Exclusive - Brian Tyree Henry Extended Interview

December 7, 2016 - Brian Tyree Henry 12/07/2016 Views: 13,958

Actor Brian Tyree Henry chats about creating authentically black stories on the show "Atlanta" and reflects on the casual racism he encounters. (8:04)

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Please welcomeBrian Tyree Henry.

(applause and cheering)

Oh, man. Thanks.

Great to have you.Great to have you.

(applause and cheering swell)

(Henry mumbles)

You are such a good actorthat I sing Paper Boi

-like it's a real artist.-Oh, wow. Yeah, 'cause...

Like, for real. I walk around,♪ Paper Boi, Paper Boi

It should be the new intro, man.

♪ All about that paper, boy

You should make thatthe new intro to the show.

I should, man. I should.Welcome, welcome.

-Welcome to the show.-Can I just say that you...?

It's like meeting one of mypersonal heroes right now,

Trevor, like...Can I call you Trev?

-I'm gonna call you "Trev" fornow. -Oh, man, yeah, of course.

-(applause and cheering)-Thank you, dude. -I, uh...

-Thank you, man. Thank you.-Just want you to know that

what you do is not easy,and what you say

and who you have to saythese things to is not easy.

And I want you to know that I amin your corner 100%, man.

-Thank you, man. I appreciatethat. Thank you. -Yeah.

-(applause and cheering)-I'm in your corner dawg. Um...

Like, I mean, for thosewho don't know you,

I mean, for a lot of people,the first time

they see Brian on screen isplaying a rapper in Atlanta.

-Mm-hmm.-But you are a man

who has traveledthrough multiple worlds.

-You know, you studied at Yale.-Mm-hmm. Yeah.

You know, you were well-versedin the world of drama.

You're a smart man.You are...

I think it actually takesa lot of smarts

to play a characterlike Paper Boi.

You know, it's really funny,because when I got this part,

I was, like, um, "I knowI can play this part, man.

"I know who Alfred is.I went to college in Atlanta.

I still have Alfredsin my life."

And, uh,it doesn't really change

-how people view mein the streets anyway. -Yeah.

Like, it's amazing, like,if I put on a Polo

and a gold chain,and then I go up to them

speaking the King's English,they're like, "Wait, wait, wait,

"hold it, wait, wait, wait,aren't you supposed to be

like this,shouldn't you be this way?"

I'm like, "No, it's just that

that's what yousometimes put on me."

So I kind of likealways wearing lids, and then,

like, throwing on somethingdifferent and being, like--

'cause I like to throw offpeople's expectations

of what they think I am.

That's really what Atlanta is.

For peoplewho haven't watched it,

when you start watching Atlanta,

you think that this is justa show about hip-hop, you know.

-Yeah. -I remember when Atlanta was being previewed,

you know, when they were doing,uh, the previous fall,

the agents and stuff,someone was in the room,

and they were like, "Oh,is that that new black show?"

-Yeah. -Person said,"It's the black show."

It was talked aboutas Donald Glover's "black show."

-Right.-And... it actually is.

Yeah. I was like,you're actually right this time.

-Yeah.-It's a black-ass show.

And you're welcome!Like, about time!

-Like, for once, you know?-Yeah, but this is...

-(applause) -this iswhat I find fascinating.

-You correct me if I'm wrong.-Okay. Go ahead.

But it feels like,in its specificity,

-Yeah.-in its blackness,

it appeals to everybody.

Well, here's the thing.It's, like, we are in a time

that we have to let people knowthat you don't know everything

about all these peoplethat you think you know.

It's so easy to put these labels

and-and all thesemicroaggressions on us

when you have no idea,or have walked in our shoes,

and wouldn't want to walk in our shoes.

You know what I mean?So it's, like,

why not do this show that isjust in this universe of Atlanta

where we give you these storiesof these characters

but also, like, throwthese absurdities in there.

Like, yeah, in our universethere's an invisible car.

How about that?Like, we're just gonna...

like, how about that?

Like, how aboutour Justin Bieber is black?

Like, I remember thinking,I was like,

we are gonna get so much hate mail,

like, people are gonna beso pissed.

But it was like, oh, actually,people are very accepting

and understanding of, like,you know what,

this is what we wanted,this is what we needed.

And to hear that from people,that's the thing

that trips me out, when they'relike, "We needed this show,

like, we really needed this,"and I'm like,

okay, well, we'vestill got stories for days,

-you know, we can keep going.-Well, I'll tell you why

I felt like it touched my heart,was because...

it was a story where, for once,

it felt like it was a black show

that wasn't being...watered down

-Right. Right.-to be a black show.

It wasn't a show that went, hey,we're gonna water this down,

a watered down,acceptable version of blackness

-Right. -to get white viewersto appreciate this.

And honestly,what I found in that was,

everyone that watches it,black or white,

goes like, "This is real!"There is a realness to the show

-that you can feel.-Yeah.

And, I mean, like,even when you're playing Alfred.

What do you, what do you feelyou share in common with Alfred?

'Cause I feel like you-you'realmost one in the same

-in different ways.-Y-yeah.

I've slapped a lot of peoplewith cash, lately, you know.

I mean, like, it's like,give me your-- you know?

But, uh...

I mean, because the thing is,we all are Alfred.

We all, at some point in ourlives, have been this guy,

where people have put theselabels on us.

Where all we want to dois wake up, and, like, you know,

-go through life followingour dreams, -Yeah.

hang with our friendson the couch,

smoke a little green every nowand again, you know what I mean.

Um, and-and just try to make it.

Like, it seems like-- I tellpeople every day this,

my waking up is activism.

Like, that's-that's what I haveto do, I have to wake up.

And I have to get up every dayknowing that

there are going to beso many things put on me

and taken away from me,or being told no,

but I have to go up--get up every day,

and just really face the worldfor what it is.

And I think that's whatAlfred does.

I think that's what all thesecharacters in Atlanta do.

And I just really wantedto make sure that Alfred,

all the Alfreds of the world,or all the Alfreds that we know,

know that they're represented.

And know that there's somebodyout there that has their back,

and somebody that can really,like, step in their shoes.

Because most peoplewouldn't want

-to step in the shoes of Alfred.-Yeah.

Most people would be like,"I don't know, that dude."

You know? Like, I stillexperience it here in New York.

Like, I-I live in Harlem,and I've lived in my building

for so long, and any timethat I go in my building--

and I'm not trying to bethat dude right now--

but, especially if it'swhite tenants,

and I walk in, they're justlike, "Y-y-you live here?"

Like, not because I'm Alfredon this show,

they're just like, "You knowbig black guys don't live here."

Like, you don't live here, like,you can't possibly live here.

And I'm like, I don't understandwhy it's still this thing.

I'm still trying to understand

this thing of these fearsthat we carry.

And these, uh, kind of idealswe put on each other.

And-and-and not really wantingto understand

where we come fromat any point in time.

And I feel like with Atlanta,

we're giving you thesedifferent, um...

flavors of who we areand how we walk in life.

And I just really always wantAlfred to be represented,

'cause it's so easy to label himas a thug,

-and label him as unintelligent,-Yeah.

and label him as just beinga rabble-rouser,

and-- I just said rabble-rouser.

But... but... yeah,I didn't want that.

I wanted him to have so manymore layers, because usually

the Alfreds of the world do. AndI-and I know what that's like.

I, Brian, know what that's like,walking in the world, so I just

-really wanted to be as true tohim as I can... -You-you achieve

it on some... One of myfavorite scenes that touched me

with Alfred is when he'sdriving in the car with,

uh, the really annoyingYouTube guy.

-Guy, yeah. -And-and he saysa-he says a powerful thing.

The guy says to him,"Why are you a gangster?

Why are you doing hip-hop?Why are you in this world?"

And I paraphrase, but yourcharacter, Alfred, says...

-he says, "What do you wantme to do?" -Yeah.

"What world do you want me tolive in when I go to an ATM..."

-I scare people at ATMs, man.Like... Yeah. -"I scare people

at ATMs. When I go fora job interview I scare the..."

Like, he-he realizesthat the very essence of him

-scares away opportunitiesin his world. -Mm-hmm.

Yeah, he's like,"I have to rap, you know?

"There's no money anywhere nearrap, but I have to rap.

Rap is making the bestout of a bad situation."

And this guy is like,"Well, at the end of the day

aren't you exploiting it?"And I'm like, "Oh, but wait.

"Ye... I guess... I guess I am?But at the same time,

you can't exploit me forexploiting that, right?"

Like, where does-where is themedium? Where do we find that...

where do we find that thingof being like, "Well, I got you,

'cause you doing that. But youdoing the same thing, but wait,

we're talking about the samething. Why aren't we

walking together in thisand trying to find...

-But isn't that our life rightnow? -It's-it's... You know

what, it's one of the mostcomplicated, beautiful stories.

I have not watched a TV showthat can handle more themes in

one episode than Atlanta does.-Oh, man, Trev, thank you.

-We watch every single episode.-Thank you, man.

-We're excited for everythingyou do. -(cheering, applause)

-Thank you for beingon the show. -Any time.

Good luck in all your ventures.You can check out Atlanta

on the FXNOW app as well ason iTunes and Amazon.

Brian Tyree Henry, everybody.

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