Brow Beat

The Time Brian Tyree Henry Stole the Show From Chris Evans

Thirst Aid Kit welcomes Henry to the family.

Brian Tyree Henry on the red carpet
Brian Tyree Henry at the 91st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 24, 2019. Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins are noted fans of Chris Evans—so you know it’s serious when they say that another actor upstaged him in his Broadway show Lobby Hero. That actor was Brian Tyree Henry, the rising star of Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk, and soon Marvel’s Eternals. In this excerpt from a recent episode of Thirst Aid Kit, Bim and Nichole explain how Brian ignited their fancy. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Bim Adewunmi: You and I did something a couple years back, living in this great big city. We went along to see a play, and the reason why we went to see that play together, beyond obviously the enjoyment of one another’s company, was that we were doing it so that we could observe one particular Thirst Object that we were about to interview.

Nichole Perkins: Right. We went to see Lobby Hero so that we could get a feel for Chris Evans in his Broadway debut.

Adewunmi: So we’re talking about the Kenneth Lonergan play, which is very, very good. And it was a revival, the first time on Broadway in ages. Chris Evans was in there. He was very good.

Perkins: He was really good.

Adewunmi: And also in the play was Michael Cera and Bel Powley and, of course, Brian Tyree Henry. Obviously we went in for the express purpose of checking out Chris’ form, no pun intended. And we absolutely love Chris, obviously, as we spoke about on the show. But did we or did we not say, “Jesus, Brian Tyree Henry, he has the range,” when we left?

Perkins: Yeah, he absolutely stole the show. And to steal the show from motherfucking Chris Evans, that says a lot.

Adewunmi: Doesn’t it?

Perkins: He was so good.

Adewunmi: He was arresting. He has presence. And it’s difficult, right? Because, like you said, Chris Evans was meant to be the “star” of the show. He’s the big Hollywood guy. He’s the one who I think pulled in a good number of those crowds—no shade to anybody else, but come on, facts are facts. And he’s ostensibly got the lead role in this—it’s between him and Michael Cera, they’re the two main guys. And yet I found myself leaning forward a little bit more for Brian.

First of all, the character was great. He’s kind of grumpy, world-weary, but also clearly a nice person, a good person, who’s just trying to make this shit work. So something already pulls you in about the character. But then Brian performed it in this really human, warm way that I had no doubt, I believed him. At no point was I distracted by the fact that, oh, there’s an actor acting. It was just kind of natural. He’s a very skilled performer, and he knows that. He knows how to modulate so that you feel as though you are getting a real person as opposed to a person playing a person.

Perkins: Right. There’s some people who, while they can act for the stage, they can’t act for television, or if they can act for television, they can’t act for the stage. But Brian was so comfortable onstage in a way that I was just like, oh, he knows what he’s doing and he has been doing this for a while.

Adewunmi: He didn’t stumble onto the stage by accident.

Perkins: Right. You could tell that he is not only just trained but has this really natural gift for it, and he seemed so comfortable in the role.

Adewunmi: And I think he’s the only black character on the stage. He’s playing an authority figure. He’s playing a security guard, who is the boss of Michael Cera’s character. Race didn’t really come up in a big, big way, but it felt apparent, and it felt like a small commentary. I liked seeing him grapple with what it meant to be this guy’s boss in this particular setting, with the full weight of knowledge about what it means in this American society to hold that kind of position. And to do all of that wordlessly is quite the gift.

Perkins: Yeah, because he had moments where he could be funny, where he could be very serious, and where he was very sad. He went through the full range of emotions onstage, and he really made the price of admission worth it. Yes, Chris Evans was great—everyone was clearly there to see him one way or another. But Brian was the one that kind of solidified the whole play, it seemed like. And he was nominated for a Tony from that, right?

Adewunmi: Exactly. And again, no shade to Chris—love you, boo—but of all the nominees, I was like, you know what, Brian? Well deserved. You did that shit. A Tony nomination is a big deal, regardless of what you think of the quality of the Tonys any given year. I was like, you know what? We’ll recognize you. You got this one right.

Perkins: Yeah. After the play was over and we were by the stage door and—

Adewunmi: Yes, that was when my fancy was ignited. I have to be honest.

Perkins: Yes. And we were the only little chocolate things in the crowd, it seemed like. And so when Brian came out, I don’t remember if we said, “Hi, Brian,” or—

Adewunmi: We did, we did. Yes, Nichole. I remember I went home and I wrote it in my diary. We absolutely said, “Hi, Brian.”

Perkins: Yes, and he turned, and he saw two black women smiling at him, greeting him, and he just blossomed.

Adewunmi: He beamed.

Perkins: And he was like, “What’s up, family?”

Adewunmi: That’s it!

Perkins: He did it with such enthusiasm that everybody around us looked and they were like, “Do they know each other?” Because we were the only black people there, and his greeting was so effusive, people just assumed that we were, I don’t know, his people some kind of way. We weren’t kin, but we are his people. He treated us that way.

Adewunmi: He really, really did. And all these people, bless them, all turned to gawk at us. And you and I both preened, like “Yeah, that’s right, we’re family, bitch!” That was when I thought to myself, oh, I fancy you.

Perkins: His face just lit up in such a way because, as many people know, the theater is not the most diverse place as far as audiences are concerned.

Adewunmi: Or playwrights! LOL.

Perkins: It can be expensive to go to the theater, and not everybody lives in New York, so there’s all this kind of stuff that’s involved in that. But he was so happy to see us. It really warmed my heart.

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