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Actor Steven Strait Dishes On The Expanse - Exclusive Interview

For Steven Strait, landing the role of Captain James Holden on The Expanse was a dream come true. Not only was James S.A. Corey's series of epic sci-fi novels one of Strait's favorite stories, but his time on the show has earned him legions of passionate fans, and introduced him to cast and crew members that have become as close as members of his family.

It doesn't hurt that, with every season, The Expanse gets bigger and better, and Holden's story gets even more complex. The Expanse's current season, its fifth, finds Holden separated from the rest of his regular crew, traveling across the solar system while trying to unravel a conspiracy driven by Belter terrorist Marco Inaros, with the fate of the entire human race at stake. So far, it's been a wild ride, and looks like it's only going to get more exciting as The Expanse barrels toward its finale.

Halfway through The Expanse's current season, Looper caught up with Strait to talk about some of season five's biggest twists, what it's like to play a character you already know so well, and what makes Holden such an unusual hero. Just be careful: If you aren't caught up on The Expanse quite yet, make watch the latest episodes on Amazon Prime first. Not only are there a couple of spoilers ahead, but this season has been one of the show's best. It's well worth your time.

How Steven Strait landed the role of James Holden on The Expanse

First off, congratulations on the season. So far, it's been incredible.

Oh, thank you, man. Thank you. Yeah. I'm really, really proud of this season. I think it's the best one we've made, in all honesty.

Episode four — the one with Marco's meteors hitting Earth — is one of the most stressful hours of television I've ever seen.

I know. I know. I know. I was a fan of the books before we started shooting the show. I knew it was coming. That book is such a rollercoaster, and that moment in particular is so dramatic.

I had worked with Nick Gomez, who directed the episode, in years past, on a different project. I knew he was going to hit it out of the park. We were shooting it, and we knew while we were shooting just how special that episode was going to be, with the rocks, and with Fred Johnson, and with all these enormous moments. It was really an enormous payoff for stuff that we had been setting up for over a season. I'm so glad that it landed.

As you mentioned, and as you've said many times before, you were a fan of the books before you were cast on the show. Given that, what was your audition like?

It was pretty typical. I was sent the script and I read it. The first thought I had, having had read the books and seeing that they were going to adapt it for television was, "Well, that's ambitious for a show." I was like, "How the hell are they going to do that?" It's so big.

But the story was something I had always really loved and attached myself to. If you read the books, and what you see in the show, is that while there's all of these macro world-building events, it really does center on human relationships. The sci-fi of it exists in the background to cradle a very human story. So I read it. The script was amazing. We have always had the privilege of incredible writing on this show, as we continue to. I went in and auditioned for it and then I met everyone involved on the studio level and that was it.

I mean, the people involved were artists and creators and executives that I admired from other projects. The pedigree of the people involved was just stunning. So I knew that if anyone was going to be able to pull off adapting these books for television, it was going to be them. I felt really comfortable going in. There was no pilot. It was a direct-to-series order, so we went in with the confidence of everyone backing us to do 10. It's been a ride, man, but it was a fairly typical experience at the beginning.

What makes Holden's arc on The Expanse so special

As a fan of the books, is there a moment or a scene that you were hoping to bring to the screen but didn't get to because it was cut as part of the adaptation?

A lot of the moments from the books, for Holden in particular, that I always kind of attached myself to have been in the series itself. I mean, I think the most unique sequence, theme, relationship, for me, had always been Holden's relationship with the Investigator and the protomolecule as a whole. When he first starts to see the Investigator and starts to communicate with him, it's such a unique relationship that I really didn't have a template for, which as an actor you love, because you have this completely new thing that has no real reference. You can kind of paint it without the influence of other movies or what have you.

To be able to do that with Tom, who I adore — we have developed such a great creative relationship over the years — I knew we were going to have a blast working through all of that. So no, I don't think that there was a moment in the books that I wasn't able to do on the show, but the one I was most looking forward to, from the very beginning, was exploring that with Tom. Looking back, it was so fun for me to be able to do.

Holden has a really unique arc. It's not a typical hero's journey, because we see him save the world, but then it keeps going. He becomes a celebrity. Like, there's that scene this season where he's in the bar and everyone recognizes him and they toast him. What's the biggest lesson you have learned, as a person, from Holden and his journey?

I agree with you about the non-typical hero arc that Holden goes on. From the very beginning, that was what really attracted me to playing Holden — the privilege of being able to portray a very different kind of hero arc, in my opinion, and a very realistic evolution of a leader over the seasons.

Holden's greatest strength was always his ethical core, and it remains so, but in the beginning he was completely overwhelmed and out of his depth. Over the years, through these fearful and ugly moments and stumbles and failings, we see him, almost in real time, develop into the leader the story needs him to be. You can't do that without the privilege of having a lot of seasons and confidence from the writers. Every step of the way is earned.

I mean, I remember actually talking about the process coming into this. When I first started talking to the creators and the executives on the show, they really emphasized the realism that they wanted for this adaptation. So often we see heroes portrayed just having the capability of shouldering humanity's responsibilities from the very beginning. They just have that. But for Holden, it's not that simple and it's not that clean. Oftentimes, in the real world, leaders have to go through incredibly difficult, hard, sometimes ugly experiences to get there. That's what we've gone through with Holden.

Holden is not the kind of idealistic, easily overwhelmed, emotional guy that we saw in season one. He's someone who has seen entire civilizations begin and end in a moment, and witnessed genocides, and experienced family betrayals. He's gone through a hundred different experiences that have almost broken him, but they haven't. He's come out stronger and humbler, both at the same time.

So by season five, we find him as capable as we ever have. It's his humility that's gotten him there. There's a resilience to him. When he does hit a wall, when he does get overwhelmed, he's able to push through this fear because of his ethical core, but his strength really comes from his humility. If there's one thing that I will always take with me from portraying him, it's just that true strength, in my opinion, always comes through that. That's where we see him now.

What Steven Strait is going to miss most about The Expanse

You have such a dedicated fanbase. Do you have any particularly memorable fan experiences or encounters?

Oh my god, our fans are the best. I don't know if I could categorize them.

When we weren't sure we were going to be picked up again and we went to this private space conference we were invited to months before, without having known any of this was going to happen, and Mr. Bezos was there and the studio was in talks with Amazon, we had this dedicated group of fans that organized a "Save The Expanse" campaign and rented out a plane that had a "Save The Expanse" banner behind it. There were all these wild things that they did that were so moving. For us, to be able to feel like our work means something, to that extent, to the fans out there, is deeply moving.

A few of them had flown themselves to that conference, because they knew how down to the wire it was about us getting picked up, and they were really lobbying for us to get back on air. When Mr. Bezos announced that it had been saved, they popped up in the back room with the "Save The Expanse" banner and a thank you. The whole place just erupted. I'm never going to forget it. I'm never going to forget that. I mean, it was just the craziest, most wild professional experience I've ever had in my life.

But there have been hundreds. I mean, our fans are so dedicated. It's really incredible fuel for us. Every year, we try to make each season a little bit better than the last one. They really are, in many ways, the fire that just lights it for us. We're always, always grateful that they're there and support us. We're only here because of them, so we do our best to give them what they deserve.

With next season being the last, what do you think you're going to miss the most?

Well, there's a lot. There's a lot that I'm going to miss. I mean, I'm certainly going to miss the people I work with every year. I've always said that there's a feel about this show that's more akin to a theater company than it is a television show. It's very close. It's very collaborative. We have devoted our weekends and the days that we don't work to rehearsing, from the first episode of the first season, and we haven't missed one [rehearsal] throughout the entire run of the show. We deeply care about all of this, and we're all involved in each other's work. It's so collaborative and so supportive and lovely. It's really the way that, in my opinion, creative enterprises should be.

We have become a family, in so many ways. I know that's a cliché thing to say, but we really have, and that includes the crew. I mean, by and large, we still have the same crew from the first year. I think it really does speak to just how much everybody cares about the work and the show and each other, that through all of these ups and downs for the show itself, being canceled and being brought back and all of these different things, that everyone held tight because they cared so much about what we were doing. I think, more than anything, that commitment and that closeness and that warmth is going to be what I miss the most.