The year 2016 was a one of triumph and tragedy for Brian Tyree Henry. After years of work onstage in productions like The Book of Mormon and television guest spots on shows like The Good Wife and Law & Order, the North Carolina native got cast in Donald Glover‘s new, highly praised FX show Atlanta as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. However, the jubilation after wrapping Season 1 was quickly met with terrible news — his mother, Willow Dean Kearse-Rice, had died as the result of a car accident. Henry was “very close spiritually” with his mom and found himself navigating the highs of achieving so much professionally in conjunction with losing so much personally.
In a second season filled with stellar episodes, the eighth, “Woods,” manages to stand out. Written by Stefani Robinson and directed by Hiro Murai, it features Henry as Alfred on the one-year anniversary of his character’s mom’s death. With the loss of his real-life mother, Henry found the subject matter hitting very close to home. What followed was a performance so undeniably great that it has Henry at the forefront of the Emmys conversation.
“It was tough,” Henry tells Yahoo Entertainment when discussing the episode. “It was very tough. But it was so creatively and just expertly handled by our director, Hiro, and written by Stefani. … A lot of the season reflected a lot on my personal life. It’s kind of happening that way. It’s pretty hard to navigate exactly what this is. You know what I mean? With ‘Woods’ dealing with loss and grief and even mental health, it feels like that — it feels like you’re lost. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
“I was very terrified to share that part of myself with the world, but I’m really glad that I did,” Henry continues. “It did help me heal in a way. I had to abandon a lot of things. I had to just go for it. … I’m glad that it was received the way it was because it allowed me to put some things on the forefront of what I was feeling because grief really does feel like you’re lost in the woods sometimes.”
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