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February 12, 2014

An Intelligent Choice: Josh Holloway

As a high-tech spy in CBS’s Intelligence, Josh Holloway is relishing his new role.

Kathleen O’Steen

“It’s shocking that they chose me for this role ‘cause I barely get the internet.”

A modest Josh Holloway chuckles as he chats up his latest alter ego: a high-tech spy in CBS’s hard-charging drama, Intelligence, which premiered in January in a prime post–NCIS timeslot.

Based on the John Dixon sci-fi thriller Phoenix Island, the show centers on a roguish Delta Force operative with a computer superchip implanted in his brain. He’s America’s newest weapon, able to instantly access the global information grid.

“That comes in handy when you’re a spy,” Holloway deadpans in his soft Georgia drawl.

Technology aside, it was the human aspect of his character, Gabriel Vaughn, that sold Holloway on the project. “He lost his wife, whom he’s very much in love with. He’ll do anything to find her, and that’s really taboo for a spy. So, he’s tormented. I like that.”

Vaughn is reminiscent of his previous starring role, as con man Sawyer of ABC’s Lost. But a lot has changed since Holloway was cast in that long-running series. Today he’s a bankable star; back in 2004, he had all but given up on acting.

“I had reached a point where I was trying to retain my dignity,” he says. “Couldn’t take getting rejected again. So I got my real estate license, and my girlfriend — now my wife — was cool with that.”

Up to that point, he’d been a jack-of-all-trades (forest ranger, construction worker, restaurant owner, model). Four days after getting that real estate license, he was called to audition for Lost. It wasn’t an easy tryout: he had to deliver a grueling thirty-six-line monologue with a slow, dramatic build.

Damon Lindelof, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, says Holloway tested late in the casting process. “I think we had looked at every actor out there between the ages of thirty and forty. It was intense.”

Keli Lee, ABC’s head of casting, had been urging the producers to see Holloway. “We weren’t familiar with him,” Lindelof recalls. “I think he was known for playing one of the first vampires killed by Buffy.”

The actor was nervous in that first reading, but Lindelof says they all saw something. “He had charm coming out of every pore. He was gorgeous, affable, intelligent. I couldn’t believe we would be the ones to discover him.”

Holloway’s six years on the show were magical, he says — as was life in Hawaii. “Of course, this was no polished soundstage where they were running to get you a cappuccino. We were trudging in mud, through jungles — it was like being a soldier.”

He remembers a night shoot in which he and costar Harold Perrineau were tossed into the Pacific for a perilous scene. “Harold really didn’t swim. But I’m a fisherman, and I know what’s swimming around out there. I’m telling the crew, ‘Hey, this is the sharks’ feeding time! Not cool.’”

But the camaraderie among the cast and the peaceful locale were restorative, especially after nine-and-a-half years of auditioning in Los Angeles. “I really needed to heal at that point in my life.”

It’s not surprising that those early Hollywood struggles left some bruises, given the contrast to his idyllic childhood: Holloway and his three brothers grew up roaming thirty-three acres of forests, hills and lakes near Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. “It was nothing short of fantastic.”

Once he got to Hollywood, “I spent a lot of time dealing with nerves,” he admits. One day he asked a fellow actor, “How do you get over these nerves?” The response was illuminating. “He told me you never do. You just get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

It wasn’t until he landed on Lost that Holloway began to enjoy the work. These days he’s enjoying it all — acting, marriage and fatherhood (he and his wife, Yessica, have a four-year-old daughter and are expecting their second child).

It’s a happy time. And, of course, if this acting thing doesn’t pan out, there’s always real estate.

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