SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
"High Flying Bird" is a basketball movie, but you rarely see a basketball. It's a film about, as one character calls it, the game that owners, broadcasters and advertisers put over the game. Andre Holland plays Ray, a sports agent who finds his company credit card suspended, his wallet low on cash in the 25th week of an NBA lockout. Players want to play. They want to get paid for playing before the millions of fans who want to see them.
So in these days in which every phone is a camera, why can't they just play? As Ray tells his new client, a rookie...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HIGH FLYING BIRD")
ANDRE HOLLAND: (As Ray) You think these fools - these rich, white dudes - going to let the sexiest sport fall by the wayside? Football is fun, but it don't sell sneakers. You can't even see the players half the time. Baseball - whole lot of tradition. But in order to move merch and inspire rap lyrics, they need your services - too much money at stake.
SIMON: To break the lockout, Ray and his new client might just end up breaking the power of the league. The director of "High Flying Bird" is Steven Soderbergh. Andre Holland, who earned praise for his performance in Barry Jenkins' film "Moonlight" and in "42," joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
HOLLAND: Well, thank you for having me, Scott. I'm glad to be here.
SIMON: You are also executive producer, right?
HOLLAND: Yes. Yes, I was.
SIMON: Why did you want to make this film?
HOLLAND: So I did a film with - a TV show, rather, with Steven Soderbergh called "The Knick" a few years back. And we were having a wonderful time together, had a number of really sort of interesting conversations on set. And I knew I wanted to continue our collaboration together. And so I started pitching him ideas.
I've always - you know, we've spoken before, Scott. I've always been interested in the Negro Leagues and in the sort of underbelly of sport. And so we started with an idea about the Negro Leagues. And we started talking about basketball and race and the sort of intersection between the two. And this idea came about. And I got really passionate about this idea of athletes having more agency, people having more agency.
SIMON: What do you say to people who - as the film tries to make that case, what do you say to people who find it difficult to feel that millionaires in shorts are difficult to feel sorry for? I mean the basketball players, obviously.
HOLLAND: Yeah. I mean, I think I would say that if you look at college sports, for example, and sort of compare the careers of those players with the minuscule number of people who make it out of that system into professional sports, I would just say that, you know, the film isn't only interested in telling the story about the sort of millionaires. But it's also about the people who don't become millionaires, who don't get a chance to play on that stage, and what happens to their lives. Everybody's not LeBron, right? And everyone's career doesn't have that kind of trajectory. So the film is also looking at the lives of other people.
SIMON: In the film, a great, old coach in the South Bronx tells your character, Ray, that it's as simple as he wants to put the control of the game into the hands of those who are behind the ball, not in the skybox. If that were to happen, what do you think the game of basketball would look like these days?
HOLLAND: Well, you know, it's sort of what we tease in the movie. I think it would be incredibly exciting. And I think that more people would have access to it, I think. I'd be curious to see what would happen to the communities sort of around the game. Like, when we were talking about "42" earlier and the Negro Leagues, the ways that the communities that the Negro League teams played in were affected as a result of those industries, you know, were incredible.
And so - and a lot of people argue that, you know, cities like Detroit and Birmingham and Pittsburgh - cities that had thriving Negro League franchises - you know, when the teams were sort of done away with, that the cities then began to decline economically.
So I think it would be really interesting to see what it would be like to, you know, to have a new league in the way that we propose it in the film played in a city like my hometown of Birmingham. I wonder what it might do. And I think it would be an exciting thing to experience. And maybe, if we get a chance to do a sequel, we'll get to explore that.
SIMON: Well, because it occurred to me, I mean, what - and I know this is straying a bit from acting, but it's absolutely in line with the film. What if, let's say, LeBron, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant said, we're going to form a team, we'll play anyone? Show up. We'll put it on a pay streaming service.
HOLLAND: I would watch it.
HOLLAND: And most people I know would watch it. Yup.
SIMON: Yes. I certainly would watch it. You mentioned growing up in Birmingham - near Birmingham. We did a little research. You were in "Oliver!" at the Birmingham Summerfest Theater when you were 11.
HOLLAND: You did some digging, huh?
SIMON: What was that like?
HOLLAND: Well, it was - my mother and my father started me doing that when I was quite young. And I say I'm from Birmingham. I'm really from a town called Bessemer, which is about half an hour south of Birmingham. And the theater that we did "Oliver!" in was a - I was the one little black boy in the cast. And my name was Hans (ph). And my...
SIMON: I'm sorry. Hans is a perfect name for you, Andre.
HOLLAND: Perfect. Perfect. I always wanted to be called Hans. And my line was, can I have a pickle? I was one of the little street boys, and practiced my line. And I said it with pride. And my parents were there the whole time. And so I think that's what started me on this journey of acting.
SIMON: Forgive me. But you said, can I have a pickle, but no British accent?
HOLLAND: You know, I - (imitating British accent) can I have a pickle, sir?
HOLLAND: I'm a little out of practice with my Hans, but, you know.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, it convinced me. Well, then I was struck by your beginnings there because, last year, you starred in "Othello" at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London alongside Mark Rylance. Was there a part of you - you're on the stage of Shakespeare's own theater - that said to yourself, boy, this has been quite a journey?
HOLLAND: It was an extraordinary experience. I - getting to do that play and share the stage with him and the other incredible actors was a dream come true. And I think the best part of it was on the closing night, you know, my parents flew over from Alabama to come and see it. My dad didn't have a passport at the time, so we had to get him a passport. And he came.
And on the very last night, at the end of the show, you know, Mark came out and gave this really beautiful speech where he, you know, sort of said that he admired my work. And the best part of it was looking up into the middle gallery and seeing my dad and my mom standing up, watching. And I could sort of see my dad wiping tears from his eyes. And that was probably the most special part of all of it.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh.
SIMON: And what a blessing for them to be able to see their son saluted that way from the stage of Shakespeare's theater.
HOLLAND: Yeah, absolutely. You know, and I salute them because I certainly wouldn't have found my way here if not for them putting me - getting me cast as Hans.
SIMON: Andre Holland - he stars in the new film "High Flying Bird" on Netflix. Thanks so much for being with us.
HOLLAND: Thank you for having me, Scott. I appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF A PICTURE OF HER'S "HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF")