Brian Tyree Henry: “I love that I get to play a cop who is raising his black son”

Most actors would be lucky to star in one major studio film a year, but for Brian Tyree Henry “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” marks his 5th movie—just this year alone. Henry, who seems remarkably unaffected by his rise to movie star, plays in several feature films that include “Hotel Artemis,” alongside Jodie Foster, Steve McQueen’s heist drama “Widows” opposite Viola Davis, “White Boy Rick” with Matthew McConaughey, Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” and can also be heard as the voice of Spiderman/Miles Morales’ tough father Jefferson Davis in the animated Spiderman movie.

Brian Tyree Henry - credit Deborah Lopez
Brian Tyree Henry – credit Deborah Lopez

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, it’s based on the comic book characters created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli in 2011, and centers on the adventures of an African-American/Puerto Rican teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he tries to fit in at a new private school in Manhattan. A film which introduces  another black superhero to the Marvel Universe,  it is  the highly anticipated release of the year given its unique animation style and diverse cast.

Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez
Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez

“I play a cop that is raising his black son in a specific way and making sure he has all the opportunities afforded to him in this world,” shares Henry, “And it’s so refreshing that the world of Marvel has now opened so far and wide to make a bi-racial, bilingual kid in Brooklyn a new Spiderman. These are the changes that we need in this world right now. We have a black man who comes from a two-parent home with his father present who also happens to be a service man – a cop,” says the Emmy and Tony Award nominee best known for his portrayal of Alfred Miles in the Emmy nominated FX series “Atlanta.”

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld)

His 5th cop portrayal and his first animated film, finding the voice of Jefferson, a strict but loving father wasn’t a stretch for the versatile actor whose career spans film, television and theater.

“The story was the key.  I didn’t really see the artwork of what it was going to look like so I didn’t try to make him much different from me. I just wanted to do the writing justice and showcase a cop who is tough, but is also a loving, mushy guy underneath and still relates to his son. What I love the most about this movie is that Miles has two strong black male figures in his life, his father and his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who are there at his disposal.”

With comedy, groundbreaking visuals and a solid story, the movie explores the superhero experience from a fresh angle while dealing with larger universal themes such as coming of age and familial relationships.

Henry voices Jefferson Davis the father to Miles Morales
Henry voices Jefferson Davis the father to Miles Morales

“It’s a very inclusive world to be a superhero, but that makes no sense because most of the heroes comes from people of color far and wide, so it’s really cool to know that Sony took the time and craft to create this realm. This movie has some flavor. It’s really nice to see that the mask is now black with red undertones and great to know it has been received the way it has. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Featuring the voices of Jake Johnson as Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Gwen, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, Luna Lauren Velez as Miles’ mother Rio, Kimiko Glenn as Peni Parker, and Liev Schreiber as Kingpin, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” brings a completely new take on Marvel’s beloved webslinging superhero, which was first introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962.

“It’s revolutionary and timely and the cast is a dream come true. To have Mahershala play my brother, the beautiful Luna as my Latino wife and having a universal cast is so cool. I am an uncle of twelve and a great uncle of seven and it has given me so many cool uncle points.”

Henry has just wrapped production on MGM’s “Child’s Play,” “Superintelligence” and “The Woman in the Window” which he stars opposite Amy Adams and Gary Oldman. He’s currently filming the blockbuster “Godzilla vs. Kong”  and Blumhouse’s thriller “Only You,” where he plays opposite David Oyelowo. If there’s a secret to his screen success, he says it’s simply his selection process.

“I think about how the project would have reached me and try to figure out the humanity of the character. As a black actor, I want to know who is the black man across from me, because I want to know what that relationship is and who is the black woman across from me. I want there to be a connection. To know that it is about love and communication and honoring who we are and the kinship of what that is,” he shares.  “I don’t ever want to lie on my characters and I try to be as open as possible, which is sometimes a conflict as it’s hard to shake them, but it’s nice to be able to flush that out and discover who they are.”

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” releases in theaters December 14.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment industry specialist and contributes to Trendy Africa Magazine from Los Angeles. Photo credit -Deborah Lopez & Columbia Pictures



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