We’re pretty sure there isn’t a character Brian Tyree Henry can’t play.
The Emmy and Tony Award nominee’s career spans film, television and theater. From playing a wayward rapper in the Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award winning series Atlanta to playing a zanny assassin in the hit feature film Bullet Train, his versatility knows no bounds.
Now audiences can see him tackling one of his most complex characters opposite Jennifer Lawrence in A24’s Causeway, now streaming on Apple TV+. HipHollywood caught up with him to talk about playing a grief stricken amputee and trauma bonding with Lawrence.
Q: Why did you say yes to this project?
A: I said yes for a few reasons. One of those reasons being Jennifer Lawrence. I admired her work as an actor for quite some time. I’ve always loved the truth in her acting, the vulnerability in her acting. I just have always really been a fan. So that was a no brainer for me.
The second part would be Lila Neugebauer, our director, who is a really great friend of mine. Like a really good friend, like family from my years at Yale Grad School. She was there as an undergrad. She came to see every play we did and we would smoke cigarettes and drink coffee and just talk about theater and to watch her get this opportunity and to want me to be a part of it was also a no brainer for me.
Q: What did you love most about playing James?
With James, what I really love the most about him is that you have this native New Orlean who suffered a great loss. And I mean a great loss not only from losing a family member by decisions that he made, but also losing family members who are still alive that no longer want to be with him. And then also physically losing his leg. There’s a sense of penance that I feel like James is going through. So I was very interested in trying to figure out how to get James to heal because I wanted to really explore this sense of grief, because there’s something to be said about grief. And I wanted to kind of challenge what being disabled is.
Usually with amputees, there’s this thing called phantom limb where you feel like you are still having access. You can still feel that missing part there, but it’s just not there. And I feel like that’s grief. I feel like grief can often feel like a phantom limb because you are moving through life thinking that things are the way that they should be. That person is still there, these things, and it’s not.
Q: This film really deals with trauma bonding, would you agree it’s what connects the two main characters?
I feel like trauma bonding is a way to get through, but it’s not a way to get over. You know what I’m saying? Trauma bonding kind of anchors us. It puts us in a stasis sometimes of like, well, I’ll see you that trauma and I’ll raise you this trauma, or you went through that. Oh, well, hold on, let me tell you about this. But there never seems to be a way of being like, how do we get over though? How do we lay that down and find a new way to be and exist? And I think that you find these two characters doing that. And that’s what I really wanted to show. I think where you find James is that he has built this home of grief and built this home of loss. And then somebody comes and knocks on his door and he’s like, oh my God, somebody actually wants to come inside and see.
Q: Were you guys in contact with any veterans to help build your characters?
A: I know that Jen did her research with that, but I’m the son of a vet. I’m the son of a Vietnam vet. I was an army brat. I was raised on Fort Bragg Army Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I had all the benefits of being an army brat all the way until I was 23 years old. So my father is a black man who served in Vietnam. There’s always a part of me that always wants to honor that. There’s always a part of me that wants him to know that he is seen, you know what I mean? Being a vet is grief. It’s really real. And I really hope that this movie gives just a flicker of reflection. I don’t care how big the flicker is. I just hope that people feel something reflective.
Q: What was one of the more challenging or most memorable scenes for you?
A: There’s a scene in particular where we’re in a pool, and I always call that scene the baptism scene because it’s literally like, I think about James being an amputee and what it must feel like to, even what you have to shed to get in a pool as an amputee. Which means that you then have to literally expose so much of yourself and be okay with that and then you’re just getting in and you’re submerged and you’re just there. So I called it the baptism scene because that’s where everything becomes clear for both of them. That’s where they kind of lay their burdens down.
Q: Talk about filming in New Orleans?
A: We were on Tchoupitoulas [street] all the way down to Bordeaux. We actually went to the world famous Hansen’s Sno-Bliz where the family was there to make the snowballs for us. That in and of itself was the most gratifying part to me to be there to make this film with the locals and the natives of New Orleans and their love and support. There was just something in me that really wanted to showcase that. Because as much as that city, the streets are lined with celebration and jubilation, it is still lined with grief. You know, there’s still loss in New Orleans. Things have shifted. The levees broke, things are still, you know. But that sense of rebuilding is what New Orleans does. And I think that that, in essence, is what Causeway is truly about. It’s how to rebuild and how to really move forward.
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