Every now and then Hollywood gifts us with a sprawling round of fresh talent. Someone you just want to see win. All things considered, Brian Tyree Henry is having the best year ever. From the blinding Broadway theater marquee to breakthrough rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles on the silver screen, the Yale School of Drama actor is now checking into Hotel Artemis. A product from the mind of Drew Pearce, the futuristic action thriller is his directorial debut, taking audiences on a wild ride through a doomed Los Angeles tumult, set in 2028. The hotel, a top-secret members-only institute ran by Nurse (Jodie Foster,) is home to an eclectic assembly of criminal masterminds with conflicting interests and motives, all of which are against the hotel’s “rules.” Hotel Artemis, also starring a surplus of heavy hitters, including Sterling K. Brown, Dave Bautista and Charlie Day, is one of eight projects Henry is attached to this year and next.
The first two quarters of 2018 have all been quiet for the “Atlanta” actor, with a stunning year remaining filled with anticipated titles, including Widows, a Viola Davis-led thriller from director Steve McQueen, Irreplaceable You and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Add a Tony nomination for Featured Actor in a Play for his role in Broadway’s Lobby Hero and you have the true makings of a star bursting before our eyes. And what a sight it is to see.
The Source caught up with the North Carolina native as he dished on his newfound success, his character Paper Boi, why he was concerned about “Atlanta’s” sophomore season and more. – Angela Wilson
The Source: Tell us about your new movie and your character in Hotel Artemis.
Brian Tyree Henry: My character is Honolulu and I play the younger brother to Sterling K. Brown’s character Waikiki and we’re bank robbers. It’s taken place in the not too far off future 2028 during an L.A. riot and we’re trying to get out of the game and something goes wrong- something that happens when you’re robbing a bank. So you have to find a sanctuary in a place of L.A.; a place for criminals that have a membership where you get fixed up and sent on your way, except that there’s a riot going on and other criminals and chaos ensues because of it.
Do you think we can get a Hotel Artemis in real life?
I hope not! I hope that we never need these places because it’s kind of shifty but with the health care that’s going on right now we may need it.
I thought you were going to say yes, like, ‘Yeah, let’s help out the people!’
Yeah but at the same time if it’s a place for criminals! The whole thing about the hotel is it has rules but since when do criminals follow rules? At the end of the day, I feel like we’re going to have to do something; I think hotels will become the next hospital, we got to find some type of way to save ourselves outside of the hospitals we have now.
I like that privatized secret passage way how you had to know someone to get in because it keeps things cut and dry and you can come in with no questions asked. But I don’t know if I want a hospital just for criminals.
You know people are using Uber as a substitute for an ambulance now…
Seriously! We have to now I mean have you seen how much it cost for an ambulance to take you [to the hospital?] I’m like all I did was stub my toe and need to get down the stairs I don’t need your ambulance.
You’re no longer that guy from “Atlanta,” you’re now a fan favorite and household name, how are you dealing with everything?
I don’t know if I’m actually dealing with it, it’s so fresh. It took a year to come back after the first season of Atlanta and I remember thinking if I even knew who Alfred was anymore; where is he at this point, is he someone people still relate to, is he someone people still root for? What I’m grateful for is really exposing every nerve we had at that point in our lives and it took a really personal turn this season and we really got into the real relationship of what working with family means, how your past will always catch up with you, how you have to focus and actually be present instead of just projecting things. And it was still fun! It was still fun to do and the humor was still there. And working with Donald [Glover]and LaKeith [Stanfield] is the most collaborative, crazy fun house family to be apart of because all of us couldn’t be more different people- in our personal lives and on the show.
It’s cool that the fans have followed us and stuck with us because it could have been that sophomore slump, but I’m glad the season turned out the way it did because it gave us the tapestry to showcase every part of who the characters are.
And I was really scared this season to expose parts of who Alfred is because I don’t want to be one of those actors that’s like, ‘I am Alfred and Alfred is me.’ I do have sensitivity for him, I care for him, I want to protect him and not be the butt of every joke and not be the guy people run from. I want his heart to be exposed as possible. Not sure if you noticed this season but he’s dealing with a lot of personal demons and I loved that we explored mental health in our community. He was depressed and he was dealing with PTSD and now he has to be in public and I understood it. I couldn’t be afraid to showcase him because healing came from it.
What’s so great about our show is that there’s a care. Everyone cares. Big ups to our producers but out hair and makeup and the costume department and the crew- they really are all apart of generating that environment. It was really therapeutic this season but nerve wrecking.
And being able to go back to New York and go back to the stage was something I yearned for because theater has always been my first love. And to do this play Lobby Hero which was written 20 years ago and the topics of discussion is still relevant today was also hard to do. I’m glad it gave me a chance to expose myself in a different way because now I’m in front of an audience that may not necessarily know me as Alfred from “Atlanta”- now they’re seeing a completely different person and that made me really happy. It was gratifying to have that kind of feeling again – I did not expect a Tony nomination.
Congratulations, that’s a big deal!
That’s a huge deal! I still can’t believe it like it doesn’t seem real at all.
But this is what you worked so hard for…
You know the thing is there’s no guarantee you’ll work, just because you love something doesn’t mean it’ll work. When you get the opportunity to play the characters I get to do, I’m going to stick my whole foot in there and champion for them and make sure they’re stories are told in the best possible way. I’m happy the recognition is happening- it makes me feel good and it’s also nice to put a smile on someone’s face.
Lately, the buzz word in Hollywood has been diversity. Is it just a trend? A year from now, will we still be talking about diversity?
Hell yeah! A year from now we shouldn’t even have to talk about it. Inclusion should have already been there. I’m tired of hearing that we’re just having ‘a moment’ because a moment is something that pops up then leaves. What I want us to do is solidify our place in this industry and the world period. We’ve constantly been fighting to be seen and including and treated as equals and if we can’t be treated as equals at least see we’re contributing in a way you can’t contribute. We’re telling stories you don’t necessarily know about it, although that doesn’t mean you can’t be included. Like Solange said, ‘a seat at the table,’ we’ve always included seats at the table for everyone, now it’s time for y’all to include a seat at the table for us and let us bring the meal as well. It’s room for everyone to eat but let us show you what to eat, let us show you what to feast on. There’s so many stories.
I was raised in a house full of women; I have four older sisters and my mother. There was no such thing as not hearing or not understanding their stories of how they’d leave the house and people didn’t look at them as equals. Or as black women how hard they had to fight. I sit and see all the movements involving women now and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?! What do you mean they’re not making the same amount as men?!’ It’s enough to flip a table- I don’t know how y’all ain’t flipping tables all the time!
Maybe we’ve been scared to?
It’s now a movement that it’s no way we can go back. And if we’re trying to go back, you go have to take me tooth and nail. I’m going to take down some parking structures, I’m going to break down this crown molding! We have to solidify our place. A year from now we won’t have to discuss it because the product will be right in front of you and you can’t say anything. I look at Issa Rae and what Janelle Monae is doing with Dirty Computer and I look at the work of Mahershala Ali and Steve McQueen and Jordan Peele– here we are. We have the gambit. So sooner or later when that tide gets high enough the tsunami will ensue and then it’s the takeover! And I’m just honored to be apart of the Hillman grad class.
Hotel Artemis hits theaters this Friday, June 8.