The year 2023 is shaping up to be a great one for Stephen McKinley Henderson (BFA 1972), a graduate of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). He has been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for the Broadway production of Between Riverside and Crazy, in which he stars as Walter “Pops” Washington, a retired New York City police officer at a crossroads in his life. The play also earned a Tony nomination for Best Play.

Henderson previously earned Obie and Lucille Lortel awards for the 2014 off-Broadway production of Between Riverside and Crazy, which was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The earlier production also won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play, and the Off-Broadway Alliance for Best New Play.

Henderson’s Tony nomination marks his second, following a nod for Best Featured Actor in a Play in the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences. But whether he wins or loses the Tony, this past Sunday he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lucille Lortel Awards, the pre-eminent honor presented to recognize outstanding achievement in off-Broadway productions, and on June 6th he will receive the Harold Prince Lifetime Achievement Award at the Drama Desk Awards. In 2021, Henderson was the UNCSA Commencement speaker and received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.

Henderson appeared in a handful of early feature films, including Ghostbusters (1984) and Marie (1985), but worked primarily on stage until the early 2000s, when his screen career took off. His film credits include Tower Heist (2011), Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer (2012), and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014), the 2019 HBO version of Richard Wright’s landmark Native Son, and Halle Berry’s 2020 directorial debut Bruised. Last year he appeared in Causeway, for which Brian Tyree Henry earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Henderson holds the distinction of having appeared in six films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), Denzel Washington’s 2016 screen adaptation of FencesManchester by the Sea (2016), Lady Bird (2017), and Dune (2021). Last year, Vulture Magazine cited Henderson as one of “The 32 Greatest Character Actors Working Today.”

In a December 2022 interview with Leah Putnam of Playbill.com to discuss Between Riverside and Crazy and his career, Henderson said: “I don’t mind doing a very small role in a play that says something I really want to be a part of. It’s a joy to be in a director’s vision, it’s a wonderful masterpiece they’re trying to paint. And there’s no part of the canvas that isn’t crucially important.”

The actor, now 73, can currently be seen opposite Joaquin Phoenix in Ari Aster’s controversial psycho-shocker Beau is Afraid, and will reprise his role as Thufir Hawat in Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded science-fiction epic Dune: Part Two, based on Frank Herbert’s classic novel, which is scheduled for release in December.

The 76th annual Tony Awards will be hosted by Ariane DeBose and air live on Sunday, June 11, from the United Palace in Washington Heights, NY, from 8 – 11 p.m. on CBS, and streaming live and on-demand on Paramount+. In addition, CBS and Pluto TV will present “The Tony Awards: Act One,” a behind-the-scenes pre-show featuring exclusive content, which will air from 6:30 – 8 pm.

The official Tony Awards website is https://www.tonyawards.com/ and the official UNCSA website is https://www.uncsa.edu/.

 

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies. © 2023, Mark Burger.

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