Exclusive: Brian Tyree Henry Talks Hotel Artemis, Atlanta Robbin’ Season and His Tony Award NominationPosted by Wilson Morales
June 4, 2018
Hitting theaters on June 8 is Drew Pearce’s much-anticipated directorial debut Hotel Artemis, joining Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster, Emmy Award Winner Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Brian Tyree Henry, Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, and Kenneth Choi.
Penned by Pearce and set in the near future Los Angeles, Hotel Artemis follows a nurse (Foster) who runs an underground hospital for Los Angeles’ most sinister criminals, and finds that one of her patients is actually there to assassinate another.
After Waikiki (Brown) and Honolulu (Henry) participate in a heist that leaves the latter injured, they flee to Hotel Artemis to seek health care. Waikiki’s valuable keepsake worth $18 million from the heist introduces a world of further danger when a notorious bad guy (Jeff Goldblum) decides that he wants the item for himself.
For Brian Tyree Henry, it’s been an amazing year so far for the Fayetteville, NC native. Best known for his role as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in the Emmy winning series Atlanta, Henry has seen his role go in directions this season that hopefully garner him his 2nd Emmy nomination. Not only that, but he received a Tony Award nomination this year for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Lobby Hero. Besides Hotel Artemis, Henry still has a slew of films opening in 2018 including White Boy Rick, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, and Steve McQueen’s Widows.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Henry about his role in in Hotel Artemis, working with the cast and his Tony Award nomination.
How did the role come about for you?
Brian Tyree Henry: I got the script and I was immediately attracted to one of the characters, Honolulu and when I read it and thinking about Waikiki’s voice, it was Sterling’s voice in my head. I thought it would be a great opportunity to transplant my friendship and relationship with my best friend onto the big screen and luckily the director heard that cry and made it happen. The director’s writing is absolutely visionary. I thought it was very intelligent and spoke to a lot of ways of the world that we’re in right now. I’m a huge fan of the sic-fi thriller genre. I really wanted to make sure I got in this movie by any means necessary. I was excited to see that the main character was going to be a black man. Drew also made it possible for you for some of these criminals, who are under the same roof, and you don’t know who is going to make it. That kind of suspense really intrigued me. I was interested to see how it was going to be done. I’m really glad that we were able to make that happen. To be on the screen with my best friend and playing his brother is something I didn’t I would experienced. Most actors have to wait decades to get something like that going on. I’m really glad I was able to do that with Sterling.
How would you best describe Honolulu?
Brian Tyree Henry: Honolulu has had it a little rough. He and his brother are all each other has for the longest amount of time. We don’t really know their back-story, as with most of the criminals in this movie. We just know that Waikiki and Honolulu are always together. Honolulu doesn’t do things as precise and clean as his brother but you do know that at the end of the day he wants to make it out of the situation that they are in with his bother. I liked that element of him. I like the difference between him and the other characters that I have played because there’s a recklessness to him. There’s this lost nature to him that you don’t know if he will make it out on his own, but I loved the sacrifice that he’s willing to give.
I love that he’s not afraid of anything and just to see that without his brother, there isn’t any other way for his to survive. I wanted to explore that vulnerability for that need and necessity of another person. I think of the phrase that “Blood is thicker than water” because we are in this water riot but at the end of the day, all I’ve got is my blood which is my brother. I just want dot explore what that was like and have that brotherhood and unspoken bond with somebody and we try to make it through this crazy scenario. As criminals, people fear you and are terrified to what you may do. Honolulu has that nature where he acts first and may think about it later.
Can you talk about working with Jodie Foster because it’s not that often we see her in a film lately and specifically in this sort of genre?
Brian Tyree Henry: It was like a walking moving Masterclass. At first, I thought I would be intimidated because you are with one of the greats and she was always present and available and was navigating the film right along with us. The scenarios that she’s put in are incredibly outstanding. You don’t know exactly what you are going to get until you show up. She was absolutely amazing to work with. She was willing to learn and teach at the same time. There was a camaraderie between the three of us. The understanding of their relationship her character the Nurse, myself and Waikiki you can fake play on screen. I took away a lot with working with her. I was studying and acting with her at the same time, which was very gratifying.
Then there’s your best friend Sterling K. Brown. You were on ‘This is Us’ but not in the same scene. What can you say about working with him? Because of your close friendship, is it easier to play brothers on screen?
Brian Tyree Williams: I would say yes. The relationship is not being manufactured. The chemistry isn’t something that we’re pulling out from nowhere. It’s something that we live with each other. It made it incredibly easier to play. Every time they yelled ‘cut’ we were always together. I was felt like I was his shadow the whole time. We were able to bring the levity of our friendship to the set, which was great. We were able to play and joke around and sometimes stuff like that is infectious. You can’t help but have a good time. You didn’t really have to overthink anything. We just let things play out. It was really cool to see my best friend up there be the leading man, being the black John Wick. It was fantastic. It made the prospect of making this movie a personal and gratifying experience and Drew our director saw that and allowed that to happen. He gave us the space to play within the lines. I really hope that happens again. If I have it my way, we’ll do several more movies together.
On a different note, congratulations on the Tony Award nomination. Can you about what that recognition does for you, especially when it’s coming from a different audience outside of the TV and film world?
Brian Tyree Williams: You know the thing is that I started in theater. I’ve been living in New York for 11 years. I was on Shakespeare in the Park and I was on Broadway before on The Book of Mormon. The stage has always been a place that’s been a part of my life and I hold that very dear to my heart, but to do Lobby Hero was a different kind of exposure. When it comes to Broadway and plays like that, the audiences are very different. It’s a different bracket and demographic, but the storytelling is the same. What I’m very grateful for is that New York recognized my work in Lobby Hero and was willing to give me recognition for it. I’m still trying to understand it. It’s not something I thought would happen. Musicals and plays are incredibly different.
The Book of Mormon is still running and still going. This play happens in a moment in time. It begins here and ends there. There are people that know me from Atlanta and there are people that know from the theater world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will meet and discuss my body of work. My goal is to go out there and do my best in telling these stories in any way, shape or form. It’s really nice when people recognize that. I’m still not done. There are things I still have to and want to do. It’s really cool to have that moment on stage while Atlanta was on television at the same time and then this movie is coming out. It’s unlike anything that I ever imagined for myself.
Can you reflect on this past season of Atlanta?
Brian Tyree Henry: With the first season, I didn’t realize how it was going to be received. I knew we were showing up in this place called Atlanta, which is a part of my life as well. I went to college there and still lots of ties to Atlanta. Going there and being this character that was familiar to me and we’re just telling stories of their everyday lives. With this second season, it’s about choices and about survival and the environment that you once knew. My character Alfred was born and raised in Atlanta. He’s never left Georgia in his life and he made it for awhile being Alfred. Knowing knew his identity before in the way that they know it now. Now, he has to navigate these streets and places he’s know his whole life and it’s a bit dangerous because he’s exposed. What does that do to him? What does that do to his mental health. What does that do his relationships?
It was really cool to watch our writers come up with this entire different universe of this place that we have always been in for our entire lives. Atlanta is the 5th character of the show but it still changes. For Alfred, the celebrity impact on him and the exposure he’s getting, no one really checked with him to see if that was ok. No one checked in to see if he was doing alright. Even his barber changes on him in the episode with the Barbershop. This particular season he had to really examine his decisions but every decision he made could affect and effect someone else and I think he was very aware of that. It became dangerous this season. This season offered characters the opportunity to heal or figure how to get closer to healing. Alfred has a line where he says, “I have make my next moves my best moves” and that’s very actually true for not just Alfred but for Brian Tyree Henry. I knew Alfred had to work out something in front of you and grateful to the creative staff for showing all those sides of him.
With more films slated to hit theaters this year, when do you have time to relax?
Brian Tyree Henry: There is no time to relax. I can’t complain because at the end of the day, there are stories that need to be told. There are characters out there that O need to go out there and champion for. That’s my place in the world right now. There are characters out there where you can say, “I know that dude.” I want to make sure the their voices are heard and their stories are out there so people can understand that there is a change that’s coming with storytelling. These stories are a way to help people heal. People need to know that they are not he only ones that think that way. It feels good to know that I’m able to go out and champion for them. It means a lot and I will continue to do that.
What’s good reason to watch Hotel Artemis?
Brian Tyree Henry: You have Stering, Jodie, Jeff, Sofia, myself and others to provide you with great entertainment. It’s going to be a fun ride and people should sign up for that.