Though Andre Holland’s name isn’t known to all, his portfolio features incredible performances in Miracle at St. Anna, Bride Wars and the Jackie Robinson biopic 42.Taking his career up a notch, Holland now stars as Dr. Algernon Edwards in Cinemax’s new medical drama, “The Knick.” Directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen, Lucy Elkins, and Steve Garfanti, Holland’s work with a talented cast adds to the powerhouse performances each episode.
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“It was amazing working with Steve and Clive and everybody,” said Holland. “It was like being invited to an all-star game. Suddenly, you find yourself standing at home plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning down by three runs. That’s what it felt like. What it did for me is it really help me bring my best game to it. The best of who I am.”
Being a black man in Hollywood has its own obvious difficulties. But on “The Knick,” Holland plays a black surgeon in 1900. “He doesn’t really fit in with the black community. They don’t understand him, and he doesn’t really fit in at work,” says Holland. “So, he’s kind of caught somewhere in between and I was really interested in what being in that pressure cooker would do to a person.”
One part St. Elmo’s Fire, one part “Boardwalk Empire” “The Knick” brings attention to the social issues of not only race, but also unequal access to healthcare.
“It’s not just for African Americans,” says Holland. “Health care is very much still a part of our national conversation. Immigration is something we deal with in the show, poverty, labor…it has all these things that are subtlety laid into the fabric of the series that has something for everybody.”
Dr. Algernon Edwards is the assistant medical director of the Knickerbocker Hotel, a position of prestige by any measure. However, in 1900 the very idea of an African American doctor was foreign to the vast majority of Americans. Andre had his research cut out for him in preparing for the role.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about the time period. I mean, I knew a little bit about New York in 1900. I read a book called ‘Low Life’ that really talked about New York during this time period. So, I started by educating myself about that,” he says. “Then, about black doctors in history. I went and realized just how far back it goes. Meharry Medical College was founded in the late 1900s and have been educating black doctors since then.”
Holland’s star is on the rise with a reputation for doing stellar period piece work. He can next be seen on the big screen in the Ava Duvernay produced and directed film Selma, about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr, James Bevel and Hosea Williams.
“We just finished that a week ago and it’s coming out Christmas day. I played Ambassador Andrew Young,” he says. “My mother used to work with him back in the day on the voter registration act down in Alabama. So, again, getting a chance to learn about history personally is something I got a chance to do in Selma and in “The Knick.”
Holland’s work must add a bit of luck, because “The Knick” has already been renewed for next season.
“We’ve done ten [episodes] and we found out about two weeks ago that we’re going to be picked up for another ten,” he says. “I’ve only begun to hear little snippets of what might be happening next season, but it all sounds like a dream.”
“The Knick” Premieres on Cinemax Friday, August 8.