Andre Holland talks race and teases The Knick at Skyway Film Festival

Andre Holland has always wanted to tell stories; it’s in his blood.

In the small Alabama town where he grew up, there weren’t many opportunities to watch movies and television. Instead, on Friday nights he’d sit around a fire barrel, listening to his Aunt Hannah tell stories. He knew storytelling was in him then, and with roles in last year’s Oscar-nominated Selma and critically acclaimed series The Knick, audiences are seeing it too.

While the Florida State University and New York University graduate started in theater, Holland (shown above speaking with media critic John Anderson at the Skyway Film Festival)  has undertaken several race-centered cinematic roles, including 42, The Jackie Robinson biopic, and Selma.

“I do feel a real responsibility to investigate these stories and do them with dignity, because I feel like image is important and perception is important,” he said. It’s Andre’s opinion that part of the reason that things like Ferguson and Baltimore are happening is sometimes people perceive others to be a certain way based on some received idea of who that person is. “I think movies have a large part to play in that, and if there’s anything I can do to change that narrative and present characters who are complicated but human, then I definitely want that to be a part of my journey.”

Though progress is being made and more significant roles are going to people of color, Holland believes there’s still a long way to go, joking he’d like the opportunity to star in a romantic comedy, something traditionally unlikely for non-white actors. “The most difficult part for me is finding myself often being the only black person in a cast,” Holland says. “It’s a loneliness that I don’t think I’ve experienced in any other part of my life. It has made me feel invisible.”

Holland currently stars in The Knick, a Cinemax series directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven) and also featuring Clive Owen (Children of Men). Set in New York at the turn of the nineteenth century, the show centers on the personal and professional lives of the doctors and staff who work at the Knickerbocker Hospital. Holland’s character, Dr. Algernon Edwards, is the new assistant chief surgeon, who also manages an after-hours clinic in the basement for disenfranchised patients.

“He doesn’t really fit in anywhere, so he’s caught between these two worlds,” Holland says about his character’s double consciousness. The show explores Algernon’s struggle as he is disdained by the educated medical society for being black but rejected by his black community for dressing and talking differently.

As for season two, last year’s fights will still have an effect on him. While Algernon was on his own, this season he’ll be a little less alone, finding a new comrade. His relationship with Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) will also take a dramatic turn. The Knick returns this October on Cinemax.