Brian Tyree Henry Says His ‘Causeway’ Character Terrified Him: “There’s A Lot Of Vulnerability That Can Happen” – Contenders Film: The Nominees

Apple Original Films

When Brian Tyree Henry was approached for the Causeway role of James, a New Orleans auto mechanic “traversing this land of grief and pain and shame alone,” he found himself doing something unlike him — judging the character based on “the choices that he made,” and why he wound up where he was. 

“I try very much to meet [my characters] where they are,” said Henry, who earned an Oscar nomination for the role, during a panel for the Apple Original Films movie at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees event. “But with James, there was truly this thing that was pulling at me that wanted to shake him by the shoulders and be like, ‘What are you doing, man? Why are you living this way?’” 

Causeway afforded Henry his first chance to work with Lila Neugebauer — a renowned writer and director of theater he met at almost 20 years ago — as well as Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, an actress he’d long admired. The story is, in Henry’s words, a “two-hander” built from “stillness” that explores James’ connection through trauma to Lynsey, a U.S. soldier adjusting to life back home after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. 

If James was a character that Henry was quick to judge, he was also one that “terrified” the actor on first approach given the emotional nakedness he’d need to bring to his performance. “As an actor, you…have to give certain parts of yourself, or let loose certain parts of yourself. But … there’s a lot that comes with that,” said the actor. “There’s a lot of exposure that can happen, there’s a lot of vulnerability that can happen, and James was definitely that for me.”

Brian Tyree Henry in ‘Causeway’ Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

Henry’s journey with his Causeway character — extended by both 2019’s Hurricane Barry and the outbreak of the Covid pandemic — came full circle when he dug down “to the core” of who James was and embraced all aspects of his person.

“With these Black men that I play, I want there to be layers to them. I don’t want people to feel like they can push them aside. I don’t want people to feel like they can put their own prejudices against them before getting to know them,” said Henry. “At the end of the day, all I want is for people to care about these men. Because for most viewers, it’s really easy for them to not know who they are.”

Check out the panel video above.

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