Brian Tyree Henry Interview: ‘Atlanta’
“This season wasn’t easy,” Brian Tyree Henry admits about season two of “Atlanta,” so “it’s really nice to know that people are recognizing the work.” This year he earned an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Supporting Actor for playing up-and-coming rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. This is his first bid for “Atlanta,” but his second overall following his Best Drama Guest Actor bid last year for “This is Us.” This time around it was “nerve-racking” to wait for the nominations announcement, especially after a season that was so “cathartic” for the actor. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“A lot of this season was about getting to the heart and essence of who Alfred was,” Henry explains, and a lot of that actually meant “fighting the moniker of Paper Boi” because while Paper Boi represents his newfound fame, Alfred is the man he is “24 hours a day.” Alfred is ambivalent at best about that fame, and Henry has been charting a similar course through his own career breakthrough. “We tend to see these characters like rappers or-big time personas … and think they have everything going for them, but you realize that they’re just human. You realize deep down that there is pain and there’s things that they’re working through.”
There was a lot Henry and his character both had to work through, especially in “Woods,” the episode he submitted to Emmy judges. “I’ve never been more terrified to reveal that part of myself,” he says about the episode, in which Alfred is nearly killed by muggers and finds himself lost and struggling through feelings of profound loss. The episode was dedicated to Henry’s mother, who died in 2016.
“At the end of the day people see you’re on a hit TV show, you’re doing great, you’re on Broadway, but it’s a constant thing you’re trying to move through … Grief feels like that. It feels like you’re lost in the woods. It feels like there’s no way out,” so the episode gave Henry the opportunity to try to “help anybody going through this kind of thing,” especially because “in our community we tend to gloss over [depression] and act like it’s not anything very important.”
In addition to the recognition he has received for “Atlanta,” Henry also returned to his theater roots this past spring by appearing in Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Lobby Hero” on Broadway, which resulted in a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play. For Henry, theater is “home. Theater is where I learned how to do everything. It’s my safe space.”
He hopes to return to the stage in the future, though for now he has his hands full. This fall alone he has four movies scheduled for release, including “Widows” directed by Oscar winner Steve McQueen and “If Beale Street Could Talk” by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins. And he’ll be appearing in the 2019 film “The Woman in the Window” by Joe Wright from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts. So we’ll be seeing a lot more of Henry in the coming months, starting at the Emmys.