If you didn’t already know Brian Tyree Henry, who plays up-and-coming rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in FX’s “Atlanta,” 2018 is the year that changes.
In addition to scoring a Tony nomination this year for his role in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,” in which he portrayed a security guard officer opposite Chris Evans and Michael Cera, the actor has a string of movie projects on the horizon: next month’s “Hotel Artemis,” opposite friend Sterling K. Brown, Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” alongside Viola Davis, and “White Boy Rick,” which finds him in the company of Matthew McConaughey.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s surreal,” Henry said when asked what it’s like to be him these days during a recent visit to the L.A. Times video studio. “It’s been the most amazing year, you know what I mean? I’ve been working with a lot of great actors and creatives.”
But it’s his breakout role in “Atlanta” that set the train in motion. And its second season, which wrapped earlier this month, saw Henry and his alter ego on similar tracks — navigating newfound fame while also dealing with the grief of losing a parent. (Henry’s mother died in a car accident after Season 1 wrapped.)
In a surreal episode, Henry’s Alfred is in a depressive state on the anniversary of his mother’s death. After a mugging at gunpoint leaves him battered and nearly killed, he seeks refuge in nearby woods, where he comes away with a personal breakthrough about his career and grief.
“Being in the woods was terrifying, and it was really, really dark,” Henry said. “But it was therapeutic in its own way. It really did help me heal… Loss feels like that — you’re in this forest. That’s the crazy thing: Alfred was raised in Atlanta. There is not a corner of Atlanta that he doesn’t know. But when he’s dropped in the woods and he’s completely lost, that’s what it feels like.”
During the conversation, Henry also shared his thoughts on what Paper Boi might have thought of the “This Is America” track and video from Donald Glover’s musical alter ego Childish Gambino, as well as whether McConaughey actually drives a Lincoln. You can watch the full video below.