Jazz is a uniquely American art form. Like so much of today’s music, it was born out of the songs of Black Southerners. And it was also born from a collision of cultures in New Orleans. French, Spanish, African sounds. Coming together to make something new.
The new Netflix show The Eddy is born out of a similar collision of cultures. Set in a Parisian night club, the show centers on jazz musician, club owner and producer Elliot Udo, portrayed by André Holland. The band is made up by people from all over Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, coming together to make music. And the show itself was put together by artists from around the world at the top of their game, including Holland and Damien Chazelle. You may remember them from the Moonlight and La La Land awards circuit.
This week on the Reckon Interview, we’re talking with Andre Holland, one of the most talented and thoughtful actors in the business. You’ve seen him in movies like 42, High Flying Bird, Selma, and Moonlight, or TV shows like The Knick and Castle Rock.
Holland grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, and recently bought the historic Lincoln Theater in downtown Bessemer. We discuss his plans to restore the theater, his new show, as well as how the South shaped him as an artist, James Baldwin, baseball, and we may even break a little news about a project he has in the works.
Here are a few excerpts from the episode to get you started.
André Holland on “The Eddy”
I mean, first of all, Damien Chazelle directed the first two episodes of the Eddy, He and I met, you know, several years back when we were doing the sort of La La Land [and] Moonlight press tours. And so, you know, I really liked his work. So I knew I wanted to work with him at some point. And then this script came along.
And for me, I think the thing I really connected with was, number one, this relationship between Elliot and his daughter. I mean it’s obviously a very fraught and difficult relationship. But that was interesting to me. Also, it’s so much about the creative process, right? And this man who is this incredible creative who’s also dealing with when we find him an enormous amount of grief, and that grief has got him stuck in this destructive pattern. So at the moment the script came along, it really resonated with me because I, too, was dealing with some struggles in my creative life.
And then obviously getting to do a show in Paris and about jazz was, you know, not a bad deal either. The shoot was six months in France over the summer was pretty beautiful.
It was a lot like jazz. I mean, Damien directed the first two episodes, he oversaw all of the episodes, he kind of set the tone and the look of the show. The other filmmakers are all auteurs in their own right. And we all wanted them to have the freedom to do what they wanted to do, you know, within this sort of framework that Damien established.
So it was an interesting process. And not always an easy one, because every director who comes in wants to sort of put their stamp on it, right. In this case, one of the things I was most excited about with the show was the fact that two of our directors were women, both women of color, and both of Moroccan descent, as it turned out. And I was interested to see what that would be like, you know, and sometimes, you know, the language barrier got in the way a bit at times. So that out of another sort of layer of challenge. But at the same time, I think Laïla [Marrakchi] and Houda [Benyamina] those two women being given the freedom to do what they wanted to do, really allow each of the blocks, the two episode blocks to really have their own sort of feel. I’ve been watching this Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance” lately, and I’ve been sorta obsessed with it.
But I was thinking about the Bulls in the way that, you know, Jordan has a great game and he is the leader. He’s the one who sort of sets the tone and then there are games when Scottie Pippen steps forward. And, you know, it’s his game and everyone sort of makes way for that. And in a way it felt like that, right? Like it is a sort of ordered chaos. And there’s a lot of trust in in more or less all of the players involved. So at any moment, you know any one person can emerge and sort of have a great game. And I think that’s the way they designed the series. And I think that’s what more or less happened.
André Holland on buying the Lincoln Theater in Bessemer, Alabama
I mean, so much of who I am, has been shaped by having grown up in the South. Now when I was thinking about this part, you know, I’m not a jazz connoisseur either but I grew up listening to blues music, a lot of gospel, soul music. And obviously those forms have, you know, influenced jazz in an enormous way. I think so much of what Elliot’s journey is about, and maybe what the journey of this music is about is about reconnecting to the origins, to the roots. When we were on set, and the band will be playing around with things and you hear a cat from Cuba, Damian, you know, playing double bass and, you know, Jowee, coming from Haiti, and, you know, people from all these different parts of the culture coming together and yet the sounds are so similar. You know, I’m listening and playing I’m like, man, that sounds like a little bit like church, you know.
So I think for me, this theater is, in a way, me coming full circle because, yeah, every choice I make in terms of parts I take on or the way I play characters, I think is rooted in like me, having grown up in Alabama. And I want to honor where I’m from, honor my family, I want to represent the South and my family, my culture in a way that feels true and authentic. And it only makes sense to me that, part of me honoring them in that way, is about creating an institution – creating a place – for other young people and people in the community to gather and to engage around art and to share art and to make art. So that for me, is what the theater is about. It’s really important to me. So hopefully, we’ll be able to get it open.