For some, his name may not ring a bell, but his face definitely does—and for others, his name alone garners instant respect. Ranging from Broadway to Emmy-winning TV shows and blockbuster films, Brian Tyree Henry has done it all. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and raised in Washington, D.C., his childhood was forever changed when he first saw John Singleton’s classic 1991 Boyz n the Hood and was blown away by Angela Bassett’s character, Reva Styles. Impressing him with both her presence and versatility, Bassett’s performance cemented Henry’s desire to be an actor.
Henry’s career contains the tried and true elements of hard work, talent, and sheer good luck, as exemplified by his breakout performance as the General in the original Broadway cast of The Book of Mormon in 2011. In 2016, he garnered critical acclaim for playing Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles in the FX dramedy Atlanta, a role that landed him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He was later nominated for a Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in Lobby Hero in 2018. And as of this past week, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Causeway, where he starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence. Coming full circle, Henry is nominated alongside his former idol, Bassett, for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Henry celebrated with a stranger in an elevator when he first got the news, later writing on social media, “…thank you for hugging me and not freaking out!!”
Brian Tyree Henry has been slowly but steadily working his way up the ladder of success, amplifying underrepresented voices through the characters he chooses to play along the way. Beginning from his roots at Morehouse College, a historically Black college in Atlanta, Henry has put conversations about Black masculinity and vulnerability into the spotlight. Henry admits he used to not get too close to his characters, keeping them at arm’s length and, using them as a shield, making a clear divide and not letting his personal emotions affect his acting.
But now, Henry is moving away from this emotional austerity and embracing vulnerability—and it’s doing wonders for his career. In recent performances, audiences are connecting with not only Henry’s portrayals, but with the actor as well. This on-screen authenticity breaks down the wall that separates where the actor ends and the performance begins, immersing viewers in a more genuine experience, a side effect that he derives a lot of joy from. Henry’s new vulnerability is especially evident in Causeway, which was directed by Lila Neugebauer, a longtime friend of his from the Yale School of Drama. His role as James Aucoin, a mechanic dealing with physical and mental trauma, forced Henry to come to terms with how his own grief has affected him, and allowed him to translate that on-screen.
Balancing the intimately personal aspects of his characters with the universal, the roles that Brian Tyree Henry has played have helped him establish a good rapport and reputation amongst audiences while uplifting the diverse experiences of Black men for the film industry. His character, Phastos, in Marvel’s Eternals is the first openly gay super-powered person in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will hopefully pave the way for better inclusion and range within this often ‘straight’-laced set of characters. He is also set to reprise his voice role as Jefferson “Jeff” Davis, the father of Miles Morales, a.k.a. Spiderman, in Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The openness and vulnerability with which Henry approaches his work truly makes him one of the people’s favourite actors and has helped him capture the hearts of audiences everywhere.