While Emmy Award-nominated actor Brian Tyree Henry may be best known for his role on FX’s Atlanta, the graduate of Yale School of Drama has also appeared in a variety of acting projects, including film (Bullet Train), TV (Boardwalk Empire), and theater (Broadway’s Lobby Hero). In a conversation about his role in the Apple TV+ film Causeway to the Escondido Times-Advocate, Henry spoke about how “listening” influences his acting choices and why he finds theater so exhilarating.
Henry is known to punctuate his performances with animated facial expressions, which he admits is a combination of both intentional movements and happy accidents. He explains, “Sometimes the emotional presence I want for the character to have, isn’t really written for how I might respond. So I sometimes have to, in service to the scene, or to the emotional trajectory of the character, have to show it. I don’t ever want to mess up the integrity of what is written. I don’t want to invade that space; but most times it’s what I feel the character is feeling. And I also can’t help it, honestly [laughs]. I’m still learning that the camera catches everything. I’m not trying to pull focus, but if I feel the character is trying to navigate where their feelings are…or what their connection is to somebody, it usually reads on my face. I also love when my characters have to listen, because there are all these ways to listen. And I really want to make sure that it shows that there is an activeness in listening. Silence is way more powerful, I feel, than words can ever be. That’s where you get to keep your power, or show it.”
“I will always, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, love doing plays. I will always love theater. – Brian Tyree Henry
Henry made his Broadway debut as part of the opening night cast of The Book of Mormon and has had a variety of roles since. Though he’s been far more visible on television, he admits he has a deep love for the stage, remarking, “I will always, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, love doing plays. I will always love theater. There is this true challenge. It must be like what a motorcyclist feels when they get up to 120 mph on this open road, knowing there’s a possibility of a pothole that lies ahead, or maybe not. Theater just feels so active, it feels so real. There’s an audience in front of you that has signed up for two hours. They’re sitting next to a bunch of strangers, and shut up and watch this story unfold from beginning to end. They may laugh, they may cry, they may boo you. It’s just so visceral and real. And it’s hard. It’s really, really, really hard. It’s a muscle. It’s athletic. […] I mean, I love film. I love film more than I can even express. It’s so magical and amazing, but theater…I don’t know. You have to really want to do it. You have to really care about it. And I do.”