Brian Tyree Henry makes an altar everywhere he goes. Oftentimes those sacred tableaux are fashioned from incense, candles and little totems that keep him grounded while traveling around the world to work on different projects.
The actor puts the same depth of feeling and intention into his portrayal of different characters, which has resulted this year in his first Academy Award nomination, for his performance opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway, an intimate drama that explores humanity, trauma and the healing kindness of strangers. His character, James Aucoin, is a working-class New Orleans native “with a greasiness to him,” Henry says, and is often seen wearing clothing and jewelry throughout the film that demonstrate his loyalty to home.
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In the New Orleans-shot film, “all those T-shirts [I wore] were from local bars and shops … I always want to make sure that any time I’m dressing as a character, I’m representing the place that I’m in, so I usually like to ingrain local brands, especially if they’re Black-owned,” says Henry, who adds that his best supporting actor nom “feels like it belongs to every single person who supported me and gets excited when they see that I’m a part of something.”
Offscreen, the actor says that his personal style is inspired in part by the way that gentlemen in the 1960s used to mix materials like velour, cashmere and polyester in creative ways.
“I used to define my style as, ‘Someone who gets dressed in the dark,’ ” Henry jokes. “I never really try to be conventional.” The self-proclaimed “sock freak” (whose favorite brands are RoToTo and American Trench) also loves color, and shares that when he learned that his complexion has red and gold undertones, the spectrum of possibility for outfits opened up. On the carpet for a Bullet Train screening in 2022, for example, he wore an avocado green suit, and at this year’s Critics Choice awards, he wore a bold purple one. “Because of my dark complexion, the more vibrant the color, the better. I want everything to pop. I mean that’s the beauty of our Black and brown skin — it really goes with anything.”
When he’s on the road, the actor — who grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., and studied acting at Morehouse College and Yale — loves shopping in secondhand consignment stores in every city he visits. “[They] tell you a lot about the community,” he says. And when he’s not looking for vintage, Henry tends toward sporty clothing and accessories from brands like Double RL, Rowing Blazers, Aime Leon Dore, Rhude, Kith, Herschel and Telfar.
Bottom line is, he has no shortage of taste (or roles). Currently, Henry — who first broke out on FX’s Atlanta — is filming the Apple TV+ drama Sinking Spring from fellow Oscar nominee Peter Craig (Top Gun: Maverick). The series marks Henry’s first time as an executive producer. Other upcoming projects include Flint Strong, a biopic about Olympic boxer Claressa Shields; a crime thriller for FX called Class of ’09; and a voice role in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Henry’s been busy, but not too busy to sit down with THR and share some of his style faves and inspirations, as well as reflections on this major career moment.
What has your approach been to dressing for this awards season, as well as generally in your career?
[People] spend a lot of time seeing me in different characters — like Alfred [in Atlanta], Lemon [in Bullet Train], James Aucoin [in Causeway] — so when I’m able to be me, I really want to make sure that I am showing me, and that there’s a complete difference. I want to show that I like things fitted, tailored, textured, patterned.
I’m not a conventional shape that most people want to dress, most people will be like, “Oh, you can either go dowdy or you have to go baggy,” but I don’t care about that. I love every curve that I have. I love the build that I am, and I want to make sure I accentuate all those things. So that leaves me a lot of room to play.
I know that you self-style sometimes. How do you navigate styling yourself versus choosing the right opportunities to work with a stylist?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with this amazing stylist Jennifer Austin recently on a few carpets, and she really understands my concept of wanting to do bold colors, of wanting to do things that are kind of mix-and-match, but also very sleek. But when it comes to self-styling, I just want to feel playful, I want people to feel like I can leave this talk show, then come and sit down and have dinner with them, but also go in the street and just kick it. I just always want my essence of style to feel like me and for people to feel like they kind of know me.
I’m really interested in regionalism — where we’re from impacts who we are and how we express ourselves so much. Not only are you from the South, but a lot of your projects are set in the environment of the South as well. How has it influenced your style?
There’s a richness to the South — there’s a richness to Blacks from the South — especially because there’s a history and ancestry there that can’t be denied. The food, the smells, the clothing, all of that is so ingrained in who we are. We’re innovators. And I really love that about the South because back in the day, the South wasn’t the place with Rodeo Drives —we didn’t really have access to a lot of those expensive things. Everything was pretty much just the department store in your town, so you had to come up with your own true sense of style and fashion. I feel like that’s something that’s really hard for me to let go of now because I still have that sensibility.
Do you know what you’re wearing to the Oscars yet? How does this moment feel?
This is a moment that you think about as an actor … the amazing honor that is an Academy Award nomination, and then you immediately go, “What am I going to wear?” Because of how unconventional I am, I’m not really worried about who’s willing to dress me. [But] I saw some sketches recently. I can’t reveal who [the suit] is with just yet, but I will tell you that it will be a moment. It will reflect exactly who I am and will reflect what this moment means. It’s really classic, sleek, neat.
What did the process of developing the wardrobe for your character in Causeway involve?
The biggest thing about my character James is that he’s a native: born and raised in New Orleans, never left New Orleans. And not only that, but he went through such a traumatic incident that kind of kept him trapped in a certain way. And not only trapped, but also stuck in the era of when that tragedy [happened]. … So if you notice with him, he’s usually in dark colors. He’s in a uniform, mostly because he works at the auto body shop. But he’s also disabled and missing a limb. He’s an amputee, so you’re never really going to see him in shorts or anything tight. Also, the humidity of New Orleans is really real, it’s the realest thing on earth. And we were filming this in the summer. You’d always see him with the handkerchief in his back pocket to wipe the sweat. I’m always thinking about things like that. How my characters walk, what they wear.
What’s something you bought recently and loved or something you’re coveting that you hope to purchase soon?
I really want a Rolex Oyster watch, I can’t lie … and a vintage one. Because I’m like, “I have to celebrate this Oscar nomination somehow! I should probably get a Rolex!” That’s something I’ve been wanting for a long time.
Who are some of your style icons?
I think about Miles Davis back in the day — there’s this amazing book called Black Ivy that is about the style of these wonderful, amazing Black artists and musicians that I have on my coffee table at home. It’s just the smoothest style, effortless. Marvin Gaye is also one of my favorite style icons. And I can’t even lie: Andre 3000. At the end of the day, his style is always very seamless and experimental but also so indicative of who he is.
Do you have any hobbies outside of acting?
I’m actually a pin collector. My favorite thing is to go on Etsy and just scroll. I have this really amazing MCM backpack that I love, and I have pins on it.
Is there a piece of advice you’ve gotten that really sticks with you?
My mother used to have this phrase that she would say, and it was, “Let go or be dragged.” Now that I’m older and have gone through quite a few obstacles in my life, I finally understand what she meant by that, because we have a tendency to hold on to things that don’t serve us. And so it just basically means that you can hold on if you want to, but it will take a lot out of you. Who wants to go through life feeling like they’re being pulled?
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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Five of His Essentials
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Standout Red Carpet Looks
Left: As one of the stars of 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Henry attended the Oscars for the first time in 2019. The actor dressed in Giorgio Armani, including a black velvet evening jacket.
He self-styled for a 2022 screening of Causeway, playing with patterned items including an MCM scarf and Todd Snyder flannel shirt, paired with a Schott Perfecto motorcycle jacket.
Henry opted for bright color at the 2023 Critics Choice Awards, wearing a plum suit by Viggo with a contrasting white shirt and Italian shoemaker Scarosso’s Leandro tassel loafers.
For the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards in January, he wore the Bordeaux double-breasted, shawl-collar wool suit by L.A.-based Grayscale, a velvet tie and jewelry by David Yurman.
Right: At the Oscar Nominees Luncheon in February, Henry looked elegant in a custom lavender three-piece Dzojchen suit with kimono-inspired belting. He also wore loafers by Santoni.
This story first appeared in the March 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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