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Andre Holland of ‘The Knick’ Speaks Up About the Lack of Three-Dimensional Black Characters


“When I first came out of drama school I’d done a lot of classical plays and lived in London for a year and gone to the theater, seen everything I could see, and that’s what I wanted to do, I couldn’t find anything that felt like a real three-dimensional person.”

Like his character, Dr. Algernon Edwards, on Cinemax’s critically lauded period drama, The Knick, Andre Holland had to travel to Europe for a reasonable chance to become better in his trade.  Holland’s circumstances are not much different from many Black actors’ experiences in Hollywood.  Talent never sought, talent never discovered, talent left twisting in the breeze.  On The Knick, Holland’s character struggles with racism from the people he works with as well as from the patients he treats, despite his superior and innovative application of medical knowledge. Through his character, Holland gets the chance to show emotional depth and flaws, something most Black actors lack an opportunity to present in Hollywood.

In his interview with The Guardian, Holland talks about these one-dimensional roles.

“Oh, he’s the best friend, or ‘he’s a gangster dude’… I couldn’t find anything that felt like a real three-dimensional person,” he says. “So when this character came along I kept thinking I’d find something wrong, something that didn’t work but I couldn’t.”

Despite excellent reviews in stage plays such as Blue Door and The Whipping Man, Holland spent many, many years working on the threshing floor.  Holland echoes the sentiments put forth in Viola Davis’ recent Emmy speech—you can’t win awards for roles that are simply not there.

“I remember so many plays going on and I’d be like, ‘I really want to go up for that play’ and people would be, like, ‘Well I’m not sure they’re gonna go ethnic for that part.’  It’s the theatre, why not?” Holland recalls asking. “Why is it always Othello?  What about Hamlet?  Can’t it be about the play and not the fact that I’m black?  It’s so frustrating.”

However, for now, he’s mostly focused on bringing life to a complex role that finally showcases his acting chops. Season two of The Knick will air on Oct. 16 on Cinemax at 10 p.m.

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