In his latest role, Floyd County native Boyd Holbrook finds himself in somewhat familiar territory.
“I grew up in the mountains and played in the woods,” Holbrook said. “I left the house when it was daylight and came back when it was dark. There was a lot of time for imagination to wander and be a kid, which is really important.”
Now, he may not have imagined a lethal space alien that it takes an entire band of commandos to wipe out, though there was an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about that basic scenario that came out when he was 5. But Thursday, Holbrook can be seen in theaters around the world as Quinn McKenna, an ex-Army Ranger who leads the battle against the title ... thing in “The Predator.”
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The Shane Black-directed thriller is a sequel to the 1987 Schwarzenegger original and finds Holbrook with top-billing in a cast that includes Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key and Sterling K. Brown.
“It was kind of daunting, but I’m also the kind of guy that likes that kind of challenge, stepping into a franchise that’s so well known, especially with someone like Shane Black who was in the original and the first guy to die,” Holbrook says of the director, whose credits include writing the original “Lethal Weapon” movies and writing and directing “Iron Man 3.”
“He’s spent three decades making cinematic history, and he’s putting all of that into this film.
“So when I got the call to sign up for this film, I was thrilled, terrified and ready to make my own character and revitalize this. This is not a reboot. This is a reinvention.”
It promises to become Holbrook’s top line credit, as up to now, he was best known for two seasons playing DEA Agent Steve Murphy in the Netflix series “Narcos.” Other high-profile roles have included the villain Donald Piece in “Logan” (2017) and William “Cap” Hatfield in the History Channel miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys,” starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton.
Growing up in Prestonsburg, theater was far from Holbrook’s radar, but he found his way to the stage and screen through an unusual path and some helpful Kentuckians.
His head was turned by “Slam,” a 1998 film about spoken-word poets that drew him in and made him want to look at acting.
Working in a Lexington department store, Holbrook met Michael Shannon when the Lexington native now-two-time Oscar nominee was still building his career, and he recommended Holbrook try his hand at theater, which he did at his hometown Jenny Wiley Theatre. That led to the move to New York to do some modeling — “I used the modeling industry as much as it used me.”
From there, Holbrook says it was another decade-long journey, including film school at New York University, studying things like, “writing and lighting and filmmaking.
“I always thought I was too much of a hillbilly to become an actor, so I was trying to hide behind being a screenwriter and a filmmaker to make movies and tell stories.”
While studying, Holbrook had the opportunity to submit a script to director and Louisville native Gus Van Sant, who ended up casting Holbrook as “a sort of Where’s Waldo extra” in “Milk,” the 2008 Oscar-winning biopic about pioneering California gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk.
“I gave my first line to Sean Penn, which was a bit overwhelming,” Holbrook says. “I got thrown into the deep end without a raft, so I guess you’ve gotta swim.”
Since his days playing in the Floyd County woods, that advice seems to have worked for Holbrook.