Graphic by: RPP / Photo by: Deborah Lopez
It's tough to cultivate the proper interview questions for Brian Tyree Henry, mainly because he has been a part of so many engaging projects. When talking to him there are boundless topics that can be touched upon. For instance, the Yale Drama bred actor was in Book of Mormon since the early stages, originating the role of "The General" when the musical finally made its controversial and acclaimed Broadway debut. He has a wide range of credits across all mediums, most recently in Focus Features’ Puerto Ricans in Paris. Brian has also had wonderful spots on hit television series like Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, and Law & Order.
Brian will next be seen alongside Donald Glover in the new original FX series Atlanta, premiering September 6th. He plays Alfred Miles, a rapper who struggles with the navigation of fame. We spoke with the actor to discuss his new role, and, of course, so much more.
ON HIS TIME AT THE PRESTIGIOUS YALE SCHOOL OF DRAMA.
Those 3 years were some of the best and hardest years of my life. This institution that has fostered some of the most inspirational, talented, and crafted artist in this country chose me. A young black man that had no clue that a place such as Yale School of Drama could provide an environment to not just expand what I thought an actor could be, but how much I could be myself within it. It never really mattered the curriculum, but the relationships and partnerships that you would make while you are there. It taught me most how important collaboration is in making true art. My chair of the Acting program, Ron Van Lieu, was and still is the most influential in guiding me throughout this maze of being an established actor. Each one of us that he chose, had something in us that he couldn't overlook, not just as actors, but people who will go out in this world to flourish as great human beings. While I was there, my favorite part was that I was surrounded not just by awesome actors, but theatre managers, stage managers, directors, designers, who all were so individual but were brought together to create. To rebel. To standout in a world that may never really understand our passion, but we all could band together to make something outstanding.
"It taught me most how important collaboration is in making true art."
My very first production was The Brothers Size written by my fellow playwriting classmate Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Me and my two classmates, Elliot Villar and Gilbert Ouwar did this play as a 2nd year project directed by our directing classmate Tea Alegic which was definitely the play that changed everything for me. It was picked up by the Public for it's Under The Radar festival and then went on to become a part of its fall season and gave me my footing in theater in this city and also started my relationship with The Public. I went on to do Shakespeare in the Park's Romeo and Juliet which was an experience that has always been a favorite. Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose were Romeo and Juliet and I got to be in the best stage fight I've ever done playing Tybalt. It took place in a reflecting pool on stage every night!!! Since then, i've always felt like the Public is my home and a family that has always shown me support in any endeavor and still a place that commits to trailblazing theater.
ON BEING IN THE ORIGINAL CAST OF THE BOOK OF MORMON.
Man oh man, what a ride. This was my Broadway debut and I learned fast and quickly that making a new Broadway production that would somehow change the way that people see the world and Broadway musicals was gonna be HARD! But so worth it.
"It was ALL about collaboration."
I got to share the stage with some of the greatest entertainers and people ever. I have been the biggest South Park geek since its premiere and getting to be in the room with Trey and Matt - it was the kind of team and production you dream of. Because it was ALL about collaboration. Which is what I think takes a good production to an amazing one. We could bring ideas to the table as a company - ad lib what we thought was relevant, and most importantly, laugh our asses off, every day.
ON PLAYING ALFRED IN THE FX SERIES ATLANTA.
I'm going to start by saying that everything about Atlanta, the town and the series is everything I could've asked for! Every single person involved from cast, to crew, to production are people that I care about immensely and all contributed to how great this show will turn out.
Alfred is a character that I truly believe anyone can relate to. He's bright, charming, brave, but can also be petty as hell. He's incredibly protective and loyal but plays no games when it comes to feeling like he's being played or let down. And yes, these traits apply to me. He has heart, man. That's the first thing I took away from reading the script. He and his cousin are sometimes all each other have and he will never let anything come in between that.
"I think to be revolutionary, you have to break that wall down of what makes people comfortable."
FX is so revolutionary. They are willing to give a home to stories that many other networks may fear will isolate or challenge certain demographics. But I think to be revolutionary, you have to break that wall down of what makes people comfortable. Tell the stories of the voices that are rarely reflected or heard. Revolution and controversy are very different things, and in these times I think its easy to get those concepts confused. With Atlanta, we just want to take people on a journey of these characters, in this town, doing what they do best, make it together, in a world and environment that may make them believe that they can't or won't.
ON HIS BEST ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ACTORS.
You serve your craft, by waking up. By living and recognizing that you have a gift and never forget that you pursue that everyday by waking up. Living. Meeting the people who can enlighten you and also reflect you back to you. Acting is storytelling of a life that you may never necessarily live, but dammit your honesty to that life and most importantly, to your OWN LIFE will always serve you. Revolutionize some sh*t! You have to. You just do.
Catch Brian in the new original FX series Atlanta, premiering Sept. 6th.