NEW YORK (AP) — There was someone important missing when the cast and creators of the film “Moonlight” joyfully crowded a Los Angeles-area stage last month to accept the Golden Globe for best film drama.
That was rising star Andre Holland and he had a very good reason to skip the party: He was across the country, working his current job — the August Wilson play “Jitney” on Broadway.
“At intermission, I remember looking glancing down at my phone and there were all these messages from people saying, `Oh, my God! Are you there?’ `What’s going on?’ `Who’s going to win?’ But I didn’t look at any of it until after the show,” he said.
Holland, who has starred in the films “Selma” and “42” and the Cinemax series “The Knick” opposite Clive Owen, isn’t the kind of actor who skips work, even for a trophy. He’s very selective and determined to keep growing.
“Time is something that’s very important to me,” he said. “There’s a limited amount of it and I don’t want to spend it — the little bit that I have — doing things that I don’t believe in.”
One of the things he definitely believes in is Wilson, a man he considers “one of the finest playwrights that has ever lived.” Holland made his Broadway debut in 2009 in Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and returns this winter playing a young man in a cab company trying to make a better life.
Co-star John Douglas Thompson, who plays a father figure to Holland’s character, said the attention the younger actor has gotten on film for “Moonlight” and onstage in “Jitney ” is richly deserved.
“It’s hard to find young actors who can do both with such charisma, such professionalism, such brilliant acting skills,” said Thompson. “I think it’s a great moment for audiences to come and see this young man and to get a good breadth of his talent.”
Film fans have already gotten a glimpse of that in “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed portrait of a young black man growing up in Miami. Though Holland only appears in the final third of the film, he turns in a performance full of humanity — sorrow, love, curiosity and kindness all wash over his face.
Holland credits playwright Tarell McCraney with creating such a well-drawn character and hopes the success of “Moonlight” can inspire more powerful looks at all corners of our society. “In its best form, I think if this movie continues to be a success, I hope it’ll provide that platform for other people to get their stories out there,” he said.
Holland, who grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama, got an undergraduate degree from Florida State University and a master’s at New York University. He credits his parents, who both toiled in factory jobs, for believing in his gift.
It was his mother who took him to see Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. “It was the first time that I had seen black characters onstage who were living an experience that was full and epic but also was recognizable to me,” he said. “It was the first time I remember seeing myself in the work and seeing a path for myself.”
Later, when he came home from college vacation in 2001, his mom showed him a photo in The Birmingham News of British actor Adrian Lester holding a skull. It turned out to be Yorick’s skull — Lester was playing Hamlet at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival.
“I looked at it and I thought, `Wait a minute. That’s Hamlet. And he’s black. How is that possible?’ It had just had never occurred to me that that was even possible,” he said.
Sensing his excitement, Holland’s mom rented him a car, gave him some money and sent him off to Chicago the very next morning. He got a ticket on the cancellation line. “I’ll never forget it, seeing Adrian Lester come out, walk down stage center and give the `To be or not to be’ speech. I was in tears,” he said.
“My mother and my father have been there for me from Day One and without them I know none of this stuff would be possible,” he said. “I want to do things that they can be proud of.”
In one of those weird twists, Holland has found himself this award season with his “Moonlight” battling a film adaptation of Wilson’s “Fences.” He adores “Fences” — he even used one of its monologues to get into drama school — as much as he loves his film.
“I was rooting for them and still am rooting for them while also rooting for `Moonlight,”‘ he said, laughing. “I hope people who saw and enjoyed `Fences’ will come and see `Jitney’ as well. They’re complementary pieces.”
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