, Bill Irwin, Reg E. Cathey. There's a guy who plays Bill Irwin's concierge, Gus. This is a guy named Dan Moran. I've worked with him in various theater things for 30 years. I have my own reparatory company with the Lights Out cast. We didn't really have much time to cast. We had to do it on the fly. We had a great casting director in Alexa Fogel, but I could get on the phone with Alexa and we can cast an episode in about eight minutes just from the actors she knows and the actors that I know and they're in New York and hit the ground running. In the David Morse episode, one of the toughest scenes anyone had to do all year was his first scene of the shoot. He came in fully prepared and nailed it. I don't know if you remember, Holt, the way he flicks the dime?
Holt McCallany: I do remember, yes. We had a lot of great actors this year. Alexa did a terrific job and Warren just listed a few of them, but there was nobody, nobody better than David Morse. I would look in his eyes sometimes when I'm acting with him and he just would break my heart. He is a very experienced, very, very talented actor and it was really a privilege to work with that guy.
Warren Leight: So you get these guys in and they all kind of-in New York, word got out, "Oh, this is a good show to-" Everyone knew the actors we were bringing in and nobody wanted to be the guy who drops the baton in a way. There's a lot less shooting going on in New York and there's very little TV writing going on in New York. So to have a whole local production, the writer's room was here, it's what I've hoped for you don't get too often.
I'm just wondering if either have you have gotten feedback from boxers and maybe what they respond to about the show if it's more in the ring action or outside the ring what life is like.
Holt McCallany: That was one of the most gratifying thing to me about this whole experience was that the real fighters have really embraced the show. We had a lot of them over the years, over this course of the season, Paulie Malignaggi and Mark Breland and John Duddy and Peter Manfredo. We did some work for our promotional campaign with Larry Holmes and with Freddy Roach and obviously our technical adviser is Teddy Atlas. So we had a lot of real guys and they really like the show a lot. When we had our premiere, we had Wladimir Klitschko and Lennox Lewis and Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney and Micky Ward. Afterwards, I was talking to some of the guys and Lennox Lewis said very, very complimentary things about the show. Larry Holmes was cracking up and he said, "Man, that's what happens to me when I try to make love to my wife something that bugs me every time, man, every time." They just loved it. Wladimir Klitschko was very, very complimentary. You know what they say to you? They say, "Listen, if you need me, I'd love to come on. If there's anything I could do." If I had a dollar for every guy-I can tell you who they are. Lennox Lewis wants to come on. Sugar Ray Leonard wants to come on. Gerry Cooney brings it up to me every time I see him. So if that's any indication of what they think of the show-they not only love the show, they'd love to come work with us and do anything with us. For me, as I said, that was one of the most gratifying things about the whole process.
Warren Leight: A couple of them have said to me and a couple of the journeymen guys have said, "Thanks for telling our story." Because I think people think we all know boxers from the moment they step into the ring till the end of the fight. I think what we're trying to do with the show, that's part of the show, but these guys live full lives and they're not brutes. They're complicated guys with gentle sides and tough lives and no union protection, and there in with a den of thieves. We try to tell that story as realistically as we could. A number of guys have said, "Thanks for showing more than what they usually show," which we take some pride.
Holt, when you first read the script for Lights Out, what did you think about ... and has your vision of him changed throughout the development of your character and the series?
Holt McCallany: You very rarely as an actor have the experience of picking up a script and getting a few pages into it and realizing that what you're holding in your hands is not just a role on a TV show. But it's one of those special parts that comes along once or twice in a career, if you're lucky, an opportunity to do something, something really memorable and to be part of one of those rare shows that kind of passes into that special category. I understood right away that this was something that I had been waiting for and hoping for many, many years and it's proven to be that and more. As time has gone on and I've had the opportunity to work with Warren and with the other writers and the other great actors and directors, the experience has just gotten better all the way along. Somebody, a moment ago, made the observation that they felt like the episodes have continued to improved. Well, my experience on the show continued to improve and my desire to play this part and to work with these people just continued to grow throughout that whole time too.
Any final thoughts?
Warren Leight: The one thing I want to say is we've been really grateful to all of you guys. It was obviously disheartened to open with the numbers we opened with and it felt to me like it was a real opportunity for the critical and blogging community and press community to sort of dance on our grave. Everyone seemed to appreciate that the show had good intentions and we'd worked hard on it and you stuck by it. It stabilized. We were in, and remain in, a very difficult time slot, I would take, basically, any other time slot day or night over the one we ended up in and nobody anticipated that slot being that way. But what we're seeing are just a lot of signs that it's beginning to turn around. I also think that the schedule have the potential to slightly ease up for us over the next few weeks. There are a lot of good dramas that have either played out their runs or are coming to the end of their runs and we're still going. These last four episodes, they're pretty strong and we need to go out. We went out as strong as we could with the series and if audiences come, we think they'll stay. We think that we may get a little bit more of a window than we've had. So we appreciate you taking the time out of your day to still stick by us. We believe in comebacks at Lights Out.
Holt McCallany: Everybody loves a comeback.