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How Racism’s Legacy Shaped André Holland’s Performance in Damien Chazelle’s ‘The Eddy’ (Video)

TheWrap Emmy magazine: ”I think that trauma has a lot to do with how much he will allow himself to feel and to express,“ Holland says of the jazz musician he plays


This story about André Holland and “The Eddy” first appeared in the Limited Series & Movies issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

He was required to not only speak but also act (and occasionally improvise) in French, a language he hadn’t spoken since high school. He had to be convincing on screen as a great piano player, even though his skill on the instrument was “pretty much nonexistent.” And he had to play a character who was closed-off and often uncommunicative, who carried the weight of a tragedy but tried to never show it.

“I tend to choose things that are frightening and on the verge of being impossible, and this definitely ticked both of those boxes,” André Holland said of playing Elliot Udo in “The Eddy,” the Netflix limited series about an American jazz pianist struggling to hold onto the club he owns in Paris and to repair a thorny relationship with his daughter, who’s arrived from the U.S. The role comes after a fruitful six-year stretch that also found Holland starring in Steven Soderbergh’s period drama “The Knick” and playing a key role in the Best Picture winner “Moonlight.”

In fact, it was taking part in the Oscar race between Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” which won, and Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which was initially announced as the winner, that led to “The Eddy.” Holland and Chazelle became friends on the campaign trail, and Chazelle, who served as executive producer on “The Eddy” and directed the first two episodes, offered Holland the role of a celebrated pianist who has refused to perform in public since the death of a child years earlier. Elliot tries not to dwell on or talk about the death, but it’s there in every moment of his existence.

“Even the way he sits at the piano, the way he relates to his daughter, the way he speaks and carries himself — you know, it’s a question of how much of himself he’s able to access at any given moment,” Holland said. “I think that trauma has a lot to do with how much he will allow himself to feel and to express.”

Elliot is often passive when he should be active, hiding things that he should admit. It could be fun as an actor to withhold things from the audience and tease out revelations over the eight episodes, but it could also be frustrating to play, couldn’t it?

“It was a bit of both,” Holland said. “There were times when it definitely was frustrating. He’s not a comfortable character to sit with, you know? He’s often angry and short with people who are trying to express concern for him. But once I understood where that was coming from and what was in his way, it made a lot of sense to me and I got to the place where I really enjoyed withholding from the audience.”

Throughout the history of jazz, Paris has been a notable refuge for Black American musicians dealing with racism in their own country — a place they can go for a level of appreciation they didn’t get at home. “That’s not exactly what our story is concerned with, but he is lost and rudderless and is looking for a place where he can be safe,” Holland said. “And I think that is definitely connected to the legacy of Black artists moving abroad. In our case, this club represents the safe harbor where he goes to try and repair himself, to find his own voice, his own sound again. So while our show isn’t exactly about the legacy of Black people doing that, I still feel like there is some connective tissue. And it was definitely important to find ways to acknowledge and pay respect to those people who had come before.”

Those issues also shaped how Holland approached the character’s music-making. “Even sonically, it was something that we spoke about quite a lot — as he gets closer to finding his own sound, it was important to us that the sound has resonances of blues and gospel and soul and all the music that has come before that led him to this point,” he said.

To read more from the Limited Series & Movies issue, click here.

EmmyWrap Kaitlyn Dever