×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Atlanta,’ ‘This Is Us’ Actor Brian Tyree Henry: ‘Music Speaks for Me When I Can’t Speak for Myself’

If you want to elicit a strong reaction from actor Brian Tyree Henry, play “Smokin’ Room” by Chaka Khan — the song moves him to tears during our interview (“I wish I could tell you why, but it just does”). Henry stars as rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in “Atlanta” and won an Emmy for an episode of “This Is Us” in which he performed “We Can Always Come Back to This.” He’s now on Broadway in “Lobby Hero.”

How did you first become involved with music?

When I was in marching band. My school had the dopest arts program — the dopest show choir, the dopest marching band. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument a lick, but I was just going to fake it till I make it.

And singing?

I’ve discovered people in my lifetime who are like, “I always wanted to sing but …” It’s like, well then did you try? My thing was always not caring about failure. When people ask me, “Are you a singer?” I say, “No, I’m not a ‘singer’ — but I love the craft of singing,” going in and finding out what that means or why the hell I’m singing in the first place. My thing is really the craft of it. Music has always been a part of my life, and it helps me a lot because it speaks for me when I can’t speak for myself.

Where does that fearlessness come from?

I’ve been dealing with this for most of my life with people saying, “Well, maybe you were just special.” Maybe I was, and who’s to say you weren’t? But just because you think I was “special” doesn’t mean you should try to squelch this down.

How does that affect you?

My thing is you’re not here by accident. Because life still happens. My mother still died; I’ve had to bury two of my best friends. I was happier … making no money and walking 20 to 40 minutes to a theater that paid me $60 than I [have been] to live a life of notoriety and not having my mother be next to me. That may sound completely idealistic. I’ve had so many people use the word “idealistic” in a negative way, which I didn’t know you could do. I thought idealism was a good thing.

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content