The Expanse is a show with an ensemble cast, but if you had to pick a “main character,” it would probably be James Holden. Played by Steven Strait, who’s also a producer on the show, Holden captains the Rocinante and has a unique connection to the dangerously mysterious protomolecule.
But Holden—who was thrust into his leadership role early in the series, and definitely wasn’t asking for a psychic link to ancient aliens—has not always been as certain about his place in the universe as he is now. With season five in full swing, we caught up with Strait to talk more about Holden’s evolution over the years.
“I think this year, Holden’s the most secure we’ve ever seen him, in terms of his responsibilities and what that means over five seasons. He’s always had an ethical core. That’s always been his anchor and his strength,” Strait said. “But his capabilities, frankly, just weren’t there. He was deeply overwhelmed in the beginning. And there’s been some really fearful moments, and sometimes quite ugly moments, of him failing and stumbling through these experiences. But what I’ve always admired about him is that he’s resilient and that he keeps pushing, because that ethical core of his is strong enough for him to move through his fear. I think by the time we see him in season five—and I think we saw it a bit in season four—is that the humility of those experiences has made him a lot stronger and a lot more capable as a leader.”
Bringing Holden’s growth to the screen was an important goal for Strait this season. “It’s certainly something I wanted to show—that evolution of how, in my experience, I see leaders in the real world become the people that can handle those kinds of responsibilities that affect everyone. He’s on his own this year dealing with that, and the irony is that the people who have become his family are shattered to the outside of the system. So his personal life is completely pulled out from under him as he goes on this lonely journey to remind everybody that there are these entities out there that wiped out a civilization far more advanced than ours in a moment, and that we keep playing with this fire because we want to hurt each other. And just how wrong that is.”
A big theme this season for many of The Expanse’s other characters is addressing and trying to atone for things they’ve done in their pre-Rocinante lives—but Holden, whose path is moving full steam ahead at this point, is not really wrapped up in that.
“He’s unique in the way that we’ve seen the past that he’s chasing after. We’ve experienced it along with him. He obviously feels this sense of responsibility for being a part of why the [Ring Gates] are even there in the first place, and certainly, now that he’s alone in totality, without [Thomas Jane’s character] Miller, really understands the threat. But he’s been through a lot at this point. He has seen the beginnings and ends of civilizations. He’s witnessed genocides. He’s gone through all kinds of stuff and not much throws him at this point.”
Though Holden’s season five arc involves a lot of life-and-death, high-stakes space action, Strait emphasized that the character is also given plenty of room to develop his personal relationships, too.
“I think the interplay between the kind of macro themes of him going after the goal of protecting humanity from the threat that he uniquely understands, as well as trying to get back the family that he needs, plays really well together,” the actor said. “We’ve always been blessed to have the writing that we have; we have extraordinary writing. But the interpersonal this year is just as important [as the action scenes]. I think maybe the most important scene for Holden this year was the scene [in the first episode] where Naomi [Nagata, played by Dominique Tipper] leaves. That really does set up both arcs.”
Strait continued, “We worked really hard on that scene. We’ve always rehearsed every weekend that we’ve done this show since the first season. We opened the sets up and blocked everything out, and me, Dom, and Breck Eisner, who directed the episode, really wanted to make sure that scene landed. It was the foundation for both of these arcs and to really show the relationship that’s based truly on respect and trust, and how that powers both of them through their respective journeys—and also allows them, without giving too much away, to push to find each other.”
New episodes of The Expanse drop Wednesdays on Amazon Prime.
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