Read an interview Boyd Holbrook gave to Men’s Health in which he discussed The Sandman and his role as The Corinthian, playing a good guy in Vengeance and watching a 30 minute preview of the next Indiana Jones installment:
Playing a villain in a comic adaptation is nothing new for Boyd Holbrook. After all, one of the 40-year-old actor’s breakthrough big screen roles came as the homicidal Donald Pierce in 2017’s Logan, the heavy opposite Hugh Jackman’s unforgettable Wolverine swan song. But that role—a “bull in a china shop” brute, as he describes—comes starkly different from the one he eventually took on a few years later: The Corinthian in Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved comic series The Sandman.
The Corinthian, as Netflix’s series lays out, is the embodiment of anyone’s worst nightmare. And when he makes his way out of the dream world into the real world, that’s big trouble for everyone. Holbrook describes him as the “patron of saints to serial killers,” which gets explicitly spelled out in the series when he becomes the keynote speaker at a literal convention for serial killers. Corinthian escaped from the dream world because an occultist (Charles Dance) captured his master, Dream (Tom Sturridge); without any oversight, the nightmare acquired a taste for methodical murders (where he removes people’s eyeballs from their heads) and amassed a cult-like following of serial killers all on his own.
The series spans centuries, and sees The Corinthian find time to refine his violent craft—which he calls “collecting,” as he takes the eyes from his victims, perhaps because he himself has a pair of tiny, teeth-chattering mouths where his own eyes should be— and figure out what he likes. And, again, that’s not good stuff. “If the guy’s been around for a millenia, he’s taken all of the low hanging fruit,” Holbrook says. “Now he’s become a connoisseur of things. He likes the nice delicacies of life. He’s a sommelier, if you want to go that far. He’s a real tastemaker, and a really refined, elegant, sophisticated guy.”
It’s a role that Holbrook—who is also set to star in the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones movie and the Justified revival series—has had in the works for quite a while. He first auditioned back in January 2020, and didn’t land the role officially until several months later, beating out competition such as Liam Hemsworth and Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery for the coveted villain role. Holbrook relished that long wait, because it gave him time to work with B.J. Novak on Vengeance (released in July), and let him know for certain that the filmmakers behind The Sandman were exhausting every option to make it as good as it could possibly be. “They went under any rock and nook and cranny, and went for this thing,” he says, referring to Gaiman and his co-showrunner Allan Heinberg.
We had the chance to talk to Holbrook about channeling the character’s violence and “ambiguous” sexuality, his other role as a rural Texan in Vengeance, and a quick tease on his upcoming reunion with Logan director James Mangold in a little movie called Indiana Jones 5.
Men’s Health: I know your role was very competitive. I read previously that you auditioned, and didn’t hear back for a while. Were you confident you were going to be cast or was there doubt along the way?
BOYD HOLBROOK: When we got the audition—I say ‘we’ meaning me and my wife, who else am I gonna run stuff with?—we looked at it, and you get vibes. Like, oh, this is something. This is nice. But you go through so many ups and downs as an actor…after a while, a win is great, a loss is… it is what it is.
I did the audition, and I felt like it went really well. And then I didn’t hear anything for a very long time, so I forgot all about it. And then I went on to work on Vengeance, and then [co-showrunner] Allan Heinberg called and said he would like to talk. Then I found out it was, like, a glasses thing. Taking the glasses off.
I think a big trap of probably every audition, for anybody who auditioned for this, was making a meal out of The Corinthian and his eyes. And the key was it just being sort of second nature, rather than it being a moment. And we kind of put that to bed—we had to work through some ideas of how to have that reveal. Because it is special. It can just become very gaudy, very quickly.
Did you have any connection with the comic before becoming part of this project?
Yeah, I mean I don’t think you could avoid it. When I was in high school, it was a comic that was passed around a lot. I didn’t remember The Corinthian because The Corinthian was only in “The Doll’s House.” So even after getting the role, I didn’t really have a ton to go off of. The series really stretches the entire 10 episodes, and building to that event in the comic of the serial killers convention.
That’s where we started: wondering ‘How are we going to build this guy out, and what’s he really about?’
What do you think was the key to playing The Corinthian? I find it interesting that it’s inherently such a disturbing character, but you still play him as a charismatic guy who you can get why people are drawn to him. But then, of course, he’s still cutting people’s eyes out of their heads.
I think that’s all an interpretation. That’s to you, but to Corinthian that’s not at all what it is. A processed killing of keeping things. I’m not allowed to feel anything; I can’t have any emotions. So, there’s this really dark, twisted, sense of logic, where, if I keep something of you, maybe I’ll get a sliver. You know, how food provides nutrition. That’s the way that he’s going to have a taste of that.
So, yeah, obviously to the pragmatic, logical person, all those things are really terrifying. But to him, I don’t think it’s anything at all like that.
You alluded to the key to the character being those eyes. When the glasses come off, were you doing anything specific knowing there would be an effect there?
[MAKES FUNNY EYES FACE] WHICH WAY IS THE RESTAURANT? [LAUGHS] No, no. That was all handled… sometimes less is more. Don’t work too hard. Not that you shouldn’t be working, but a lot of the shock and awe value really takes its place.
But once I had the glasses on for the first time—we were shooting during the pandemic, so I just got to set and I hadn’t been able to be around anybody to actually get these glasses—so, they were pitch black, and I just remember racing my mind the first day on set, stumbling into furniture, and this and that. It became, really, like a mask that you could put on. There’s a real sense of power behind that. Almost like a shield.
Did that help you further transform?
Yeah, it almost gave me the opportunity, or the rite of passage to just behave however. It gave me an authority.
How would you describe The Corinthian’s sexuality throughout the season?
Ambiguous? Like I said, I think he’s gone through a lot of different options over the years, and he’s not afraid to try any of them. And there’s also a really fine, gray line, between what’s actually for pleasure and what’s actually for a different type of pleasure, which is seemingly near the end of the show, without saying too much.
He doesn’t discriminate. It’s all good.
I almost see it like The Corinthian gets more pleasure out of his “collecting,” and his sexuality is just an asset he uses for “collecting.” Do you agree with that read?
It’s like any collecting, right? So, like, if you collect baseball cards, you have different evaluations per player, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. I really think it’s the uniqueness, of, like, this one is this way, and that one is that way, and what’s so nice is the difference between them. It’s all about the taste of each and everything.
In preparing for those sex scenes, did you work with an intimacy coordinator? What was that process like?
I don’t think I had any sex scenes? Maybe that’s why we didn’t have an intimacy coordinator. No, we didn’t have one—it was just me and the actor, and just being open to having a new experience. I really think that’s what acting is all about: trying someone else’s perspective on, because that’s what will make you grow as an individual.
That’s what I really love about actors. So, he was game, we were game, and it was fun.
I think it’s very cool that Neil Gaiman himself was so involved with the making of the show. What sort of relationship did you have with him on set?
Neil made all of this. He was extremely involved, and we talked a lot. But to have Neil on set every single day… you know, and trying not to make eye contact with him after each and every take… I feel like that would be too much pressure, because you could just say like I just need to relax! Stop! Go away! [Laughing]
Because you really want to honor what he’s created. Because it’s a world that is so simple, because we all experience it: you dream, I dream, we’re awake, we’re not. But the stories, and dreams are actually really endless, so he’s housed rich characters. So we’re all just trying to honor that. So we had Allan Heinberg, who was the day-to-day showrunner, writer, who we could lean on and almost be a liaison between our great Neil Gaiman behind the curtain.
Knowing that, like you said, Neil created all of this, did you ever get any advice from him that stands out now?
Yeah. I think the trap of playing something of an entity, or you could go as far as the Marvel world, who has powers, and all of these things….is don’t let it make you be or act different. Stay rooted. Again, it is special, but to you it’s not special. Because it’s not oh wow, I just shot a laser out of my eyes, I’m so impressed! You wouldn’t be impressed with that, after 100 times doing it—it would just be second nature. I think that’s always the tricky thing about those things.
We talked about a couple villainous roles, including The Sandman. I also recently saw you in Vengeance, where you play, all things considered, a pretty good guy. Do you have any preference when it comes to good guy or bad guy roles?
You know, I wish I was one of those actors who could just pick and choose everything that they wanted to work on. But a lot of the stuff I get, I audition for. Some things I’m offered. B.J. [Novak] did offer me Vengeance because I had a “wicked sense of humor” in Logan. It’s just really what comes. And also the type of filmmakers I want to work with. I would work with Jim Mangold, really, on any part that he had, because I know that that guy cannot make a bad movie, and a lot of people are going to see it. So, if I’m going to put a lot of time into figuring this out and figuring out how to embody that, you know, you want people to see it.
So, it’s not that i have a this or that type of preference, it’s just what’s been happening. And I think now, after Indiana comes out, I think you’ll start seeing me do a lot of different things—because I’ve exhausted that aspect. After that, I mean, maybe if like a Bond villain came up, I would do that. But what else?
I could see you crushing that.
Yeah! We’ll see. I just really think the opportunity that acting gives you is to be able to play a range of characters, from one spectrum to the other. So, that’s what I really really enjoy and love to be able to do.
In the whole season of The Corinthian, what stands out as the most challenging part of the process?
I think it’s that thing we were talking about earlier of trying to find the tone of something. It’s a really bad idea to say Okay, well, this worked in the last film, so I’m just going to do that. Because every film, you have to start over from scratch. And just be like I’m terrible at this. I have no idea what I’m doing. And then slowly, through time and space, you start putting it together.
That’s why I like a lot of time to prep something, because with this one, again, it’s that supernatural, beautiful fantasy, but then it’s rooted. So, not playing into that, and kind of shifting your consciousness back to just being real about it. So, that’s always the difficult thing. I always find that every project is pretty humbling, I must say.
So Logan and Sandman now makes two comic adaptations. Would you want to do another, whether that be Marvel or DC or maybe some sort of favorite graphic novel?
I just really want to play characters that are foreign to me. Selfishly, because that’s where I get to get my point of view on a different culture, or a different perspective that’s someone else’s, that’s not mine. I feel like The Sandman is pretty high on my bar. I’m never the kind of guy to be closed-minded like I’d never do that, I’d never do that.
It really depends. I mean, I think now that we’re talking, The Joker… that character seems to be endlessly reincarnated in an interesting way. Sometimes the anchor is fun, but usually those secondary characters are really great to play. There are just more keys on the keyboard.
You mentioned Indiana Jones, working with James Mangold again. I know you probably can’t say much, but what can you tell us about that movie and working with Harrison Ford?
I can assure you that it’s going to be badass. I got to see like half an hour of it when I went to L.A., and I saw Jim. You know, just look at his work: Ford v Ferrari, it’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be badass, and it’s gonna have heart. All of his films have this emotional beat in them, but we’ve got this grand scale of Indiana Jones.
And Harrison is the best type of crazy you can get. And I really grew up with Indiana Jones. I wasn’t so big on other franchises, and stuff like that, but to do that, it really just reignited why I want to do this. Because you live on the road. It’s been about 10 months on the road right now, being a traveling circus with your family. It was just refreshing to want to go through all that. To do something and to make something that’s burned into eternity. To be part of Indiana Jones—It’s pretty great.