André Holland is a gottdamn star.
Note: We’re currently living in a creator’s market and as such, this presents a conundrum—a blessing and a curse, if you will. Simply put, it’s too much fucking content right now and we can’t keep up. As such, I will feature content you may have missed that I think you should be watching. Especially in this streaming culture, you don’t have to watch everything right away. Chill, sit back, and catch up on some gems. Bet? Bet.
First up? High Flying Bird, now currently streaming on Netflix.
From Netflix’s press release:
In the midst of a pro basketball lockout, sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) finds himself caught in the face-off between the league and the players. His career is on the line, but Ray is playing for higher stakes. With only 72 hours to pull off a daring plan, he outmaneuvers all the power-players as he uncovers a loophole that could change the game forever. The outcome raises questions of who owns the game – and who ought to.
Helmed by Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), High Flying Bird is a thrilling look into the perspective of those who had less of a spotlight (and arguably, more of a risk) during the NBA lockout kerfuffle: the rookies.
“In the world [of the] the NBA, you’re a part of a system that’s not really designed for you to be a player but more so, a pawn,” said Melvin Gregg (who portrays the new and raw draft pick who catches Ray’s agent eye, Erick Scott) to The Root. “You’re a player on the court. I feel like that’s parallel to the entertainment industry. [Just] as there are white owners that control the NBA, it’s the same with a lot of the studio heads [in] the movie industry.”
In addition to Holland and Gregg, High Flying Bird boasts a chemistry-rich cast: Zazie Beetz (as the wry yet eager Sam), Bill Duke (as the appropriately casted old-head, Spence), Sonja Sohn (as the no-nonsense yet vulnerable Myra), and more. Equipped with Soderbergh-esque thrills, the Netflix original’s cinematography is if Ocean’s Eight met the blackest sport in the world. Oh, and it’s all shot on an iPhone (and took only 13 days to shoot).
“Football is fun, but it doesn’t sell shoes,” quips Burke in the film’s well-placed opening scene.
If I had to describe the tone of the film, I’d dub it “calm suspense.” Especially in the case of Holland’s portrayal of Burke, who embodies the laid-back, fast-talking agent. Case in point: check out the wonderfully tense living room scene he shares with Jeryl Prescott, who portrays Emera Umber, the mother of rival player Jamero Umber (Justin Hurtt-Dunkley). In the scene, Ray attempts to convince Emera to strike a deal that benefits his endgame in providing NBA players with more control.
Plus, there’s Tarell Alvin McCraney’s dialogue filled with lines that bounce off each other like the smoothest and most satisfying tennis match.
Back to Holland, though. (If you can’t tell by now, I’m in love.)
Those who know me are familiar with the fact that I’ve deemed Holland as carrying a pair of the most intense eyes in Hollywood. When he looks at his castmate (or in the case of a Barry Jenkins’ flick such as Moonlight, you, the audience), Holland manages to snatch your entire soul and claim it as his.
I have an extra bit of respect for creators who assess the industry and instead of vying for a seat at the table, they set their own table. Such is the case with Holland, who serves as executive producer on High Flying Bird due to his strong desire to portray the character of Ray Burke.
“It really was a dream role for me,” Holland confirmed.
As for what’s next, Holland is set to star in Netflix’s musical series, The Eddy, but there’s one particularly interesting role he is yearning to play. He’s recently been nailing the “smart, educated guy in suits” prototype noting, “I have a huge appetite and I think that comes from a place [where] I really want to make sure that I live up to every ounce of my potential.”
“Every ounce” as in big budget, action films! Because why not?!
“For right now, I’d really be interested in playing something that’s physical,” Holland told The Root. “Obviously the story has to be good and the character complex, but I’m interested in playing something that’s a bit more muscular. I’ve always loved the [Jason] Bourne movies, so like physical, but also intelligent and character driven. I’m open.”
Listen. Hurry up and take my money.
And since he’s added a producer hat to his creative collection, Holland has definitely gotten the directing bug, having worked with Soderbergh on this film as well as Cinemax’s 20th-Century medical drama, The Knick. Much like Soderbergh, Holland credits people like Ava DuVernay who took an untraditional approach to filmmaking, having had no formal film school training.
“I think in some ways, I’ve maybe held myself back from a number of things that I wanted to do in my life because I didn’t think that I had [the] qualifications—even producing, it’s something that I always thought was something that ‘smarter’ or more ‘well-connected’ people do,” Holland mused. “But, after having made a movie about self-actualization and agency, I think I owe it to myself to practice what I preach, take some chances, and really step out on faith.”
Yes. Shit, he deserves it. This needs to happen. All of it. And I have a feeling it shall.
High Flying Bird is currently streaming on Netflix.