Art Restart

Art Restart

Stephen McKinley Henderson

August 23, 2021

Stephen McKinley Henderson has a resume that most actors in his generation would — and probably do — envy. Trained first at Juilliard and then at UNCSA, he has been working steadily onstage for more than four decades, performing in classical and contemporary plays in theaters around the country.

In 1996 he originated the role of Turnbo in August Wilson’s “Jitney” in Pittsburgh and then went on to play the part many more times around the country, including in a hugely successful Off-Broadway run that netted him a Drama Desk Award. He eventually played the part at the National Theatre in London in 2001 in a production that won “Jitney” the Olivier Award for Best Play. Since then, he has appeared on Broadway several more times, including in two August Wilson plays, “King Hedley II” and “Fences,” earning a Tony nomination for best supporting actor in the latter.

In recent years Stephen has also amassed an impressive film resume. When Denzel Washington directed “Fences” for the screen, he asked his Broadway castmate Stephen to reprise his role in the film adaptation. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, Stephen was featured in three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: “Fences,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Lady Bird.” Later this year he will appear in one of the most anticipated films of recent years, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of “Dune,” and he recently wrapped filming in horror auteur Ari Aster’s latest film, “Disappointment Blvd,” starring Joaquin Phoenix.

In this interview with Pier Carlo Talenti, Stephen reveals how as a young man a terrifying period of literal and metaphoric paralysis helped make him the artist he is today, a revolutionary optimist that renowned directors and playwrights alike know they can trust explicitly with their work.