Last week, FX premiered their new drama Lights Out to major critical acclaim. The show is a perfect blend of the hard hitting story telling FX is so well known for, and the big bad world of sports.
I had the opportunity to partake in a conversation with show runner Warren Leight and “Lights” Leary himself, actor Holt McCallany. They had a lot to say about getting ready for the show, the uphill battle the production went through and how the show reflects the real word of boxing.
One of the first things that struck me was the struggle the production of the show went through.
Warren 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.
McCallany then talked about how he became involved with the show.
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…
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.
He then followed that with how he wanted to portray Lights as an athlete and not “Superman.”
McCallany: 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.
McCallany then talked about the reception the show has received from real life Boxers.
McCallany: 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.
I had a long conversation afterwords 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.
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, 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.
Hardcore training and the spirit of the sport…continue on for the rest of the interview