Steven Strait Interview: The Expanse Season 6 Finale

The Expanse season 6 finale emphatically closes the Prime Video series, as James Holden (Steven Strait) and the crew of the Rocinante defeat Marco Inaros’ (Keon Alexander) Free Navy. Holden’s all-important moment arrives when during peace negotiations, UN Secretary-General Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) nominates him to lead the newly established Transport Union. Holden responds by resigning during his acceptance speech to make Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) the agency’s first president instead — a move that defines his character and sets the Sol system on a course for a brighter future in which Earth, Mars, and the Belt all share power.

Steven Strait spoke with Screen Rant about the culmination of Holden’s arc in The Expanse season 6 finale and how his character has evolved from the series’ beginning to its conclusion.

Screen Rant: I’ve watched the finale at least five times by now and I still can’t get over how good it is. I thought it was such a perfect way to wrap things up. I have to ask you, has it really sunk in for you yet that, at least for now, this is the end of The Expanse?

Steven Strait: I’m so grateful to hear that, by the way. Thank you so much. To be honest with you, it has really sunk in the last couple days. Now that it has been released, it’s like, “Oh, wow, it’s out.” We went into this season so committed — we always have been — but we wanted so desperately to stick the landing of this show. We’ve all worked so hard on it for seven years. To do justice and honor the commitment that the people on the show have had for it and for the fans out there have had for it — we really wouldn’t be here without them. I’m grateful that we were able to complete the story as we intended to make it. Six [seasons] was always the plan, so we were able to get to the end and end it on our own terms. I’m immensely proud of it. I’m grateful for it, but it is definitely a bittersweet moment.

I’m aware that the finale was one of the first episodes that you filmed. What was it like going through all those intense and emotional moments right at the end while you still had those earlier episodes to shoot?

Steven Strait: It was interesting. In some ways, it worked out well because the finale is such a beast of an episode. We all had the energy of being early on in the shooting process to really just hammer it home. What it did was really force all of us as a group to meticulously plan out our arcs over the season because we shot the beginning and the end at the same time off the top. So you really need to know how everything goes in the middle for it to arrive at that point and make any sense at all.

The Expanse has always felt more like a theater company than it has a television show. We spend our weekends rehearsing and going through the scripts with the writers, and opening up the sets, and planning everything out. This is Saturdays and Sundays and it has been the entire run of the show. From the first episode, we’ve never missed any. So this year, it was really just doubling down on making sure we were ready and planned to arrive at this endpoint that we’ve been working toward for so many years. It was surreal to do the speech where Holden hands over the reigns and the scene with Dom [Tipper] and the Roci going off into the distance early. It was a surreal experience, but it worked out well.

I wanted to ask you about that scene right at the end when Holden resigns from the Transport Union and makes Drummer president instead. How do you think making this unpopular, yet unquestionably right, decision defines Holden’s character?

Steven Strait: I think it’s a very “Holden” moment. It’s the thing that I’ve always loved about him as a fan of the books even before we started, and also as an actor playing him all these years. Holden’s going to do what he thinks is right whether it turns out to be the case or not. He knows that handing over the reigns to Drummer is the right thing. It’s certainly not the first time he’s had probably two-thirds of the system infuriated at him. But I think the reason why Holden is trusted by everyone is that, as frustrating as he’s been to them over the years — each side — they know where he’s coming from. And he does act within the best judgement of what he thinks is right for everybody.

His idealism over the years has evolved. It starts as a kind of naive idealism and through very difficult experiences — whether thats connecting circuits and then nearly going insane or blowing up a ship full of doctors to prevent a pandemic — Holden has made really difficult choices that have really tortured him, and his ethics, and his sense of right and wrong. I think what it has done is that it has solidified and boiled down his worldview. Throughout the entire story, whether it’s Earth, Mars, or the Belt, everyone thinks they’re in the right, and Holden is the only character in the middle that doesn’t look at it that way. Whether that is his innate nature — which I think is part of it — but whether that’s also experiencing the perspective of having communication with this other civilization and seeing the existential threat that we all have if we don’t come together. That guides him regardless of whether or not the decision is popular.

He knows Drummer and he trusts her, and he knows that the Belts needs a seat at the table. It’s obvious to everybody and Avasarala knows it too, she just can’t do it herself. The Martians can’t do it themselves. They know what Holden said at the table is correct. This is the reason why Marco existed in the first place. It’s like, if we’re going to break the wheel, this cycle of oppression that has caused this enormous rupture, that has prevented us from dealing with the thing that’s actually a threat to everybody, Holden has the chance to change it, and he does. It’s a moment that I was really looking forward to playing this year and it’s a moment I’m really proud of. It’s very “him” and it’s the quality about Holden that I really love the most.

One of the things that I love so much about The Expanse is that there’s so much focus on character development and we really do see everyone change from beginning to end in these truly authentic ways. What do you think is Holden’s most important evolution throughout the show?

Steven Strait: It is such as gift as an actor to be able to have an arc that goes this long and with the kind of writing that we’ve had all this time. Holden’s arc is vast, and I wouldn’t call it slow, but it moves at a very consistent pace through the seasons. For me, it was the opportunity to show what the evolution of a leader really is in real life. This man, who was completely unprepared for the kind of responsibilites thrown at him, who fumbles his way through a lot of these experiences, and has these epic failures and really frustrating moments, and dark moments at times, wrestling with being completely overwhelmed by the position that he has found himself in, always finds a way to pick himself up and step up to the plate.

There is a resilience about Holden that he learns through these experiences. What was so fun to play is that every step in his evolution is earned. It’s an earned beat, it’s an earned step, and by the time we get to the very end of the series, you believe that Holden can do something like this. It takes an immeasurable amount of strength to be able to handle the kind of pressures that he has by the end of the series — whether that be the sole person communicating with an alien species or making these vast decisions that affect everybody — and going with his gut and feeling the rightness of it, the truth that it’s as good as he can give. For me, that has been the most pleasurable piece of showing him, it’s his growth as a leader.

And showing a different kind of masculinity than is often seen in hero arcs, not just in sci-fi, but in a lot of different kinds of things. Holden is a guy who typically does not choose violence. He’s a guy that doesn’t always kill the dude. There is an empathy to him. That is his strength and at the end, it’s the lynchpin that allows the system the best chance at peace that it has ever had. It’s his sense of empathy, it’s not his victories on the battlefield or whatever. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to show and to be able to play with that very unusual her arc over time. 

It’s interesting because we start off knowing Holden as this impulsive and sometimes naive person. Then, he ends up being incredibly competent to the point where he’s essentially beating Avasarala at her own politics. Where in your mind does Holden stand at the end of the series in terms of being a negotiator?

Steven Strait: Yeah, his evolution is a long road from the Canterbury, for sure. I think Holden is comfortable with who he is at the end of the show and he’s comfortable with the place that he holds within the system. He’s not someone who moves away from his responsibilites anymore and he has accepted his position as someone that is neutral, that is a humanist. He’s not of any side. I think he has done the best he can do and I think he feels that way. He has come to the end of a certain road and there was a moment to really affect concrete change to break that wheel of oppression that has caused so much pain and heartache for humanity over the years. He does it and then steps away and wants to live his life with his love.

There’s a wonderful conversation that I always look back on with Holden that he has with Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) at the beginning of season 5, where it starts out having this enormous argument and they end up having this heart-to-heart. Holden at one point goes, “Things will never change,” and Fred goes, “You have to stop worrying about the end of the world.” He goes into this thing of, “You have someone who loves you. Build something with her.” Holden finds himself in a moment where he can fulfill a human goal of making sure there is equanimity in the system. And then when he does that, he steps away to build something private with [Naomi].

It’s a moment of humility. It was a wonderful thing to be able to show a certain kind of strength through humility and through empathy — which to me, is what real strength is. If we, as humans, have any chance of dealing with the things that are truly a threat to us, it’s going to be that that saves us and that’s what Holden represents in the story.

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