How Josh Holloway Went From 'Lost' Con Man To 'Colony' Hero

Colony S01E05 Still - H 2016
Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network

Colony S01E05 Still - H 2016

Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers' first scene together in Predator — the one where a long-time-no-see handshake becomes an outright arm wrestle? Most action movie junkies dream about shaking those hands one day; Josh Holloway actually got to do it.

It was a meeting at a gun range years ago, when Holloway and Schwarzenegger were working together on David Ayer's Sabotage. "It was just me and him, walking side-by-side blowing off shotguns," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It was surreal. Here I was, blowing off shotgun rounds next to the Terminator!"

Nowadays, Holloway is working alongside the Dillon to Schwarzenegger's Dutch, Weathers, on Colony, USA Network's science fiction series about an alien occupation in modern-day LA. Beyond his growing collection of Predator encounters, Holloway can now also count Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford as co-stars. Holloway describes these as "wow moments," the times he feels like a kid all over again. "That never changes," he says.

But Holloway has changed. The Georgia native spent his early years as an actor booking music videos and bit roles (literally "bit," in the case of his guest-starring spot in the series premiere of Angel) before landing Lost, the show that paved the road for his future Schwarzenegger shotgun session. Holloway starred as confidence man James "Sawyer" Ford, easily one of the most popular characters on the jungle mysteries series, even if he didn't start out with the audience on his side.

"I remember seeing some early testing ABC had done in the beginning, and Josh's character tested way down at the bottom," says Carlton Cuse, executive producer of Lost and one of the co-creators of Colony. "And of course he did! He was a self-serving con man who was happy to torture a whole group of people over an asthma inhaler in order to get a kiss."

Over six seasons of Lost, Sawyer transformed from self-serving scoundrel to outright hero, ending as "the highest-testing character" on the show, according to Cuse. The character rose from the background ranks of Oceanic 815 to one of the foremost players, and it felt like Holloway's life after Lost would follow suit. When the show ended in 2010, Holloway hit the big-screen in movies like SabotageParanoia, and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol — and it was Holloway's work as an ill-fated operative in the latter film that put him back on the path to television.

"I really developed that character, and when he was killed off, I went, 'I have a spy in me,'" says Holloway. "It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to go to the opposite end of the spectrum as an actor, get really in shape, be clean shaven, get rid of the hair, and be different."

The result: Intelligence, Holloway's CBS series in which he played a secret agent with an all-powerful computer chip in his brain. The show lasted longer than Holloway's Mission: Impossible hero, but not by much, canceled after only one season.

"I wanted to give it a shot, and I did," he says. "The chips fell where they may. It happens."

But Holloway's dream to occupy a spy role didn't die with Intelligence, thanks to Cuse, who came along with an offer for the lead role on Colonywhich was renewed for a second season after only three episodes.

"I love Carlton's mode of storytelling," Holloway says. "The audience knows what we know. They're on the ride with you. It's very immediate. He's so good at holding tension and creating mystery. That's the storytelling I'm attracted to."

On Colony, Holloway plays Will Bowman, a fugitive hunter forced to collaborate with the aliens oppressing Los Angeles, in order to protect his wife and kids. He sees Bowman and Sawyer as opposite ends of the same coin: "Sawyer lived in the darkness and was reluctantly pulled to the light, while Will's a family man and patriot reluctantly thrown into the darkness." 

The similarities more or less end there. Unlike Sawyer, Bowman values family above all, and boasts enough maturity to hold multiple government jobs. On the family front, Holloway relates to Will now in a way he couldn't during Lost, given his real-life role as a husband and father of two children.

"I think I had an aspect of Will back then, but I did not truly understand the stakes this guy is facing until this point in my life," he says. "I've been with my wife for 17 years, and we understand that you can both have the same goal, but go about it completely different — which is what Will and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) are doing. That's marriage! The stakes are different now. They're immediate for me now."

Some things haven't changed since Lost, like Holloway's relative disinterest in knowing the bigger picture of his show's mythology. As was the case back then, Holloway is less concerned about the mysteries on Colony, and more concerned with finding the truth of his character.

"I like to shoot from the hip," he says. "I love mysteries — just in an old school way."

Perhaps it's best not to dwell too much on the mystery of how Holloway went from hoarding guns on the Lost island to shooting guns with Schwarzenegger in Sabotage to wielding guns for extraterrestrial employers on Colony. At least, he doesn't think too much about it. "So far, the alchemy is working perfect," he says, and that's about as far as he's willing to observe. But what would the Holloway of 2004 think of the experiences he's collected over the past 12 years?

"I think he'd kick back with a bottle of whiskey and a big shit-eating grin on his face and say, 'Well, alright! Things are going alright, son,'" Holloway says with a big laugh. "I think he would be pleased."

Colony airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.