Meet Holt McCallany, cinema’s secret weapon

He’s “that one guy.” Holt McCallany livelihood depends on that outlook, the unassuming yet hard-to-miss actor playing the hero’s adversary, or just another cog in the protagonist’s chain. You can appreciate his full-time ensemble film presence so much more if you get to know his meatier roles.

57 years old and covering 30 years in the industry, there’s no doubt you’ve seen his work. On May 7, he plays the boss of Jason Statham’s mysterious character in Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man.” In films such as “Run All Night” and “Bullet to the Head,” he locked arms with Liam Neeson and Sylvester Stallone, respectively. He has worked alongside Chris Hemsworth and Brad Pitt. But he always left you wondering, “what if we followed that guy home instead?”

The wide-shouldered and tall New York City native shined brightest when the camera did cling closer to his presence. McCallany gained notoriety with his co-lead work in David Fincher’s “Mindhunter,” the Netflix series about FBI agents talking to the world’s most demented minds. Bill Tench was tailor-made for the actor, who allowed the weariness of the agent’s world to slump his shoulders down a nit and pick up a bad cigarette habit. When given the chance, Holt goes full-throttle.

Remember his visceral presence in “Shot Caller?” Playing a prison gang leader known simply as The Beast, McCallany shaved his head and grew the kind of goatee that only badass men do. In a handful of scenes, he took over the movie, all the way down to his demise.

He dies a lot in the movies, but he never goes easy. Check out his heroic moment in last year’s “Greenland.” But his all-time greatest demise came in Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” where he heroically gunned down 5-6 bad guys before eating about seven rounds of lead himself. In typical Mann action persuasion, he hangs out the car window and takes the first two out. But unlike a John Woo American movie, no doves fly over the car and the camera didn’t slow down that much. McCallany made you root for Mark Jassup to survive.

That survival instinct fueled his greatest role, which was “Lights Out” on FX (now known as FXX Networks). Playing a broken down boxer facing down Father Time and financial troubles, along with a growingly skeptical family, he made Patrick “Lights” Leary’s struggles vivid and real. It was Rocky Balboa reloaded, even including a problematic brother (Pablo Schneider). Featuring Stacy Keach in one of his best roles and Catherine McCormick giving Theresa Leary a sharp yet tender edge. FX only gave it a single season, but there was resolution. It proved, 10 years ago, that McCallany had the talent to lead the pack-and not just get punched by Ben Affleck’s Batman. (I’m sure that latter part as “the burgular” was good cash, tho!)

The movies don’t work without actors like McCallany. They just don’t. Films and television shows don’t spin right or come together as powerfully without a full plate of performers working at their A-game. Over 83 roles, mostly with his fists up, McCallany has made the poster boys (aka movie stars) look a lot better on screen-while carving his own way.

Once upon a time, we spoke on the radio and every other word was about his co-workers. It was right during the “Mindhunter” fever pitch, and he couldn’t say enough about Fincher, whom he called a genius. Everything was about the other people. That’s McCallany.

A classic cinematic team player.

Seriously though, can Patrick Leary let his fists be the judges for another season? Netflix? Hulu? Paramount? Amazon? ZonFlix? Mount Hu-Net? Haha, I kid. But come on with a “Lights Out” movie already.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s