Cinemax’s newest series The Knick takes viewers behind the scenes at the Knickerbocker Hospital, a groundbreaking medical facility located in 1900s New York. Series star Andre Holland spoke with DIRECTV about the The Knick and whether or not he would make a good surgeon in real life.
First of all, congratulations on being renewed for a second season. It’s a great show with a lot of great talent attached to it. What’s it been like working with this group, which includes Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh?
Thank you very much! It’s very exciting. Working with Steven was incredible. He works at such an intense pace that you have to show up every day prepared and ready to go, otherwise you’ll get left behind. It really blew me away just how much he’s able to carry on his shoulders. As you know, he directs, shoots, edits and still somehow manages to run a warm welcoming set. That intensity and generosity was infectious and made going to work every day a real joy. Clive is one of my favorite actors. He works harder than any actor I know and is one of the kindest people I’ve met. I’m very excited about what we get to do together next season. It’s a remarkable group of people who made this show. The cast, crew, production team, everyone wanted the show to be the best it could be and brought that attitude to work every day and I think it shows.
You’ve got a hefty list of theater credits as well. What’s your personal approach to TV/film acting vs. the stage? Do you find TV acting to be wildly different than stage acting in your experience?
I actually don’t find them all that different. There are obvious adjustments you make for the camera but the work is the same. I always start by asking myself loads of questions about the character, the circumstances, the time period, etc… and once I find answers to those questions, the approach becomes clear for me. In the end, its all make believe and my job is to make the audience’s imagination believe in mine and that’s the same whether on stage or on film.
Since you started playing a gifted surgeon on The Knick, have any of these “surgical skills” come in handy when you’re off the set? Do you think you could ever handle being a surgeon in real life?
No, I definitely don’t have what it takes to be a real surgeon. We had a medical consultant, Dr. Stanley Burns, who has a massive medical archive that he made available to us. We were able to look at photographs, booklets, handle vintage instruments, and walk through the procedures step by step. It was hugely helpful but I could never do what he does. I’ll stick to acting.
The show is being touted as having “unflinching medical realism.” Were there any scenes that you’ve shot where you felt squeamish? Can you tell us about any of them?
Well, the first surgery scene is the only one that really got me. I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how realistic it would look and feel. We spent a lot of time rehearsing it but then once the blood started flowing, it was a totally different ballgame. By the end of the first take, there were puddles of blood on the floor and we were covered in it. It definitely made me a bit squeamish.
You’re a New Yorker now, correct? What’s it been like getting to know the turn-of-the-century version of your adopted city?
Yes, I’ve been in the city for just over 10 years now so I think that qualifies me as a New Yorker. I read a book called Lowlife in preparation for the film and it tells the story of the city at the turn of the century. It was fascinating. One of the many things I learned is that a part of Soho (near MacDougal Street) was once called Little Africa and was the center of black life in the city for a time. I live in that area and so it was especially cool to learn that fact.
In 5 words or less how would you describe The Knick?
Bloody. Brave. Beautiful. Badass!
What is your favorite scene from this upcoming season of The Knick?
Ah, that’s really hard to say. There were so many great ones. There’s a scene between Clive and I that happens about midway through the season that I really love. I don’t want to give it away but it’s definitely a make or break moment in our characters’ relationship. It’s a thrilling turning point and shooting it was a blast. That’s probably my favorite. Of course if you ask me tomorrow I’d say something different.
The Knick premieres Friday, August 8 on Cinemax (Channel 515).