Andrè Holland Reveals How He Overcame Trepidation to Portray Black Panther Party Co-Founder Huey P. Newton in New Biopic Series

While speaking candidly to, the star says certain aspects of Newton’s life became an unexpected perk for him during the preparation process.

Andrè Holland travels back in time to the 1970s to portray one of the most revered radicals of all time. 

In his latest role in “The Big Cigar” on Apple TV+, Holland takes on the iconic life of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton in a suspenseful tale of his daring attempt to flee to Cuba with the help of famed Hollywood film producer Bert Schneider.

During this time, the legendary activist had already made a name for himself globally by leading the charge for a free lunch program and other essential services in Oakland, CA., and advocating for Black power and equity for Black people. 

“Huey was incredibly charismatic, enigmatic, brilliant, a deep thinker, a voracious reader, extremely proud, prideful and, at times, violent,” Holland told the network. “I wanted to be fair and truthful to who I learned Huey to be.” 

Still, Holland admits this role was a dyadic challenge to discover unlearned gospels about Newton while expanding his prowess as a conscious storyteller. sat down with Holland on the multifaceted pressures he faced while bringing this part of Newton’s life to the silver screen and why he believes Hollywood is responsible for being at the forefront of change. In “The Big Cigar,” you portray one of the biggest radicals of all time, Huey P. Newton. To call this role “intense” would be an absolute understatement. What inspired you to take it on?

Andrè Holland: One of the things is that I knew that it would be a huge challenge, that it would really test me as an actor. I always wanna be growing as an artist and pushing myself. When I read the script, it scared me right away, and I thought this was something I probably needed to lean into.

Another thing is that I knew it was gonna allow me to learn more about the Black Panther Party and this particular period in history. After researching, I realized I didn't know much at all. So that was a real gift. You mentioned that this role made you fearful. How did you overcome those anxieties?

Andrè Holland: It was largely to do with the preparation. When I'm nervous or scared, usually, the only antidote for me is preparation. So, the research helped me understand the historical context. I started to identify how he and I were aligned and what might be my way into the character. Then I started to have more confidence and I felt like I could do it.

Apple TV+ You talked about being aligned with Huey. What similarities do you share with him?

Andrè Holland: We have a shared sense of sensitivity, and also he's a huge introvert and enormously shy in the way that I am at times. Yet he finds himself in this very public-facing role, and here I am sitting here as an actor, also somewhat public-facing and always navigating that feeling. I found that contradiction interesting. While the tide is shifting, men have historically been against showing their emotions publicly due to unfair stigmas. In this portrayal, Huey’s are on full display. How were you able to maintain his legacy while bringing that side of him out?

Andrè Holland: This part came at a time in my own life when there were a lot of things that I was dealing with on the personal side. And there was an emotional rawness that I was experiencing that I think was difficult to avoid. But in a way, I think [it] also helped to inform the portrayal of the character. I wouldn't say that I set out to play him super emotionally, but those moments felt true and appropriate when they came up. In this film, we see Black women's significant role in the Black Panther Party. What message do you hope this illustration will drive in response to powerful roles held by Black women in male-dominated industries? 

Andrè Holland: I hope that the people who aren't aware of the important role of women in the black Panther Party movement will be as excited as I was to discover just how involved women were. One of the first books I read while researching was Elaine Brown's book, which I thought was outstanding and informative. One of the things I would encourage people to do is to investigate the Huey P Newton Foundation, which is up in Oakland. They just opened a museum very recently. Frederica Newton is doing a lot of work up there to help educate people about the history of the Panthers and the role of women in the party. They're organizing a lot of community events. They're a great resource for people who want to know more.

Apple TV+ We also see how Hollywood joins forces with the social justice movement within the Black Panther Party. What are your thoughts on the entertainment industry standing on the forefront in the name of social justice?

Andrè Holland: I think it's hard to deny or ignore the power of the image. And I think as image makers in Hollywood, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to be agents of change. I think that one thing Huey identified was Hollywood's revolutionary potential. 

Hollywood has certainly caused a lot of harm with its image-making in the past, particularly as it relates to Black communities, [but] I think there is an opportunity to make a positive difference. So, I hope that the movies and shows that I'm a part of can contribute to that positive change.

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