Kobna Holdbrook-Smith‬ joins the list of black British talent impressing US casting agents to entrust them with iconic characters from African-American history.

August 9th saw King Street Productions announce that Holdbrook-Smith has been cast in a key role at the heart of ‘Paradise Garage’ (working title).

The film tells the story of the legendary New York members-only, underground nightclub considered the world’s top dance music club for a decade (1977-87) and the inspiration for DJs to innovate with eclectic styles of disco and house music. It was located on King Street in New York City’s Hudson Square, originally as a parking garage. But, it was transformed into an invitation-only venue, not open to the general public, where no liquor or food was sold. With the focus firmly on dance, it is credited as the first club to put the DJ at the centre of attention.

Holdbrook-Smith will play the club’s trailblazing DJ ‪Larry Levan‬, who introduced the world to ground-breaking hit after hit in an iconic club which catered to a diverse, predominantly minority crowd from all walks of life, including his own LGBTQ community, and paved the way for post-disco electronic dance, garage, and house music.

Latin-American Rayniel Rufino will play Paradise Garage, original staff member Joey Llanos, who himself will be acting as a consultant on the film. One of the venue’s surviving DJs, David DePino will serve as associate producer and is credited for the film’s story – centred on Levan’s complicated relationship with Paradise Garage’s sole owner, Michael Brody. Brody’s role has not yet been cast.

DJ Larry Levan

Jonathan Ullman is set to write and direct after releasing a mini-documentary celebrating the Paradise Garage movement back in 2014. He has handled non-mainstream features as a writer-director before, with ‘Trouble in The Heights’ (2011), the story of two young Dominican men and their involvement with a drug kingpin in their Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York.

Ullman said, “The stories of The Garage speak volumes about the human spirit…how people were brought together by a love and passion, both on the dance floor and in the DJ booth, all set against a backdrop of unity and diversity. This film is both a celebration and a dramatic tale, wrapped around a killer soundtrack that defined an era… Throughout his life, Larry travelled a road that no one had taken before… [His] contributions go far beyond just his song selection at the Paradise Garage… Never afraid to take chances, it was his fearlessness as a DJ and re-mixer that has endeared him to generations of fans around the world, including myself.”

Levan died in 1992 from heart failure at just 38, after years of PCP and heroin addiction on top of a congenital heart condition and asthma. He had been bullied at school, but became flamboyant in adulthood, dyeing his hair orange nearly a decade before punk rock. At the Garage, he developed a cult following who referred to his sets as “Saturday Mass”.

Holdbrook-Smith’s career is going from strength to strength, having been cast in ‘The Double’ (2013) with Jesse Eisenberg, and will soon be seen in ‘Dr. Strange’ alongside fellow Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor, and ‘The Commuter’ with Liam Neeson. He has a strong showing in tons of classical and modern theatre, in TV comedy and drama, and is an accomplished audiobook narrator for Ben Aaronovitch’s mixed race PC Peter Grant series of supernatural novels. He performs rather than just reads aloud. His deep voice can be transformed into British regional and international dialect with consummate ease. Grant is half Nigerian by his mother, and some of the goddess characters are of African descent. Book 1 is ‘Rivers Of London’.

“I’m very excited to be working with Kobna,” said Ullman. “Larry Levan was larger than life and it takes a very special actor to pull off such a complex character and nuanced performance. In Kobna we have found that actor. I’m grateful to casting director Judy Henderson for making that connection.”

Producer Jay Maldonado added, “Discovering an emerging new talent and a compelling storyteller is the very foundation of good filmmaking. When I met Kobna, there was a spark you could see in his passion and enthusiasm. He moved me just as much as Jonathan’s story of the Paradise Garage.”

We at TBB just think this is great news and wish Holdbrook-Smith and the entire production good fortune!

‘What Is The Paradise Garage?’