'Deep State' has it all, says actor Mark Holden, who plays a CIA handler in Fox show
Mark Holden has come a long way since starting his acting career in his late 20s in Edmonton, Canada, with close to three decades of plying his craft.
The veteran actor has appeared in a plethora of roles across the spectrum in movies, TV shows and voicing characters in video games such as 'Ghost Recon: Wildlands,' 'Galaxy on Fire 3: Manticore,' 'The Division,' 'Homefront: The Revolution,' and 'Battlefield 1.'
He's also made forays into production and writing with 'The Double Deal,' a movie about a gambling addict in which he plays a starring role, and for which he walked away with the Best Short Film award at the Canada International Film Festival and the San Diego Black Film Festival.
I caught up with the star for an interview to discuss his upcoming show 'Deep State,' which will be premiering on US shores on Epix on June 17, his intriguing journey from a policeman to a small-town actor to one of the most sought-after supporting leads in the industry; what it takes to make it as an actor, as well as a host of other interesting tidbits on what goes on behind-the-scenes on some of our favorite movies and TV shows.
Speaking from the comfort of his home, Holden seemed more than happy to talk to me and answer my queries. Of course, the first order of business would be to delve a bit further into 'Deep State,' where he portrays a CIA handler.
"My character is John Lynn," he said. "I am the boss of one of the leads of the show, Anastasia Griffith, who is Agent Amanda Jones. I'm in six out of eight episodes, starting in episode 2 and then making appearances in episodes 4,5,6,7,8."
Curious about what the casting process was like for such an action-packed show, I ask how he landed the role. "I went for casting back in early June. Went to the casting office of the casting director and she put me on tape and a week later, I found that I had landed the role of John Lynn!," he said.
He also told me something I was unaware of; that 'Deep State' was Fox Networks Group’s first-ever regionally scripted commission for Europe and Africa.
When I expressed my surprise at the information, he said: "Yeah, the whole show was shot in Morocco and London."
'Deep State' has a stellar cast, with Anastasia Griffith, Mark Strong, Joe Dempsie, Karima McAdams and a host of other talented actors. It will follow Strong's character, Max Easton, a retired MI6 agent, as he's pulled out of his regular life and away from his wife and children and into the dark underbelly of the government. Yet, the espionage-thriller genre is one that has been explored quite often, with 'Homeland' the most recent and successful example that comes to mind.
When I asked what separated 'Deep State' from the rest, Holden said: "The show covers a lot of ground. You've got the action, you've got the suspense, you've got the intrigue, you got the family. Mark starts the series in France, where's he's with his family and two little girls and is happily going about his business."
"It shows that Mark is a family man, though he does have a lot of baggage which is hidden. I agree that certain parts of it have been done, but Mark is a fabulous actor along with the rest of the supporting cast. A lot of pieces of the piece go together to make it a successful and enjoyable product," he explained further.
Because of how most present-day TV shows involve such grueling and demanding schedules, actors and actresses often spend weeks and months confined in close quarters.
Holden, who emanates a calm demeanor and has a jovial personality, says that shooting for the show saw him become friends with Griffith.
"The only person I got close to on camera was Anastasia because all my scenes involved her," he said. "The first time I saw the likes of Mark Strong, Joe Dempsie, and Karima McAdams was at the wrap party!" he laughed.
For the uninitiated a lot of these series, as well as movies, are rarely, if never, shot in chronological order.
But Holden was glad to clarify on it further: "Oh yeah, I mean, a lot of the times on 'Deep State,' they spent several months in Morocco doing all the scenes in that country." He continued: "They did that and then they came back to the UK and that's where they shot everything else, in Langley, where I was stationed. So yeah, things don't get shot chronologically and they do jump around a fair bit."
"But doesn't that disruption in continuity affect your acting?" I offered.
The actor brushed off the suggestion. He said: "When you've been in the industry a while and you've done it quite a lot, you get used to it," adding: "I'm sure there are films and series where they're shooting a particular story and it might be difficult getting your head around why you're shooting that scene before another. But in my case, it was fine."
Asked if he had to undergo any extra training because of the action-heavy nature of the show, Holden offered up the lesser-known side of his life: the years he spent in law enforcement.
He said: "I come from an authority background and was a former police officer. I'm originally British-born," adding: "I later moved to Canada in my early 20s and became a cop right away at the Edmonton City Police in Alberta."
But "Why a cop?" I pushed, "Why not a safer job where your life isn't always on the line?" He simply answered: "I started acting when I was 10 or 11-years-old, so I knew I liked acting. But I was also a pretty good athlete. I did track and field, and I did the 200m. 400m, and the decathlon."
Holden's career in the police force is just as impressive as his acting accolades. In 1981, the actor participated and won in the International Police Decathlon held in Austin, Texas, setting a championship record in the process. But when I point this out, Holden remains as humble as ever.
"I was a member of the British police track and field team at the time. We went to Austin and because I was a pretty good all-rounder, my coach wanted me to try the decathlon, and so I did. I then won the gold medal," he laughs. He added: "Yeah, I did [break the record] at the time, but I'm sure it's been smashed since then. It has, after all, been close to 40 years."
More than a little curious about his life in the police force, I asked whether there were any interesting times from his time there; anything that could be propositioned as a pitch for a TV show or a movie. Holden thought for a while and answered: "Oh my goodness! I've dealt with so many different crimes that I guess a lot of it has been seen already."
"They often redo a lot of these drug stories and I've been involved in sieze operations of heroin and cocaine. We set it up to try and get the guy who was responsible but we ended up getting the runner instead. In the end, it was just a small prize."
He then recalled another story. "I'll tell you what," he chuckled, "One interesting case was when I was driving around at 3-4 am in the morning and was just following cars around and running plates. And then, this plate in front of me suddenly came up as a stolen vehicle and the guy inside had been convicted of rape."
"He had then gone into a video store, that is, back when they were still around," he joked, and continued: "Tied up the owners of the store, ran off with a bunch of money and was on the run. I ended up catching him but not before having to give him a bit of a chase. But luckily, my sporting prowess meant I was able to run him down on foot."
Holden had also previously been a member of the Great Britain bobsled team and it was that which got him shifting across the Atlantic and away from home in the first place. But by 29, he had decided that his career in international bobsledding was going no further and went after his other love, acting.
How does one get from the police to acting, and having since played every such law enforcement role imaginable — Holden has portrayed the cop, the FBI agent, the police captain, the chief of police, the director of the CIA, the director of the FBI — on the small screen and big screen, does it not get tiring or boring, I asked.
But the actor has no qualms about the roles he's landing and is, in fact, quite thankful for his police background: "Yes, in my time, I've played a lot of cops and FBI agents. But because I used to live in Vancouver, which is the sci-fi capital of North America, I got to play these roles in shows such as X-Files. And now that I've matured, I am in my mid-50s after all, I get to play your higher-status roles. Now it's mostly dad roles, lawyer roles, and the odd doctors as well."
And it all started under the tutelage of Robin Phillips, an English actor and film director who trained at the Bristol Old Vic alongside Patrick Stewart. Phillips worked in the United Kingdom for many years before spreading his influence in Canada and taking young and aspiring actors like Holden under his wing.
While Phillips passed away in 2015, Holden clearly still holds his former teacher in very high regard with the reverence of a faithful pupil.
"He was a genius in his own right," Holden recalls. "As an actor, you either liked him or you didn't. He sort of took me under his wing as this mature actor who wanted to leave the police and get into acting and he ended up casting me in seven shows at the Edmonton Citadel."
"He had a vision for doing things differently, he continued. "The way he dressed the stage, the way he dressed the actors, his vision of how he wanted the play. I had never gone to drama school and he helped give me a footing. I never had a former way of getting into acting but it was by working with people like Phillips that I managed to make it."
He also explained how acting on stage was different to acting in front of the cameras. "As an actor in a play, you have the audience and the immediate reaction right there, right in front of you from the start. In a TV or a movie, you get to redo your scene if you weren't happy with how it went last time," he laughed.
"Of course, a lot of actors are always nervous about messing up on stage. Well, that's the excitement," he stated. "Getting on stage, getting immersed in your character, and getting on with it. You drop lines occasionally but you go with it and well, the audience doesn't notice a lot of the time when it happens."
Stage fright can be a real issue as well, he said. "Sir Laurence Olivier had stage fright throughout his career. I've never had stage fright like that but there have been times where I've been nervous as well before going on stage. It depends all on what's going on in your own life at the time. Things happen and they affect how you feel," he offered.
And of course, remembering hundreds of dialogues at a time isn't too easy either. But Holden calmly insists that's hardly a problem either: "Your memory is like a muscle. What happens if you don't use them? You lose them."
"As an actor, the more auditions you prepare for, the more times you work and have to learn stuff, in my experience, your memory gets better and better. But in learning lines, you also have to understand what you're saying. You have to understand the storyline and the concept of your whole dialog. If you don't understand, you can't pass it over truthfully," he explained.
In that vein, he says the hardest role he's ever played is Shakespeare's Othello. He said: "Othello goes through such a horrendous mental torture from Iago, the treacherous officer who was his best buddy and officer in the army. There's the character arc as well. I played him about 22 years ago and I would love to play him again as an older man with more life experience."
Following closely in his footsteps is his daughter Siena. I asked whether she comes to him for advice, especially considering how he's now a veteran of the industry, Holden confirmed that she sometimes did, though he insisted that she preferred carving her own path.
"I was recently in the Bodyguard musical in the West End in the Dominion Theater and we took it to Toronto for 14 weeks last year. So, I was lucky enough for my daughter to come spend a week with me and we chatted about a lot of things and how her career was going and what she wanted and expected," he said.
"In fact, I'm proud to say that, that at the moment, she's written the first act of a musical. She wrote the libretto, the music, the lyrics. I think someone came in to do the piano piece to go with it but she did 90% of it and she's performing it with four other actors sometime within the next month in Calgary, Alberta," he gushed.
Despite all of his success, Holden still remains grateful to those around him who helped him get where he is today. He singles out the name of his agent, Luc Chaudhary, in particular. Besides 'Deep State,' the actor also has another major TV series coming up: Amazon Studios' 'The Feed.'
Based on a novel of the same name by Nick Clark Windo, the psychological thriller drama takes place in London in the near future and follows the British family of Lawrence Hatfield, the man who invented an omnipresent technology called The Feed. Implanted into nearly everyone’s brain' and which allows people to share information, emotions, and memories instantly.
Holden will be portraying the role of the father of one of the leads and seems to be quite taken with the show's premise. He's well on his way to finishing reading the book as well. He gently suggests that I try the book for myself, to which I promise I will, and we bring an end to our conversation.
Well-spoken, forthcoming, and amicable, Holden was a pleasure to talk to. The actor is set for a busy year ahead and the meticulousness and diligence with which he goes about his work will ensure that his success is anything but temporary.
You can follow Mark Holden on Twitter: @isibor62 and Instagram: @realmarkholden