Before his starring role in the Netflix drama “Narcos,” Boyd Holbrook hovered in the background of several movies and TV series.
He was one of the ill-fated Hatfields in History’s miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys” and, in “Gone Girl,” he was the male half of the couple that befriended and ultimately robbed Rosamund Pike when she was on the run.
But Holbrook’s role as real-life DEA agent Steve Murphy on “Narcos” has thrust him into the spotlight in a way no one could have predicted when the show began filming last year on location in Bogota, Colombia. Holbrook’s voiceovers alone — a history lesson on drug trafficking in South America and a mordant commentary on the cluelessness of the US government vis a vis Pablo Escobar’s drug empire — are a crucial part of the show’s narrative arc.
“I was always carrying a voice recorder around,” says Holbrook, 34, who did the voiceovers concurrently with production. “I worked on the series for six months, then another two months on the voiceovers.”
“Narcos” has won raves for star Wagner Moura (as Escobar) and for its frightening portrayal of one of the bloodiest periods in Colombia’s history. Holbrook says that even before he reported for work in Bogota, he underwent a rigorous training program with Murphy and DEA agents in Hogan’s Valley, Va., a completely mock town near Quantico constructed for such purposes — with fake houses, hotels, a post office, bank, movie theater and other buildings.
“I spent a lot time with Steve. Me and Pedro [Pascal, who plays DEA agent Javier Pena] were the first civilians at Quantico. Fake town. It’s in countryside out in Virginia. They train you to become undercover agents,” Holbrook says. “We went to a hotel room and had to negotiate how to buy drugs. While you’re doing that, another dude comes out of another room and says, ‘Who the f–k is this guy?’ They give you a gun. It fires. Blanks. But it’s as loud as a real gun.
“They were giving us a taste for what could go on.”
Holbrook was born in Prestonburg, Ky. A carpentry job at a local theater led to him being discovered by a modeling agent and soon Holbrook was working for Elite Models and Wilhelmina Models. The money he earned paid for his tuition at NYU film school. Eventually, one of his screenplays landed in the hands of director Gus van Zant, who gave Holbrook a small part in his award-winning 2008 film “Milk.”
As he moved in Hollywood circles, Holbrook met and started dating actress Elizabeth Olsen, whom he met on the set of “Very Good Girls.” After a brief engagement, the couple separated this year, but Holbrook has no regrets. “I’m just way better off,” he says.
He’s now back in Bogota to start filming Season 2 of “Narcos.”
One thing he’s learned from completing the first season?
“There would be no Pablo Escobar without American consumption.”