Andre Holland talks about his new film, High Flying Bird.
During an NBA lockout, sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) presents the concept of basketball players setting their own rules and guidelines for the league. In his efforts to win over the cooperation of his colleagues and his latest recruit, he finds that this level of agency is perhaps bigger than what people can see.
The film, directed by Steven Soderbergh and screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is set to release on February 8, exclusively on Netflix.
The Knockturnal: How are you feeling about this production?
Andre Holland: “I feel good, I feel excited. It’s the first thing I’ve produced and have had a hand in producing, and I’m excited. It feels so different than just acting in something. Usually I’m just neurotic about my own performance but in this case I’m like worried about all of it, you know. But I’m excited. It feels so good to know that you’ve spent four and a half years working on something and actually get it done despite all the hurdles and discouragement, [where people would say] oh you guys won’t be able to do this and here’s the reason why this will never work... so it just feels good, I’m excited.”
The Knockturnal: The genesis of this film began with you not being satisfied with movie scripts that were presented to you. Can you share more about what you were not seeing in scripts that you felt should be present?
Andre Holland: “If I’m real with you, it wasn’t even that I wasn’t seeing anything in the scripts, it was that I wasn’t really seeing scripts [laughter]. If I’m real, you know, I want to be straight up about it. And I want to emphasize that I am not a complainer. It’s not me being like, poor me, or anything like that because everybody’s got it hard and I’ve got it so much easier than so many people I know so I’m grateful. But I think there was a point where I felt, after we did The Knick, I felt like because people were saying, aw man, it’s about to get easy [for you] and you must be getting all these offers now, and you poppin’. That’s what I was hearing from everybody but that’s not what the reality was and I started getting down, like something must be wrong or I must be doing something wrong. And then through conversations with Steven and a handful of other people, they were basically saying, ‘look man, you have to make it yourself.’ It’s something that Ava DuVernay said, and then when I really saw, I said, oh so that’s what people are doing. Like that’s actually what the work is; you can’t just be an actor. You can but that’s not the calling. The calling is the more holistic approach. So that’s where it came from — I don’t like waiting and I felt like it would be a crime for me to squander whatever talent or potential that I have, waiting.”
The Knockturnal: What about this idea of players sort of owning the league fascinated you?
Andre Holland: “Well I think, kind of similarly to what we were talking about. Like Tarell for example, Tarell and I have been knowing each other since 2006. And we love to just get in the room and just make stuff. We would go and take a play, or a piece of a play and just try to figure it out. But then, when it came to the point of actually getting the play produced, that was a whole different process. Now you’ve got to do the workshops, the readings and get the approval from the powers that be. And people that run the theaters don’t look like us so you find yourself justifying why these stories are important even though it’s kind of obvious to us, you know what I’m saying? And so that frustration that we felt on those early years is very much related to the frustration that is woven into the film. Like why can’t we have more agency? Why can’t we just have an idea, have an impulse, and own the means of production to just get the shit done? So that was the question. The was the impulse.”
The Knockturnal: Why tell this story on this day? Why now?
Andre Holland: “Good question. I really follow closely the Colin Kaepernick situation, and it really disgusted me, the whole thing did but especially comments like ‘get those SOBs off the field.’ Whatever that joker said! And other people saying, when one of us would speak out, ‘oh just shut up and dribble.’ We’d hear comments from these places of power and it really disgusted me. So this does feel like a story that is responding to the moment that we’re in and I think it’s auspicious timing.”
The Knockturnal: How passionate are you about basketball in general? Do you play?
Andre Holland: “Oh I can ball, [laughter]. No, I can play a little bit. I grew up playing sports. Baseball was really my sport. But I played basketball in high school as well, so I enjoy it but I’m not really a baller. I hang around some ball players, that’s why I know I’m not a ball player.”
The Knockturnal: Did your basketball friends provide any pointers for you to help portray your character?
Andre Holland: “For sure. So my friend, his name is Dr. Onaje X.O. Woodbine – a great basketball player! He played and was like one of the best point guards in the country at one time and then went on and played at Yale and wrote a book called Black Gods of the Asphalt, which looks at the spiritual aspect of street basketball; it’s a really beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book, one that we’re actually developing into a series. But he also consulted on the film and was there on set. On the days we’re we actually played basketball, which were not many. He helped us to make sure that everything looked legit. And last night he saw the movie and was clowning me because I missed shots in one scene! I was trying to tell him that I did it on purpose! I didn’t do it on purpose [laughter].”
The Knockturnal: The movie was shot using an iPhone. Did any of your decision making change as an actor due to this way of filming?
Andre Holland: “That’s interesting, not really! I’ll say the one thing that it did do was that it made me stay more on my toes because we were moving so fast with those phones. So usually when you have a traditional set up, you’ll shoot one side of the scene and then you have time before the lights are set up for the other side — you have time to kind of let things digest, but in this case, Steven will set one camera there, one in the corner, and they would be all around so you’re just rolling! It felt like doing a play because the way it’s written, with two people sitting at the table or two in a room for most of the movie. So it helped us to keep that energy going.”
The Knockturnal: Can you talk about your experience preparing for filming?
Andre Holland: “The preparation is less so specific to the iPhone and more so specific to working with Steven. So his expectation is that you come in ready to rock! If 9:00 is the shooting call, you better be there at 8:45, ready to go! Not like, let me have my coffee, no, the camera is on, we’re rolling. And with this script, the first scene of it is like a 10-page, 2-person scene where Ray is just talking. So the preparation for that is pretty intense! It wasn’t the sort of thing where you could just [show] up and figure it out or work on it a couple days before. So I spent like weeks and weeks just working on that one scene. And Ray’s in almost every scene of the movie so I rehearsed it like it was a play. I rented out a rehearsal studio, I hired a person to come work with me and so we would just go like everyday for 4 hours and we would just work on it, scene, by scene so that by the time I got to set, I didn’t have to think about the lines. Just be there.”
The Knockturnal: What’s next for you?
Andre Holland: “To be honest with you, I’m taking a little bit of a break, I learned a lot last year about self-care and healing! That’s something I didn’t really know much about until last year! I think I was so used to just going and going! Trying to take care of everybody around me and neglecting my own self. So what I want to do now is take some time out! Go home to Alabama where I’m from and spend some time with my mom and dad and my family and then see what’s next. So I don’t have any acting projects lined up at this point. There’s some stuff that I’m producing and pitching and working on so hopefully that will keep growing — so I’m taking a little time out.”
See the official trailer for High Flying Bird below: