Brian Tyree Henry largely came onto the scene in the transparent role of Alfred, a drug dealer with dreams of being a rapper, on Donald Glover’s hit series, Atlanta. Since, the 36-year-old actor has appeared in Hotel Artemis and White Boy Rick with Matthew McConaughey, and been casted in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk and Widows from Steve McQueen.
With his career on a clear upswing, Henry recently got together with GQ to discuss his come-up, specifically how Atlanta turned him into a star. In addition to the show, the actor dishes on his mother’s passing, finding love, and his efforts to better himself as a person.
Below we’ve highlighted the key excerpts from Henry’s sit-down with GQ, which you can then read in-full here.
On his Emmy nomination surrounding his mother’s passing:
“My mother’s dead. Every time I close my eyes, I see my hand on her casket. Every time I close my eyes, I hear my necklace bang on her casket. That’s the last time I saw her. That’s the only thing that gets me out of bed, and it’s sometimes the thing that keeps me in it. So being busy helps, but y’all don’t understand. If she’s not here to see it, I don’t really get a chance to rejoice in it. You know what I mean? I’ve buried a person every year for three years. I lost my best friend to cancer; then I lost my other best friend the next year to lupus. And I lost my mom to a fucking car accident. She wasn’t even sick. She died in the most awful fucking way. So it’s like… I haven’t had a chance to even think about that. But I still have to survive. I like to believe that all these blessings are them. But it would be really nice to look to my left and see my mother sitting there when they call my name. You know? And I’m being real fucking real with you. It’s hard to do this stuff. It’s just like she died yesterday, man. I haven’t even looked at a photograph of my mom since she died. I can’t look at her. And yet people are still celebrating and lauding this thing that I did about my mom. When, at the end of the day, I can’t really rejoice in what I did, because I’m still in pain.”
On wanting his mom to find love:
“So the biggest thing was that when Atlanta wrapped, I was gonna take my mom on what I was calling the dick tour. Because I was going to go get my mom laid. I was like, ‘Mom, you ain’t never been with a white dude? Wait, Ma, you ain’t never been with a doctor? Wait, what if this white dude has, like, a helicopter?’ I know it sounds skeezy, but she had been on this planet for 68 years and had never experienced a man wanting her or seeing her the way she deserved. And God damn it, I’ve seen her tie cherry stems with her tongue. That’s how fucking dope my mom was. I wanted to be the man that showed her that she could obtain anything. Anything. Because what’s that life? Oh, you married this person, so you gotta spend every day unhappy next to this motherfucker? Like, no. And right as I had the car rented, she was gone.”
On more established actors looking down on him:
“I remember looking in the mirror and I was like, Yo, wait a minute, though. I’m six two. I’m built like a fucking linebacker. Who the fuck are you talking to?”
On his favorite Marvel character:
“My favorite is the Hulk. Let me explain. First of all, Bruce Banner is an amazing scientist. He’s brilliant, he’s smart, he’s revolutionary. People think that in order to make the Hulk come out, you have to make him angry. What you don’t realize is that Bruce Banner is always angry. That’s the thing. He’s always fucking angry. So actually, when you see him in the human form, he’s using the nth degree to tolerate your ass. Like, that is him sitting there actually using everything he can to not Hulk out. And of course he’s always fucking angry! Look at what we deal with in the world. Look at all these people who are treating him like he’s shit when he is a brilliant scientist.”
“And I feel like that’s me. You know, I get it, Bruce. Because there’s so many parts of my life that I have to continuously prove to people that I belong where I’m at.”
On moving to New York to do theater after graduate school and appreciating his path to success:
“I was pretty much homeless. But I’m glad I experienced that to be where I am now. I’m so glad that this shit didn’t start happening for me until now, with the TV and film aspect. I’m so glad it wasn’t back when I was real tiny and I was, like, a 33 waist and I was in the gym every day, and the agents I had at the time were like, ‘You’re still too fat.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ And you believe that stuff, though. I was berated all the time, like: ‘You’re too big.’ I was so tiny, man. I have never been more comfortable in the skin I am in now. Because all my life, I was so body dysmorphic. I had all these people telling me how I look. Like: ‘You’re not a leading man. You’re not small enough.’”
On getting his first big break in The Book of Mormon:
“I remember being on Book of Mormon and just sitting there and being like, The fuck? I’m making money. I’m eating whatever the fuck I want. Like, What’s that? Pommes frites? Yeah, man. Give me that. I don’t know what that cheese is. Give me that cheese. I love myself, man. I love myself. I didn’t give a fuck.”
“It was so nice to be at some point in my life where I could love every inch of my fucking body, man. And as soon as I did that, I got Atlanta. I got everything. I got everything as soon as I stopped giving a fuck.”
On his Atlanta castmates becoming his family:
“I would fucking kill for those people. I love them. Yesterday was Keith’s birthday, and all I did was send a big-ass fucking all-cap text: HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I love them, man. It’s very rare. I wonder if the Friends cast felt this shit. I wonder if the Seinfeld cast felt this shit. I wonder if the Living Single cast felt this shit. These three human beings exceed any expectation that I could ever expect of what love is.”
On still working on himself as a person:
“How can I date anybody when I’m still grieving, man? I’m a mess. I’m a walking mess. I’m not bringing nobody else into that until I know who the fuck I am wholly.”
“Acting was always a place I could escape to. It was always a place I could hide. It was a place of safety. So now that my safety zone is actually giving me notoriety, it’s kind of scary. Because it doesn’t allow you a chance to be damaged, or slip up.”
“That’s it. Acting is my only power to use to get back at those naysayers and those people who feel like I don’t belong here. Who feel like I’m not good-looking or feel like I’m not smart enough or feel like I’m not talented. So therefore, I wait until they say ‘Action’ and I go. That’s all I got.”
Again, follow on over to GQ for the entire interview.
Up next, here are the best TV shows of 2018 so far.