Holt McCallany

Lights Out star Holt McCallany takes playing a former heavyweight boxing champion seriously.

"I've been around the sport a lot and I've been around those guys, and it's a lot of responsibility to play the heavyweight champion of the world," McCallany tells TVGuide.com. "You have to walk out in front of the cameras, in front of basically millions of people, and they have to believe you."

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More distressing, McCallany says, is the notion that champs are supposed to be our heroes.

After losing his title in a controversial decision, McCallany's character, Patrick "Lights" Leary, walked away from the ring at the request of his wife (Catherine McCormack). But his five years in retirement have seen his riches melt away, forcing him in the pilot to work as hired muscle just to pay the bills. In last Tuesday's episode, Lights was out of his element as he climbed into a cage to fight a mixed martial artist to settle a gambling debt for his brother (Pablo Schreiber).

So, is Lights Leary really a heroic figure or just another hulking brut?

"I think he's, fundamentally, a decent, ethical guy. ... Ultimately, he's a guy who loves his family more than anything in the world," McCallany says. "But I think that he is capable of mistakes and I think he's done things that he isn't proud of.

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"As a fighter, you also have to be capable of brutality. You get in those ropes and the bell rings and you have a job to do. You're in the hurt business," McCallany continues. "You have to go across the ring, and you have to make your opponent submit. But that doesn't mean that I'm a brutal guy when I step outside the ring. The thing is, that brutality that your capable of? There are going to be moments when you find it kind of bubbling up to the surface, even though you'd prefer it didn't."

Executive producer Warren Leight agrees that Lights began the season in a dark place, but beginning with Tuesday's episode, titled "The Comeback," Lights starts to the long climb back toward the top — and perhaps redemption.

"This is a guy who can lead us out of the darkness a bit," Leight says. "There are things you can learn from a guy like this. I don't see him as an antihero. He's got problems, he's flawed, but he's doing what he has to do and there's no self-pity. It was interesting to write a guy who was less self-absorbed and who would say, 'Put it on my shoulders; I'll take care of it.' I found that refreshing.

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"He feels remorse. He has his conscience. He's different because of that," Leight continues, comparing Lights to the titular protagonist of Dexter. "It's always going to be a journey for this guy. Lights is a good man, but he's not immune to the temptations ... It's about how you handle the missiles that come after you."

Although this is a boxing story, Leight thinks any viewer can relate to the struggles Lights is facing. "This is inadvertently a metaphor for what almost every worker and family member has been going through," he says. "Your income is not what you thought it would be. The value of your home is dropping. You have debt you can't afford. ... It's a metaphor for everyone who's been knocked around a lot lately, and this is a guy who gets knocked down and keeps going."

Lights Out airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.