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Stephen McKinsley Henderson Doesn’t Call Himself a Character Actor: “I’m what I like to call a story-line actor”

stephen-mckinley-hendersonActor Stephen McKinsley Henderson has followed up his Tony-nominated role opposite Denzel Washington in the 2010 production of August Wilson‘s Fences and long-running recurring role as judge on Law & Order with recent appearances in episodes of The Newsroom and a role in the highest profile film of his career, Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln. 

In Lincoln Henderson plays Lincoln’s personal valet and friend William Slade.  He spoke to The Buffalo News about how he sees himself as an actor and what it was like working on Lincoln — particularly with star Daniel Day-Lewis.

Henderson gives an assessment of his main goal as a supporting actor.  He says, “I’m not a box office name, and I’m not a box office face, and I’m not an action hero. I’m an actor, and I mainly work because someone trusts me with dramatic literature. I’m what I like to call a story-line actor.  Some people call them character actors, but it’s really story-line actors. It’s like, you gotta get someone to believe in the story.”

He points to Lincoln as one of the best and most fulfilling roles of his career.  He explains, “It was joyous and it was so meaningful, because everybody there came with a sense of a mission. You knew what it meant to Steven Spielberg and you knew what it mean to [writer Tony] Kushner. If you got a chance like I did to work so closely with Daniel [Day-Lewis], it was clear that it was going to be one of his truly committed and dedicated performances.”

In fact, he gives an example of how Day-Lewis introduced himself — in character, of course — to him for the first time.  He reveals, “When I first came to the set, he said, ‘Oh, Mr. Slade, it’s so good to see you again.’ He wasn’t meeting a new actor, he was meeting an old friend.”

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