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ACTOR BRIAN TYREE HENRY GETS DEEP ABOUT PURPOSE, THE POWER OF HIS ENERGY AND FINDING HOME. THE STAR WILL BE SEEN IN BULLET TRAIN OPPOSITE BRAD PITT THIS AUGUST AND AS THE BELOVED ALFRED "PAPER BOI" MILES IN THE FINAL SEASON OF ATLANTA LATER THIS YEAR.
BRIAN TYREE HENRY IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR HOME, whether in his role as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in FX’s Emmy Award-winning series Atlanta or in his personal life. Speaking from his current adopted home of Atlanta, the actor reminisces about living in New York for 13 years; bouncing around between Fayetteville, N.C., and Washington, D.C.; and finally making the move to Los Angeles. “I got a place in L.A. last year,” he says of the home he has yet to live in. “I think I’m going to put my roots down in California.”
While looking for his L.A. home, Henry sought out a more holistic, desert vibe, something that aligns with his strong belief in spirituality, a passion passed down to him from his late mother. “She was a Christian woman but also very much into spirituality,” says Henry, who grew up being the youngest—and the only boy—of five siblings. “I was always wanting to know everything I could about my mom—she was an ethereal person. I thought she was magical. As I got older, she showed me her ways with different crystals, different incense, different tarot, different energy—just learning how to harness my energy,” he adds.
As his career grew, Henry says his mother helped him figure out his place in the world, in regard to where he came from, why he was the only person in his family working in the arts and what it meant to possess a certain kind of magic. “When I look into horoscopes and [other more spiritual things], it’s to try to figure out those pieces of me, where they connect to what came before,” he explains. “I believe that all of us are creatures that have been here before and some of us are more connected to that than others.”
Ironically, Henry’s career began to take off after the major loss of his mother. A graduate of Morehouse College and Yale University, he says he was so “steeped in grief” that he lost the vision to see the celebration of what he had accomplished. Through time, he learned that “if you lean into the celebration of what you’ve done, it opens up so much more than the grief does, but you have to go through the murk of grieving and letting that grief go—you have to grieve your grief—before you even get to the landscape of celebration,” he says.
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Now, Henry is finally ready to celebrate his accomplishments. He notes that the successes in his career are due in part to the people who pushed him to pursue something. “My career is a testimony to all those people, honestly, because that happened to me all the way through college, from the friends I encountered to the professors,” he says. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for those people who saw me when I just didn’t see myself.”
The actor’s support group led him to working on Atlanta. Now with its highly anticipated fourth and final season approaching, Henry says his role has many parallels with his own life. “Atlanta does this thing of really reflecting where we are as individuals in our personal lives,” he admits. His character, Alfred, is born and raised in Atlanta and never left, and had to find a way to survive by selling drugs, eventually becoming a famous rapper who remains happy even though he’s lost so much. “We meet him at the beginning of the show when he lost his mom. You know that he has a cousin who decided to go away to an Ivy League school, but he’s not the one that’s ever really given the chance to leave,” says Henry. “I could relate to that in a huge way.”
He adds that while there are so many things for him to be happy about, he was always in this environment that would remind him why he shouldn’t be happy. “I got tired of Alfred [just] surviving. I wanted him to live; I wanted him to win. I wanted him to be satiated by what he’s done in his life because he has made it as far as he’s made it.” Henry says the thing he loves the most about this character is that he operates from the heart and is so vulnerable. The role of Alfred also gives the actor room to “truly reveal myself and my feelings about what I’m going through.”
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“In a big way, he reflects a lot of me and a lot of the things I was nervous about and anxious about,” Henry says about what Alfred has taught him about surrendering to being an artist. “What I liked the most about what’s coming up is that it’s literally about home; you find him finding out where his home is, and that’s all I’m really trying to do. You have to leave home to find home, but to know that home is truly the most rewarding thing—that’s been my journey as well.”
As for what he wants for Alfred in the last season, Henry says, “I’d like to see him on the other side of grief. I’d like to see him celebrating everything that he has made [it] through and what lies ahead—I’d like to see him home.”
Atlanta is known for giving viewers a real understanding of the Black experience in America. “I think what we seek to do is to lift the veil and show the humor and that most microaggressions, most prejudices, and racism in and of itself, is stupid. Most of it is based on things that aren’t founded in any fact whatsoever,” Henry says. “The optics are different for everyone, but at the end of the day, it’s, like, right in front of you if you’re willing to see it. So I think that’s what our show is trying to give you—different angles to look at things, rather than just letting it sit on the table.” He adds that the racism and prejudices the series confronts have gone on too long without directly addressing it. “If we don’t call it out and [if] we don’t bring the telescope up to it, how will we ever know how each other feels or how to evolve or how to come together? So that’s all we seek to do. I think that’s the greatness of our show.”
Apart from Atlanta’s final season, which premieres later this year, Henry can be seen opposite Brad Pitt in Sony Pictures’ Bullet Train (Aug. 5). The action film by director David Leitch is based on the graphic novel Maria Beetle. Henry points to the magic of the universe for bringing him the role. “I remember Brad coming up to me and giving me such great adulation, just saying he’s watched everything I’ve done,” Henry says of meeting the actor at an event for If Beale Street Could Talk. That chance interaction planted a seed that the two would work together in the future. “Words have power and I realized if I affirm it enough and speak it into existence, I usually can actualize it,” he says. “That’s the thing; if you keep it in your head and you keep it inside of you, sometimes it never becomes this thing. It never permeates and becomes real.” So, he left the party and said he’d work with Pitt one day.
When the actor got the call from Leitch to play the role of an assassin named Lemon in the film with Pitt, he knew the power of his magic.
The action-thriller was “really cathartic and therapeutic to film” because the actors had fun improvising and being covered in blood. Henry also got to be blond for the part, and fulfilled his goal of playing a British character. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” he shares. “The best part about it was being able to create these new friendships, to create something that the people need right now.” Henry remembers thinking that Bullet Train would be the perfect film for seeing in a theater after so much time away. “People need to get their popcorn and Icee, to sit down in the summertime and scream at the screen, laugh, watch people fight, stand up and cheer. I just thought about what I needed—that escape.” He adds that the film is also a way to bring people together. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had that sense of coming together for this crazy kind of kamikaze movie.”