×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Atlanta’ Star Brian Tyree Henry on Paper Boi, Black Mecca and Why He’s ‘Not Scared’ About the Election

Brian Tyree Henry is not Alfred Miles, who is not Paper Boi. They all just play each other on “Atlanta,” the FX comedy that finished its first season Tuesday night. Alfred is a delicate balancing act of a character, gruff with a big heart, a rapper (Paper Boi) who hates going to the club. Luckily, Henry has an M.F.A. from Yale and a list of credits that include HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and Cinemax’s “The Knick.” He called Variety after the ‘Atlanta’ finale to talk all things Alfred, why this election cycle doesn’t scare him, and what Atlanta — both city and series — means to him.

You’ve said New York has your heart, but you’re from the South originally.

I went to college in Atlanta, at Morehouse, which I call my formative years, because that’s where I discovered that I wanted to be an actor and discovered these friendships I still have to this day. And I discovered how turnt Atlanta is. I was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina; I was raised in D.C.; and I became a man in Atlanta.

What were some of the more transformative experiences you had in Atlanta while in school?

The city really gave us a place to go and explore who we are as young black men seeking a higher education. It wasn’t about the institutions we were at, it was about how we maneuvered through the world those institutions were set in. We were so grateful and lucky to be in Atlanta, in this Black Mecca in the South. Here we are, young black kids in a society trying to get a higher education but also still dealing with a society that doesn’t really want us to be educated.

Atlanta really is all about community. I think we reflect that in the show. We’re in a world that tells us “No,” so how do we make it say “Yes,” together? I love that sense of brotherhood and community that is so desperately needed and yearned for. There’s something about the show that talks about how, if you know that dude, then you know that other dude, and that one, and you’re basically all dudes together.

That’s the one thing I really liked the most about playing Alfred: He’s That Dude. Everyone has an Alfred in their life. I feel like Atlanta is a breeding ground for Alfreds, these people with great big hearts that can make you laugh at any given moment, because life is hard out there. And what better way to remedy that than laughing at the absurdities of the world? That’s what Alfred does.

Who’s your Alfred?

I’ve collected a lot of Alfreds. And I’m sure at some point in my life I’ve been an Alfred to them. I call them my brothers — I was the only boy in a house full of women, I had five moms altogether, really. I always yearned for that connection, what brotherhood is, to know what it is to walk in this life as a black man with another black man.

But it’s good to pass the Alfred torch sometimes, because I think Alfred is always yearning for something bigger, but doesn’t necessarily know how to get there. It’s very important to have people see you for who you are, and will guide you and tell you that you can have what you want, you can be bigger and better than anything else in the world. That is exactly how I’m sitting here talking to you today, because of the Alfreds in my life: the people who believe in you more than you can even imagine.

I’ll be damned if I leave this earth without fulfilling that dream for them. When someone really believes in you, it is your duty, your calling, your charge in life to make sure you see it through. And they’re not just men! There are tons of sisters who’ve been behind me and beside me, walking with me.

What would your rap name be?

I have a list on my phone of baby names and rapper names. I don’t want kids at all, I’m the uncle of 11 kids, and I’m really good. But if I were to have some, these are the names I would give them, and it turns out they also work as rapper names: Conduit and Diatribe, who are twins, obviously. Diminuendo. Anomaly. And, for some reason, Bronco Hot Pockets is on here. [Laughs] And clearly I was very adamant about Bronco Hot Pockets, because it’s in all-caps: “BRONCO HOT POCKETS.”

Are you on Twitter? That would make a good display name.

Eventually I’ll get to Twitter. But I have a big mouth, so I gotta wait until after the election.

This election cycle has been sort of terrifying.

Don’t be scared! I’m not scared at all. Here’s the thing: Whoever wins this election, this world cannot unsee what we’ve seen. This election shouldn’t be scary, because there’s no going back. But if we really want to move forward, we have to do this s— together. You can’t act like you can’t see what’s happening in the streets, like you don’t see this pipeline being built, that this man called an entire people rapists. So, we move forward. If you choose not to be woke, that’s your choice — you’re choosing it.

I’ve been rocking this Vince Staples album, and he has this lyric: “My teachers told me we was slaves, my mama told me we was kings.” And you know, I always believe what my mother told me.

More TV

  • Bob GreenblattCreating Great Characters: Dick Wolf

    Bob Greenblatt on WarnerMedia Streaming Strategy: 'The Assets are Undeniable'

    CANNES — AT&T is ready for battle in the streaming wars. The new parent company of HBO and Warner Bros. has moved quickly to respond to consumer demand by marshaling its forces behind the launch next spring of HBO Max, WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told a crowd of international TV and digital executives here [...]

  • Roberto Gomez Bolanos Mexican actor Roberto

    Chespirito Media Universe in Development from Grupo Chespirito, Thr3 Media Group

    Mexican production companies Grupo Chespirito and Thr3 Media Group have come to terms on a deal to co-produce multi-media content and create the Chespirito Media Universe based on the characters and world of Mexico and Latin America’s most iconic TV creator, director, producer and actor, Chespirito. Thr3 Media Group was launched in January 2018 by [...]

  • Bastian-and-Fabienne_2btube-Office-1

    2btube Adds Lacoproductora to Facebook, YouTube Originals Alliances

    CANNES —  Fast-driving from a huge digital media publishing base into the creation and production of premium content for global platforms and beyond, top Spanish-language digital native media group 2btube has clinched a wide-ranging production partnership with José Miguel Contreras’ Madrid-based Lacoproductora. The deal comes fast on the heels of 2btube’s production alliance with Facebook [...]

  • LA-CHICA-QUE-LIMPIA-PICTURE

    Spain's Fasten Films Nabs Remake Rights to Argentine Series 'The Cleaning Lady' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Barcelona-based company Fasten Films has optioned Spanish and Portuguese adaptation rights to Argentine suspense series “La chica que limpia” (“The Cleaning Lady”). The deal was negotiated with Argentine distributors RM Vistar and GlowStar, who jointly handle the format’s international sales. A Mexican remake of the series is being produced by Turner Latin America, alongside BTF [...]

  • Motiv: Max ConzeFoto: © ProSiebenSat.1/Martin SaumweberDieses

    ProSiebenSat.1 Boss Max Conze Unfazed By the Invasion of the Digital Streaming Giants

    Max Conze, CEO of German broadcast company ProSiebenSat.1 since June last year, appeared relatively relaxed about the prospect of the coming invasion of new subscription streaming players like Disney Plus into his territory when speaking to journalists at TV market and conference Mipcom in Cannes Tuesday. “Disney will not lock away all their content,” he [...]

  • Irmaos Freitas

    Amazon Prime Video takes Turner’s ‘Freitas Brothers’

    CANNES — In yet another – and significant – Latin America distribution deal for the now highly active OTT giant, Amazon Prime Video has acquired Brazilian and pan-Spanish-speaking Latin American SVOD rights to Turner Latin America’s highly anticipated “Freitas Brothers.” The announcement was made late Tuesday by Turner Latin America at Cannes Mipcom TV and [...]

  • Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker,

    Nonsense Ellen DeGeneres Question Derails an Otherwise Substantive Democratic Debate (Column)

    The fourth Democratic debate was dangerously close to being substantive. For almost three (3!) hours, the twelve (12!) candidates onstage tackled questions on foreign policy, reproductive rights, health care, gun control, big tech, and the opioid crisis. While the other debates — and indeed, the entire 2016 presidential campaign — have been marked by meme-able [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content