“The Eddy” with Damien Chazelle in the director’s chair certainly brings to mind “La La Land,” even if the face of the series “Moonlight” star André Holland. To think about the representatives from both Best Picture nominees sounds ironic on the surface — especially if you see it through the lens of “that moment” at the Academy Awards — but Holland casts that notion aside.
“I met him around that time and we really got on,” he said in an interview with IndieWire. “That’s the weird thing about the whole Oscar moment is the ‘Moonlight’ crew and the ‘La La Land’ crew, we all knew each other quite well because we spent so much time traveling around to the same festivals and doing press.”
If anything, that time together sparked a personal respect between actor and director, with the pair “hitting it off.” Holland knew he wanted to work with Chazelle but more than the man behind the camera, the star of “Castle Rock” and “The Knick” was drawn to “The Eddy’s” story itself — particularly the focus on Elliot and Julie.
Following a struggling Parisian club owner named Elliot, played by Holland, the Netflix limited series picks up when his estranged daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) arrives in France and further complicates her father’s life.
“There was something really interesting to me about the relationship between Elliot and his daughter,” Holland said of the pair. “I had not seen a relationship between a black father and a daughter looked at in that way.”
Elliot and Julie’s dynamic is, at times, distant and fraught, but with an inner history and shared love between the pair that just can’t be expressed — leaving both actors to bring their distinct relationship to life
And yet, like so many of Chazelle’s stories, the music served as an added enticement to Holland.
“I didn’t grow up playing music,” Holland said. “I don’t have a huge musical background, so it felt like an almost impossible task — and I tend to be attracted to those things.”
This isn’t to say Holland’s knowledge of music was limited. Growing up in Alabama, music was a presence in his life — “My grandfather was a preacher and so we grew up with a lot of gospel” — and while jazz didn’t click with Holland until later, over time, he’s discovered its significance.
“I feel a deep connection to the music given my culture as a black American man,” Holland said. “It feels like it’s something that’s really in my blood.”
It’s one thing to listen to jazz and another to portray a character like Elliot, whose entire being revolves around jazz notes and a desire to share that obsession with others.
“I read a bunch of books about black music and where it came from,” he said, and Amiri Baraka’s book “Blues People” became an invaluable resource for him. “I spoke with a bunch of scholars [and] friends of mine who work in this space, who were able to open my eyes to some of the deeper connections that black people have to music, to this music in particular. […] One of the things I love about acting is getting to explore these parts of history and culture that you may not have known anything about and take those things personally.”
The personal element is something Holland immediately noticed in all his research.
“One of the things I found really moving was how so many people tend to come to music, or have historically come to music, from these broken places in their lives, emotionally,” he said.
Elliot is no exception, having suffered a traumatic experience the audience learns about as the series goes on.
“[Elliot] takes those pieces of himself and pours it into this music, into this club […] and out of that comes something beautiful.” In looking at our current new normal in the wake of the global health crisis, Holland said this mentality can certainly apply. “We don’t know what this will be, but the hope is that we will be able to take these pieces of ourselves, put it in a big pot, and hopefully refashion the world in a way we all feel better about.”
Channeling Elliot’s world also drew Holland to rely on his own theater and acting background. Holland said he spent a lot of time with the house band assembled for the feature (whose lead singer is played by actress Joanna Kulig).
“One of the things that really struck me is listening,” Holland said. “In acting, the first thing you’re taught is how to listen. And when I spoke to the musicians in the band that’s what they said, too. Most of the playing is really about listening to everybody else play and trying to find where you fit and how you can contribute.”
Holland took it to a near-philosophical level, seeing it as “a way for us to live,” but when asked if he considers “The Eddy” to be a musical — the genre infused with so many different definitions depending on who you speak to — he emphatically said no and, in fact, is surprised people might think it is.
“It’s a drama with music, about music, that has some music in it, but I don’t think it’s a musical,” Holland said.
He is, however, eager to hear the debate from fans who watch the series and might leave singing a different tune.
“The Eddy” premieres May 8 on Netflix.