By JON NILES
Steven Soderbergh's new series based on a New York City hospital in 1900 showcases progressiveness in the operating room while staying conservative on other matters such as race. At the center if this issue is Dr. Algernon Edwards, a Harvard educated, European trained surgeon that is offered a high position at the Knickerbocker Hospital, but is met by opposition from Chief Surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen). The talented André Holland portrays this important role of Edwards.
Holland recently spoke with us about how he landed this important role on the Cinemax drama, what we can expect from Algernon and the relationships he forges, and why an early second season order for The Knick is surely something fans can be excited about.
How did you get involved with The Knick?
Well, my agent sent me this script. I read it and right away I was blown away by the material, as I think everyone else was. When I read the character, I thought, Jesus he's such a complex and beautifully drawn character. I couldn't not be involved. I put myself on tape -I was in Europe at the time actually - and then I sent it out. I ended up sending out a couple of other tapes subsequently, and then I met with Steven. We had lunch together, then the writers came, and we all talked for a little while and the next day I got the offer. I was blown away! It felt so great to get a chance to work with these guys.
How did you approach a character that is challenged in pretty much every scene?
I think that's really what made it so appealing. I think it would've been very easy for this character to be presented as a noble black character who is always doing the right thing. But, I think that the story that we're telling is actually more complex than that. I think that the things that Algernon is pushing and fighting against are big things. It's not just that I have an angry redneck guy who doesn't like me because I'm black. It's actually, Clive Owens' character Dr Thackery's point of view is: "I'm not interested in leading the charge to social change." Meanwhile, the hospital is on the verge of financial ruin. In the second episode, no white patient would agree to be operated on by a black surgeon. That's his point of view, so I think that makes it that much more complicated than "oh he doesn't like me because I'm black." You know what I mean? For me, it was really exciting to figure out exactly what the nuances of that relationship was, which is different from the challenges that he faces in dealing with the relationship with Cornelia, which you will find out later. All the relationships are challenging in a slightly different way, which is really quite cool.
Can you elaborate a little more on Algernon's relationship with Cornelia?
Algernon's parents work in the household where Cornelia lives, the Robertson family. His mother is the cook, and his father is the driver. Algernon and Cornelia were raised almost as brother and sister, side-by-side. Because, Cornelia's father Captain Robertson, saw great promise in Algernon as an academic and he was quite a smart kid, he got into the best schools right alongside Cornelia, and really allowed them to grow up as brother and sister.
First of all, they are very intelligent people; they're crusaders in their own right. She's for women's rights and he's for racial equality and inclusion. They really connect in that way, and as you find out throughout the course of the first few episodes that relationship is like a very, very intimate one - a very personal relationship that goes beyond just working at the hospital. So, it just was a very beautiful relationship.
Juliet and I both being actors who kind of came from the theater, there are many times outside of set, rehearsing on our own in a coffee shop, or her apartment, or wherever; we kind of made sure exactly what the trajectory of that relationship was. I don't want to ruin it for you, but it's a very beautiful relationship. It's one of my favorite one's in the whole series.
Does Dr. Edwards create any bonds or, probably more likely, any bad blood with other characters?
It gets more complicated. Algernon and Eric Johnson's character, Dr. Gallinger, they definitely have a very contentious relationship, which just gets worse and worse. Basically the only person in the hospital that seems to have any love for Algernon is Juliet's character obviously, but then there's also Michael Angarano's character, "Bertie," who seems to be like this really young guy who's just open to whatever. He doesn't really seem to be bothered by the fact that Algernon's there.
But aside from that the patients give Algernon a hard time. The black patients who end up coming to see him in the shadow infirmary downstairs, they give him a difficult time. The nursing staff, the black people who he lives with in the rooming house in the black neighborhood - which is one of the really interesting things about Algernon; he goes home to the tenderloin district where it's an all black neighborhood. He doesn't fit in there. He's picked on because of the way he dresses and ends up getting into a fight at the place he's staying then he comes to work and doesn't quite fit in there because of the color of his skin. He's sort of caught in between these two worlds and kind of on an island which is again all the more reason why I think that relationship with Cornelia is all the more important to him.
What's so amazing about the show is that the characters that they created and the situations that they created are really interesting but they're also rooted in reality. If there's one thing that I think, you have to say that this show is incredibly well researched. Everything that we do, everything is so deeply rooted in reality that it just makes it all the more amazing. Yeah, it's really quite a special thing.
Complete interview at source.
Thoughts on last night's episode? On a technical note, I'm in love with all the tracking shots, particularly the one of everyone arriving at the hospital.