Glass meets actor André Holland – star of Moonlight and The Eddy

ANDRÉ Holland is one of the most promising performers of this generation. Having starred in a plethora of note-worthy cinematic classics – from the Academy Award-winning Moonlight to the culturally unrivalled Selma – Holland is up there with Hollywood’s most highly regarded performers, directors and scriptwriters. Delivering one memorable performance after another, the actor is claiming the spotlight as his own.

This spring, he’s starring in Netflix’s upcoming jazz thriller The Eddy. As per Netflix’s synopsis, The Eddy takes place in the vibrant multicultural outskirts of modern-day Paris. It’s a dramatic portrayal of life outside the first arrondissement. Holland plays Elliot Udo, a formerly highly celebrated jazz pianist who is now the co-owner of struggling club The Eddy. As Udo learns that his business partner might be involved in illegal affairs, secrets start to surface.

The first two episodes set the tone for the series. Directed by Oscar-winning Damien Chazelle of Whiplashand La La Landfame, their pace is vibrant and chaotic – in line with the happenings at The Eddy. Chazelle also claims the executive producer chair and calls Jack Thorne to his side as a scriptwriter.

Chazelle and Holland have history. They were both running the same circuits during award season when both Moonlightand La La Landwere competing for Best Picture. “I could tell that I admired him, I thought he was a smart and talented guy and I really wanted to work with him from then,” Holland recalls of their initial exchanges. As time passed, the two aligned on The Eddy.

“When we started talking about their series, we realised that we had a lot of the same taste in other films. We got along well and started working on it like that. He really trusts his actors and that is important to me,” Holland says.

Andre HollandAndre Holland

Andre HollandAndre Holland

As for scriptwriter Jack Thorne, Holland recalls their dynamic on set as challenging. But it ultimately brought out the best in both of them. “We didn’t always agree on everything,” admits Holland. “But that’s just the nature of the practice. You can never agree on everything. He was always available to listen to the ideas that I had though. We worked to try and put our different views together and I think the series is better for that.”

Giving up freedom to find a way into the character was a necessary evil. Udo’s pro-gression starts with chaos and finishes in simplicity. Even though each episode is dedi-cated to a specific individual, Udo is the primary link that allows the show to have flow. His complexities, frustrations and turmoil spiked fascination in Holland. “I tend to gravitate towards projects that allow me to learn something new, and this one definitely applies. I also had a chance to improve my French and work with Damien. It just all made sense and that really attracted me,” he reflects.

His character, Udo, was grieving the entirety of the show. It’s never evident, but it’s the catalyst for his actions and reactions. The show jumps from one narrative to another, leaving the viewer pondering about all the previous happenings. It’s a multicultural musical thriller that spans over three languages and multiple speeds of narration. How did Holland find common ground with Udo? “The fact that he was in the grieving process, having just lost a child, I think that really struck me. He was really deeply stuck and he didn’t know how to move on,” says Holland of the character.

“I just really tried to get caught up in that world and at the same time, as an actor, I understand the creative process. I understand the frustration that Udo feels when things aren’t going the way that you feel they should go. The challenges of taking control of your own emotional life while still having to go out and perform. There are a lot of similarities.” However, there were dimensions that Holland, 40, wanted to give Udo, outside of Chazelle and Throne’s perspectives.

“Having grown up in the south of Alabama and around gospel music, black culture was very important to me. We find out throughout the series that Udo is in search of something – he’s lost his voice, his creativity,” he explains. “The thing that he ends up finding is a sound that comes from people within him. It is connected to his culture. We went back and we were working on what the last song would be and what it would sound like. It was important to me that it sounded black, that it had a sound you could hear in gospel and that it had a mood.”

“For me, in order for Udo to become the man that he needs to be, to be the father that he needs to be, he had to get back in contact with that part that he has stepped away from. That was the one thing that was really important,” the actor concludes. Another significant aspect was portraying Udo’s relationship with his daughter accurately: “It was important to me that we’d see that he’s trying as a father. He’s failing, but at least he’s trying to be better. He’s not just a guy that screws up. We’ve seen that too many times and I certainly didn’t want to put that into an image that I feel responsible for.”

Four different directors helm the series at different stages. Starting off with Chazelle’s first two episodes, the narrative inevitably changes pace as it progresses through the differing creative lenses of Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi and Alan Poul. As a performer, Holland found their signature styles vital for The Eddy: “Each of the directors has their own vision and I think that is what Damien wanted from the beginning. Five directors that were really artists and could put their own stamps on their two episodes.”

Image from The Eddy

“And each of them is different,” he continues. “Houda is a very passionate director, she cared deeply about finding the truth of things and sometimes she really pushed her actors really far to find what she’s after. Laïla, I would say, has a more classic approach to things, she does a lot of research and preparation, which was really cool to witness. Alan, being the executive producer, I think he was sort of like the clean- up hitter in baseball. He understands it. He has the whole story in his head and he feels responsible for bringing it all home and making it land.

But Damien was the one who really set the tone and I am glad he did.” And setting the tone is precisely what Chazelle accomplished. With recognisable energy, he visualised and mixed all the different aspects of The Eddy into one concise formula. Jazz is “conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting,” declares Ryan Gosling in La La Land . In The Eddy, excitement takes a different form, but the narrative is still moulded by the musicality of the show.

Randy Kember wrote approximately 40 original songs before Thorne even began scriptwriting. You’ve got actors who are only just learning the craft mixed with real-life jazz performers that have been playing for decades. How do you juggle the two? “We were all having to do things that we were not comfortable with,” Holland remembers.

“Again, the actors had never been musicians. And the musicians were fascinating to witness. I loved watching them rehearse. The way that they communicate with each other and listen to each other was really interesting.” In a show that thrives on the vibrancy of the moment, improvisation and spontaneity are key: “There was a fair amount of improvisation in most of it. Not to say that we just made things up on the fly – it was nothing like that. It was scripted for sure, but there were times when we ended up spontaneously finding really good grooves.”

From the grooves to juggling three languages and learning new musical instruments, Holland needed all the help he could get. “I have to shout out one person who was probably the most important person on set for me personally,” he declares. “Dany Héricourt came on as a dialect coach and she was the one helping us all com-municate. Somehow, she also ended up being an acting coach for the people on set. She was overseeing a lot of the story and helping us.

“So the two brilliant minds that brought the story together for me were Dany Hericourt and then Bob Krakower for sure. But especially Dany – she really helped us all. Working with the musicians, she was basically teaching them how to play scenes – really complicated scenes on the spot. It is a real gift.”

Holland’s respect for the music and artistry of the show goes beyond the silver screen. It’s vivid in his portrayal of Udo and in the way he describes the musicality of the show. What started off as playfully chaotic, finished off subtle, simple and dramatic. The jazz followed Udo’s story and even sympathised with him at times.

“When I watch it with an untrained ear, there does seem to be some mirroring in terms of the music and the storyline,” he explains. “It starts a bit chaotic and then by the end it turns into a really simple tune that carries a lot of emotional impact. I would say it moves from chaos to simplicity.”

Andre HollandAndre Holland

At the end of the season, The Eddyis reduced to merely a signifier rather than a place in itself. Jazz resides in people, not in buildings. Or as Holland comments, “It’s a family rather than a place. Udo starts the show going to Paris because he needed somewhere to be safe and create. Somewhere that he can call home. He runs to the only place that he knows, which is this club where his best friend is at. Together they try to keep and create this place where they can be safe.

It becomes a home for so many different people, so I think by the end, they all come to the realisation that the place is so much more than just a venue. It really is a home for all of them.” After a career spanning decades of noteworthy performances, Holland recognises that he did face challenging times along the way. Without any surprise, the most trying happened outside the confines of a film set. It was the in-between moments that demanded grit and determination.

Take an artist out of their environment and witness the turmoil. Give a person enough space and liberty to become themselves and observe the magic. “There are lots of different moments of challenge, but usually it’s the challenges that I’ve put on myself,” confesses Holland.

“Sometimes I can get too in my head about things. Sometimes I get down about the business, about my career, and I think those feelings can sometimes get in the way. When it comes to the work itself – once I’m doing it, it feels like flying. It no longer feels challenging, it feels like a blast. The moments in between, the blank spaces in between the moments when I am acting and working – those are the tricky ones. I’m learning how to better manage myself and my own feelings.”

Holland is now shining in his own right as he’s on his path to household status. But what does shining actually mean to Holland though? “The first thing that comes to mind is that my father always shined his shoes,” he responds. “That was really important to him – having his shoes polished. So I still do that now. It was something that we’d do together on Sunday mornings before church. For him, that’s about wanting to put his best foot forward. And that’s what it means to me too. Shining yourself, taking care of yourself and you can be your best at any given moment”

by Adina Ilie

All images courtesy of Netflix