Brains and Brawn: Interview with Elysium's Adrian Holmes

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Robbie G Photography

Actor Adrian Holmes

In the real world there are the haves and the have-nots. That is also true in the fictional world, and when it comes to the new science fiction feature film Elysium, the have-nots are in dire straits. They have very little in comparison to a chosen few, and when one of the less fortunate makes a bold move and rocks the boat, it leads to a battle that could perhaps shift the balance of power. Not one to turn down the chance for some onscreen heroics, actor Adrian Holmes, who plays Manuel, was excited to jump into the fray and take part in the action.

“My agent called me and said that I had an audition for the film,” recalls Holmes. “I originally read for the part of a South African character who was a mercenary and one of the bad guys, but then I received a callback and ended up being cast in the role of Manuel.

“Needless to say I was thrilled. Knowing that Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are associated with any project is reason enough for anyone to sign up. You’ll do anything and everything to be a part of that [creative] machine, and to my good fortune it all worked out and I was able to join in the fun. My character is a weapons expert as well as the brawn or muscle of the group. Manuel is the go-to guy who gets the job done by any means necessary.”

Set in the year 2154, Elysium unfolds at a time in Earth’s history where the planet has become an overpopulated, disease-ridden, Third World-like slum. While most of the population struggles to survive, a small and wealthy minority live in luxury onboard the space station Elysium. They enjoy the best of everything, including advanced medical treatments.

When factory worker and ex-con Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) contracts a fatal disease after an industrial accident, he has five days to get to Elysium for treatment or die. His plan pits him against Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her secret police force. Fortunately for Max, he has people like Manuel a.k.a. “Balls of Steel” in his corner and who come to his assistance as he attempts to reach Elysium. Like other apocalyptic-type films, the conditions depicted on Earth are deplorable to say the least, and it took a tremendous amount of effort by the movie’s cast and crew to create such a world onscreen.

“All of the Earth sequences were shot on a landfill in Mexico City,” says Holmes. “We had to bring truckloads of clean dirt in because the soil was very toxic and we wanted to make sure that we lowered the level of toxicity that we were exposed to. We actually wore masks on set to keep from breathing in any unhealthy stuff. So it was a challenge having to be in such an environment and still work. The thing is, there are people who live in those environments. There are actual communities situated around that area. I was blown away by that fact, and it just opened my eyes and really made me think that we are so blessed and privileged to live where we do and have what we have. There are so many people out there who don’t know any different and yet we still complain about so much. So I’m extremely careful whenever I complain about something now.

“Another challenge, at least for me personally, was that I got food poisoning while I was shooting down there. I was very cautious not to drink the water or use ice cubes, but I think a certain taco got me. It happened on a Friday and I was sick the whole weekend. On the Monday we had to film a big heist scene, but my energy level was still really low. So they had an ambulance on set and hooked me up to a saline IV, which worked like a dream. My energy shot right up. I was able to do the work and in between takes they’d hook me back up to the IV. It was like I had to ‘plug in’ or ‘recharge my batteries’ every so often,” jokes the actor.

“The day turned out to be a great one, though. I got to do a lot of things that I’d never done on film before. It was go, go, go from the start on Elysium, and I mean that in a totally positive way. There were a couple of little things here and there like I mentioned, but, honestly, that paled in comparison to how awesome the entire experience was. I’m a big fan of Matt Damon and working with him was a dream. It’s every actor’s dream to work with amazing actors who are also down-to-earth. It’s nice when you meet these guys and they’re real people who are in touch with their humanity. That’s what I loved about Matt. He’s an incredibly generous actor who was available for his peers. He treated us like we were on the same level and I learned a lot just by watching him at work.”

Funnily enough, some of the actor’s most memorable Elysium moments happened before the cameras ever began rolling. “I flew from Vancouver to Los Angeles and then from there to Mexico City,” he says. “They flew us down first class, and sitting around me were these older guys with long hair. They looked like rockers, so I asked them if they were a band, and they said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact we are.’

“Their tour manager came up to me and asked, ‘Do you recognize the guy sitting up ahead of you?’ I could only see the back of his head, and the tour manager told me, ‘That’s Ringo Starr and this is the All Starr Band. We’re on our last tour and we’re going to Mexico, Chile and Brazil.’ To make a long story short, they were staying at the same hotel as us in Mexico City. They game me tickets to their show the following night, so I got to watch them perform and hang out with Ringo. The next morning, I was riding the exercise bike in the hotel gym, and on my right was Matt Damon on the elliptical, while on my left, Ringo Starr was on the treadmill. I thought, ‘I love my life.’”

Having a Barbados heritage, Holmes was born in Wrexham, North Wales and lived in Liverpool and Chester before moving to Vancouver at the age of five. A natural performer, he became enamored of acting at a young age, but chose to make a practical detour prior to devoting himself fulltime to the profession.

“Acting is something that I always loved,” he says. “It was therapy for me and something I did throughout school. I loved movies, too, and it always looked like they were having so much fun up there on the screen. I wanted to be a part of that, but the reality of it coming to fruition wasn’t so high. There’s quite a bit of competition in this business, so it doesn’t hurt to have something to fall back on. My mom always told me that. She’s a nurse, so I went to nursing school and graduated as an RN. As soon as I graduated, though, my acting career started to grow legs and I was able to then make a living doing that.

“It’s funny, life takes you in one direction and then another, but I don’t regret going to school. My nursing training has not only helped me in my day-to-day life but also as an actor. It really opened me up to just being empathetic and understanding of people. Everything happens in that divine way and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Having performed onstage in high school and college, Holmes studied acting with world-renowned coach Larry Moss. He continued to hone his craft in New York City, at Black Nexxus Inc. at the Times Square Arts Center. He made his TV debut over 20 years ago in "Twist in the Wind," an episode of Neon Rider.

“This show was about a therapist, played by the late great actor Winston Reckert, who came up with the idea to use his ranch as a place to help troubled teens kick their addictions to drugs and alcohol and get back on their feet,” explains the actor.

“My character of Twist was a crackhead, and the very first scene we shot was of him arriving at the ranch on a truck. He was going through withdrawals and had the shakes. I was really nervous already because this was my very first TV show as well as the first day of work, so I had the shakes down pat, let’s put it that way,” says Holmes with a chuckle. “The director was like, ‘Wow, you’re really good at this.’ Little did he know that I was freaking out inside, but in this case that worked in my favor. Once we shot that scene, though, I began to get more comfortable with everything going on around me and wound up having a terrific experience.”

Along with several made-for-TV movies, the actor has appeared in countless other series including Highlander, The L Word, Cold Squad, Stargate SG-1, Supernatural, Smallville, True Justice, Motive and King & Maxwell. In 2004, he received a Canadian Leo Award nomination for Best Guest Performer for his work in The Collector. On the big screen, his credits include Frankie and Alice, Red Riding Hood, Wrecked and Hangar 14. In addition to Elysium, Holmes can be seen in recurring roles in two hit genre shows and is looking forward to taking center stage in a new TV project.

“I’m currently playing Lt. Frank Pike on Arrow for the CW,” he says. “We recently began work on the show’s second season and I’m having a lot of fun this year, especially as they’re having my character out in the field a bit more. I’m also playing a recurring character called Agent Warren on Continuum. He’s a time traveling bounty hunter who basically stops people from abusing the time travel continuum. Warren is a man of very few words, who gets the job done and is a good fighter. They have some terrific action stuff on Continuum, which I enjoy doing. The show has been picked up for a third season and we return to work in November.

“Last but not least, I’m going to Montreal in September to shoot a series called 19-2. It’s a crime drama and I play the lead, Nick Barron, a cop who feels responsible for his partner’s shooting. He’s worked with his partner for a very long time, and Nick feels guilty because he didn’t call for backup when they were out in the field. He takes time off to deal with the difficulties of all that, and when he comes back to work, they pair him up with a new rookie cop, Ben Chartier [Jared Keeso]. However, Nick doesn’t want anything to do with him. He would rather be on his own, so there’s a lot of tension between these two, but over time Nick and Ben start to gel and find a comfort level with one another.

“So I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now, which I’m really thrilled as well as proud about. Just working in this business is a blessing, never mind getting the opportunities that I’ve been able to receive working opposite such amazing Hollywood stars, learning from them and then getting to do my own show. It’s a real dream come true and I thank God every day for my many blessings. I don’t take it for granted at all.”

Please note, all photos courtesy/copyright of Robbie G Photography.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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