Holt McCallany in FX's ring for 'Lights Out'

Drama pilot centers on former boxing champion

After an extensive search, Holt McCallany has landed the lead role on FX's drama pilot "Lights Out," which Clark Johnson has come on board to direct.

Fox TV Studios/FX Prods.' "Lights" hails from "The Bucket List" writer Justin Zackham and Phillip Noyce. It centers on Patrick "Lights Out" Leary (McCallany), an aging former heavyweight boxing champion who struggles to find his identity and support his wife and three daughters after his fighting days are over, leading him to take a job as a legbreaker, collecting on unpaid gambling debts. He is diagnosed with pugilistic dementia, a neurological disorder that affects boxers who receive multiple blows to the head, so he decides he'll need to make another big payday to support himself and his family before his brain turns to jelly.

McCallany tested on the second day of casting for the role. Johnson and creator Zackham were impressed, but given the fact they'd only seen a handful of actors, they carried on.

"But all the hundreds of people we saw after Holt, everyone had to measure up to him," Zackham said. "We had some incredible actors and great performances, but we kept going back to Holt."

For Johnson, who directed the pilots and the series finales of FX's "The Shield" and HBO's "The Wire," the casting of McCallany was somewhat reminiscent of picking Michael Chiklis for the lead in "Shield."

"This is a role of a lifetime and an actor of a lifetime for the role," Johnson said. "He could be the next Jon Hamm."

What also tipped the scales in McCallany's favor was his background as a trained mixed martial arts fighter.

"You can easily get a great actor to play a brain surgeon, but to get a good actor to play an athlete, they have to exhibit the behavior," Johnson said. "It's tough to find an actor that you can buy as a boxer."

McCallany previously portrayed renowned boxing trainer Teddy Atlas in the HBO telefilm "Tyson."

Production of "Lights Out," exec produced by Zackham, Noyce and Ross Fineman, is slated to begin April 15 in New Jersey.

McCallany, whose credits also include "Heroes" and "CSI: Miami," is repped by APA and Mosaic.