Exclusive Brian Tyree Henry Interview
Brian Tyree Henry isn’t a rapper but he plays one on TV–a very relatable and refreshingly complex rapper with a burgeoning career who steals scene after scene (after scene) on critically-acclaimed hit show “Atlanta.” And that’s only one of several power moves for the Emmy AND Tony-nominated North Carolina native currently having an enviable Hollywood run that started with Oscar-worthy masterpiece “If Beale Street Could Talk,” continued with Oscar-winning dazzler “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” and carried over into 2019 with several eye-catching roles headlined by “Joker” and… “Child’s Play???”
Yep, a next-level Chucky movie that we couldn’t wait to ask him about during the “Child’s Play” press day where we talked (and laughed) about everything from killer doll nostalgia to Black folks in Horror movies to Rihanna in our fave interview of 2019.
Let’s get into “Child’s Play”–what were your first thoughts when you realized you were playing a cop in a Chucky movie?
“Actually when I got the script it didn’t say “Child’s Play” on it… so I started reading it and the story was pretty damn good. It was a really cool read. And then I saw the name Chucky and I was like ‘Yo…nahhh, there’s no way..’ because I’m like a Horror movie freak–I LOVE Horror movies, it’s my favorite genre and when I got to Chucky I was like ‘Oh sh*t, this has gotta be the new Chucky’ so then I looked at my character and was like ‘oh wait, hold up, this character is actually really brave because, you know, being Black in a Horror movie they don’t really give us good characters–we’re the first people to get killed in the first three minutes of the movie…
But in this movie my character Detective Mike Norris is very smart, very charismatic, is really humorous, and literally the relationship he had with his mom, and his relationship with Andy were very important to me and so I was like ‘ok cool, there’s actually a character here’ *laughs* it was something that really attracted me to it.
And at the end of the day, I remember when “Child’s Play’ came out in 1988 when I was 6-years-old.. I literally remember the Christmas it came out and, at the time, there was this doll called “My Buddy” and people were going into the store and fighting over these things, man, and it was on the news and I was just like ‘I’m never gonna get one of these dolls’ and as soon as this movie came out everyone threw them away so all that consumerism you were going through to get this doll, once this movie came out it shut the doll’s sales down… and that’s kinda why I like Horror movies because there really is a commentary on the social dynamics we live in.. It really turns the mirror on you to make you confront the things we’re actually afraid of in our real lives and that’s us as a society sometimes.
So once I saw this was coming my way I jumped at it because I’ve always been a huge fan of this franchise and Chucky was such a part of my life growing up and I really just liked the retelling of the story they were doing and was like ‘this is actually really fresh and really relevant to today’ because instead of it being a serial killer dropped into a doll as it used to be.. this is like an artificial intelligence… it really is programmed to know everything about your life–like, everything–there’s an upgrade you can download and that’s way more terrifying–that, to me, is way more terrifying that there’s this doll that has access to your entire life. It’s still learning and growing–you’re gonna find yourself actually caring about Chucky–I’m not gon’ lie–I was surprised.. I was like ‘I actually like this dude, I really want him to win out here’ and I really just thought that was fun.
It’s been so long since we’ve had a fun Horror movie. That was one of my favorite experiences about going to the Horror movies where I grew up is like, you know, if we’re in a theater full of Black people watching a Horror movie, we are gonna talk sh*t. We’re gonna say how we feel *laughs* and when I saw this I was like ‘Oh my God, this is a callback to one of those movies where you have to have that commentary. You have to clap and celebrate–it’s fun! And I was just really happy to be apart of something like that because that’s kinda what I knew and I’m a big nerd when it comes to this so… it was like me being a kid in a candy store”
We realized the legendary Mark Hamill (who played “Luke Skywalker” in the “Star Wars” saga and voiced the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series”) was voicing Chucky and were like ‘Whoa WHOAAA’ so what was that like for you–a big nerd?
“Everything I’ve been doing in my career, honestly, is my inner-nerd just losing its mind and I think that’s why I take the things that I do because I think about myself being that 13-year-old kid at my locker and thinking about what kinda pictures I would’ve taped on the inside of my locker–all of the things I’ve done so far would’ve been in my locker *laughs* so having “Child’s Play” be that other little thing–that other little piece, right there–is great and then Mark Hamill, man, I’m gonna tell you something: the emotion that he brings to Chucky and the wonder he brings to Chucky and the sinisterness he brings to Chucky is really unbelievable and I think that’s why you feel for Chucky the way you do because of him”
You got Joker, you got this, you had Spider-man [Into The Spider-Verse]–did you see yourself getting into your lane so fast in your career?
No! I still try to act like I don’t see that because I don’t ever want it to take away that kind of joy, that kind of wonderment of what I do. It makes me very happy and I don’t ever wanna get to a place where I’m just like ‘Ohh, you know, tick that box, tick that box, tick that box, because there’s an endless array of boxes to tick for me”
How did your experience at an HBCU—Morehouse College–shape your journey (and perspective) in Hollywood?
I think that–not just Morehouse in it of itself–but the city of Atlanta shaped that for me because I moved there when I was 18 and I didn’t really start getting into theatre arts until my second semester sophomore year but it was something I’ve always done even in high school I was doing speech and debate and it was always an escape for me because the plays I was told to read or the plays we were given as assignments never had characters that reflected people who looked like me.
You could give me Chekhov all day, you could give me Henrik Ibsen all day, but nothing is saying I could be this young dude in Russia so, for me, it was an escape. It was fun to play these parts and run around pretending to be these men in society I was told I’ll never be because of where I’m from and because I’m Black.
So, at the end of the day, when I got to Morehouse here I am looking to my left and to my right seeing other people who have the same passion as I do but then I’m also in a city where I’m looking to my left and to my right and everyone looks like me and everyone’s excelling in the same way and the city is giving me space to be who the hell I am–
Atlanta literally shaped me into the person I am today and it’s because I saw in a place like that endless possibilities for us as Black people–like, endless–are you telling me I can own a store? We all got our own neighborhoods? Like, what do you mean??? So, for me, it kinda revolutionized how I saw my self within this genre and made me feel like there was nothing couldn’t do and then, here I am, in “Child’s Play” playing this detective that you actually give a damn about…that was icing on the cake”
We saw you say that Rihanna made you cry and since we’re talking about Atlanta–where would you take Rihanna in the city if yall were hanging out? What would yall do?
“OK, alright! I’ve actually got a chance not too long ago to meet Rihanna–I went to the Gold Party… Rihanna came up to me with open arms–she was like ‘I’ve been watching you, I’m so proud of you, thank you for giving Fenty all the love’ because I’m always reppin like ‘Yo, Fenty Beauty is the bomb, everybody needs to support Rihanna’ and as I’m going in for a hug I break her drink–I drop her drink out of her hand–and I was like ‘are you kidding me? How could you do that?’ and with such grace and poise, as Rihanna does, she’s like ‘no-no-no, don’t worry about it, it’s just a drink, what are you drinking?’
AND THEN SHE GOES TO GET HERSELF A DRINK AND ME A DRINK… So then I’m trying not to cry again but it’s that kinda thing–my inner-nerd–like of course, I made her drop her drink but it was still–I learned a lot about myself *laughs*
But yea, there’s nothing greater than to see people from your generation killin’ the game. I feel like I’ve gotten to my rise watching her–like, watching us all excel in this way and its just pride, man. It really just makes me proud but I still broke her drink, though”
Is there anything you can tell us about Season 3 of Atlanta?
“Thaaaat, it will be back next year *laughs* but know that we’ll be coming back for sure”
“Child’s Play” in theaters now!