Over the past few years, André Holland has scored a string of plum roles in Steven Soderbergh’s medical show The Knick, Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film Moonlight, and the Stephen King-inspired series Castle Rock, among other projects. But it wasn’t so long ago that the actor was despairing of the scripts he was being sent. That’s why he dreamed up the Soderbergh-directed Netflix film High Flying Bird (premieres Feb. 8), in which Holland plays a sports agent named Ray Burke.
“I’ve been involved in it since the beginning,” he says of the drama. “In fact, it was mine and Steven’s idea. We were on set for The Knick. I had expressed to him that I had big ambitions in terms of the kinds of parts I wanted to play, and as I was reading scripts I wasn’t satisfied with what I was seeing. He said, ‘Well, you’re probably going to have to make your own stuff.’ So we came up with this idea.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the film, which is written by Moonlight’s Tarell Alvin McCraney, you play a sports agent, who explores the idea of basketball players setting up their own league. That’s a very racially charged, and timely, plotline.
André Holland: In light of all that’s been going on with the NFL protest — the Colin Kaepernick situation — the question was interesting, especially with the language people are using about black athletes. “Get those sons of bitches off the field,” and that kind of thing. It made me feel, well, maybe this is a question worth asking.
There’s a scene in the film with you and legendary actor-director Bill Duke, who plays a youth coach, where you deliver dialog and shoot hoops at the same time. I wondered how much you concentrated on the acting and how much on getting the ball in the basket.
You know what’s funny, man? Out of all the scenes we shot, that one was one of the trickiest, because I was so nervous. I knew if I missed, then my friends who do play basketball were going to clown me. So I was focusing pretty hard, trying not to miss.
Did you ask him about appearing in Predator?
I resisted. Now we’re done, I think I’ll ask him at the premiere.
Is Soderbergh a baller?
Yeah, yeah. We shot around a little bit between setups and he’s got a nice little
game. He’s got a nice jumper and is a big fan of the game too.
You’ve had a terrific few years, with The Knick, Moonlight, Castle Rock, and now this. Do you feel your life has changed?
It hasn’t changed in a big way, and that’s a choice that I’ve been adamant about. I have the same friends and live in my same little apartment. It feels dangerous to buy into all the hype. I’m afraid I would lose my hunger.
Watch the trailer for High Flying Bird above.