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Jun 26 2016

Interview: Rising Star Boyd Holbrook ("Narcos")

Boyd Holbrook ©Flaunt magazine,Fe Pinheiro,photographerI regret to inform you that I cannot begin this story with the sizzling lede I'd intended.But the redacted story,of whereBoyd Holbrookcalled me from and the new project he's working on -- were nevertheless a good reminder that he's been an exciting talent to watch.That's not just because he's so engaging onscreen but because he doesn't want to get stuck in a rut;it's hard to guess where his creative muse will take him next.

So let's jump to our real topic.Boyd Holbrook was calling to discuss his role as DEA officer Steve Murphy in the Netflix seriesNarcos.The debut season was nominated for Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes and before its second season airs,it's undoubtedly hoping for Emmy to follow suit (balloting closes tomorrow).The story revolves around the drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura,Globe nominated for Best Actor) and the attempts of DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) to bring him down.Though it's somewhat of a three-lead series,Holbrook and Peña are both onEmmy's Supporting Actor Drama ballotsince Escobar is the subject matter.Holbrook's character is our window to the story and a handy historical reference guide as narrator.The early episodes have to impart a ton of information we couldn't be expected to know about both Colombia and the US in the late 70s and early 80s as well as technological limitations of the time in hunting and surveillance of your prey.

I talked to Boyd about the peculiar demands of the part,half-exposition and half-character work,but we begin with what I suspect is his multi-hyphenate inner artist [Interview after the jump...]

NATHANIEL R:  Your career is a bit hard to pin down.You've dabbled in so many things already:  poetry,sculpting,writing,producing,and,of course,you started as a model.Is this because you're a restless creative spirit or was acting always the end goal?

BOYD HOLBROOK: I don't really write poetry anymore.I write lyrics for songs.I'm going to make a little EP but I don't have any interest in trying to make a living as a musician.When someone asks me advice on any sort of medium,I say "fucking good luck!"Make a living as a writer or musician -- so hard!

NATHANIEL R: But that's true of acting,too.So did acting just happen or...

BOYD HOLBROOK: I was working at a theater company and wanted to become a writer and director in New York but I had no money.Ididwant to be an actor but I thought I was way too much of a hilbilly to do that.Someone asked me if I wanted to go to New York for a modelling job and I just never left.It was kind of a segueway,a way to get to New York.From there I did my thing.

Milk was Boyd Holbrook's film debutA lot of your roles have you in a moustache and/or locked in the 1970s on camera --Beyond the Candelabra,Higher Ground,Milk,Narcos...

HoweverNarcosis in the 80s --not to be a douche!


...[Thinking] I'm very attracted to characters that are foreign to me.I'm actually shy of my own personal life and quite more interested in other people.That has something to do with it,the curiousity.Whether I'm playing heterosexual,homosexual,Australian...

Playing a real person this time inNarcos,did you think it was more important to think of Murphy as a dramatic construction or honor the actual person?

There was a tremendous amount of pressure when I first read it.I've never truly played a real person.Maybe it was just me but there was this initial anxiety of 'Oh,I have to mimic this person!' like a very famous person.But with Steve,no one really knew who he was.He's from West Virginia but I had this element of the the voicever for 10 hours so I didn't want to have such a strong accent.That could be annoying after a while.After I met Steve and got familiar with the project,you do have to take creative license because of the narrative,because of the story.

One of the things that's immediately evident since you speak to us well before we see you,is that as the narrator,you're giving two performances.Half of it,I assume,is in a soundbooth alone.

Narcos is based on the real case work of DEA agents Peña (Pedro Pascal) and Murphy (Boyd Holbrook)

It's exhausting.For me,I looked at it.It's 10 hours of voiceover [Narcos's first season has 10 episodes - editor].The show has been compared toGoodfellasbut if you listen to the voiceover ofGoodfellas,it's very intense.For 10 hours I don't know if you can handle that since it's so in-your-face.Unless you're bilingual than you're reading subtitles so I didn't want to make the audience work more to digest something that was maybe too theatrical.So what I tried to do was something more hypnotic.I mean this with the utmost repect but someone like Matthew McConaughey or someone [Adopts Texas accent than switches to Australian to demonstrate -ed.] with an identifiable voice.But if you have to listen to a heavy accent,It's just...

It's a unique challenge.

Oh,dude.How many hours I've spent wrapping my head around this shit.

Let's talk filming.Most of your scenes are with Pedro Pascal.

Total prick.

[Laughs].What's the mood like on set?I assume it's different than what comes across on screen since it's so intense.

First,I have to tip my hat to Jose Padilha [producer/director] and Wagner.This show could have been done for probably a lot cheaper in Puerto Rico or it could have been done in English with a Spanish lisp like some sort of bad World War II movie.So those choices were made up front.We're on location in Medellin.We're on location at Pablo's house.There are no sets,no anything.It's a great luxury to have all that do the work for you. does that mean you're not worrying about creating the reality but just enjoying yourself as an actor?

Oh yeah!For me,I love preparation.We went to Quantico.I got Steve to get us into Quantico for a week.I trained with the DEA -- they're there for 18 weeks but I got a very good glimpse.That glimpse changed my whole perception of the character.I got my brains blown out in a scenario with a live gun that shot blanks but it fired the same sound as a real gun.It changed my perspective.After a while,if you do enough preparation,then you're sort of just existing.And if you're existing with the luxury of the actual locations,even better.

The aesthetic of our show is hyper realism.It's not the camera work where 'we're going to do coverage,then we're going to wide angle,then over your shoulder' -- No!It's balls-to-the-wall who knows what's going to happen.It's by far the hardest thing I've ever done.I was there for 18 months out of 2 years.

Your character onNarcosdoes not speak Spanish and that creates conflict but did you learn Spanish since you were there for so long?

I speak very bad Spanish!I can get around but I can't have a proper conversation.

A sampling of Holbrook projects from left to right: Higher Ground (2011),The Big C (2011),Hatfield & McCoys (2012),Behind the Candelabra (2013),A Walk Amongst the Tombstones (2014),The Skeleton Twins (2014),Run All Night (2015),Free World (2016)

The stuff we've seen you in beforeNarcos,you've often had kind of showy fun little parts like inGone GirlandSkeleton Twins.After this big role in a Netflix show,you haveWolverinecoming up where you'll play the villain.Do you seeNarcosas opening doors for your career in that way?

As an actor trying to make a living,you have to take work.But there's also integrity to any artist in any medium -- you have to be satisfied and not get knuckled down into some situation.I've very specifically,with my team,chosen to do small parts with good material.You talk about 'flashy' characters.That's my work but I can't do that without good written material.And on top of that I'd prefer to work with great people in a smaller capacity rather than,you know,Twilightor something like that.

So that will stay true moving forward,regardless of the size of part?

Absolutely.I have no vanity to be the star.I shaved a receding hairline just for the character.I have a production company,I develope material.The material is what I'm drawn to.

Next up for Holbrook is another season ofNarcos(Season 2 is available on September 2nd) followed by more movie roles including the indie dramaBoomtown,Terrence Malick'sWeightless,and as the antagonist in the untitled thirdWolverinefilm (2017) and surely a few surprises given that restless creative spirit of his.

Previous Interviews|Emmy Related Articles|Emmy's Ballot if You Haven't Seen It

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Reader Comments (8)

Great interview.I liked him a lot in Narcos but didnt realise I'd seen him in other stuff.Also sorry to nitpick,but a few "then"are misstyped as "than"- little pet peeve of mine ;)

June 26,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBert

Bert -- thank you.and fixed.

I imagine rising actors and character actors get that a lot.where they add so much to the tapestry of what they're in but it takes a specific role or a good number of years before people are like 'OH YEAH,HER/HIM.

June 26,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I like him.Interesting actor.Virile.

June 26,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJono

We have been wanting to watch this series...with this blog,we will now certainly begin tomorrow!!!!

June 26,2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Great opener - now I really want to know where he was calling from and what he's working on!I'm guessing it must be the Wolverine film or another big budget because a small indie production wouldn't bother to keep it under wraps.

Interesting read though!Wish it was longer.Would love to know about his experience working with Malick.I wonder how big his role will be in Weightless.

June 28,2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Emily -- i wish it was longer too!Boyd was like "noooo"when the publicist cut us off.haha.

i had intended to ask about Weightless and a little more on his past films.

June 28,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

He's an interesting guy.Good interview.

June 30,2016 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

He's beautiful,is getting good roles in film and hope it continues like this,he is husband to who does not know and hate this bitch Lizzie Olsen

August 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

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