Culture shock

Brian Tyree Henry Talks Paper Boi, Culture Shock, And Code-Switching In Atlanta Season 3

After a four-year hiatus following the season two finale, FX’s Atlanta is back, and actor Brian Tyree Henry has finally returned to the screen in his lead role as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. Season three also restores the rest of the burgeoning rapper’s team – Donald Glover as Earn, Zazie Beetz as Van, and LaKeith Stanfield as Darius – and with the final episode well underway, HYPEBEAST dove deeper into the story points. pressure of this season in conversation with Henry.

“It’s the coming season,” Henry said. “Alfred is thrilled with the success of what he has done because everyone is in Europe thanks to him. His tour has become international and he sells rooms on his own.

Alfred is a “realist”, as the actor says. While the past two seasons have chronicled the rapper’s rise to global fame, it’s evident that Alfred is well aware that his lifestyle could completely disappear at any moment – and because of that, he’s finally trying to ” enjoying sh*t,” Henry says. “You see him finally enjoying the spoils of what his fame has brought him. He dresses differently. He knows how to talk to people in a professional manner. He is not afraid to take a picture.

Alfred, who had never left Atlanta before, let alone “thought about getting on a plane or getting a passport,” experiences first-hand the fandom he cultivated internationally and enhances his identity. public as a result, Henry explained. On top of that, he finally finds the middle ground on the tightrope between his very famous rap star Paper Boi and his real identity, Alfred Miles.

“Everyone this season has recognized what the other side looks like,” Henry said. “We recognize what it’s like to not be known and what it’s like to really have to sacrifice shit. And so this season, everybody’s leaning into it because it’s like, look how far we’re going to go.

However, as Paper Boi and his crew move away from the show’s eponymous town, the further they move away from the close-knit black community that has largely defined Atlantathe first two seasons. Consequently, issues of race are even more deeply embedded in the plots of the series.

“The four of us come to this land where it’s all about interpretation and misinterpretation and what that means and what the stakes are,” he explained.

“It’s a real matter of life and death if we don’t really understand the interpretations of the world we’re going through this season.”

In the second episode of season three, the team meets blackface-clad adults and children in Amsterdam for their “Sinterklass” celebration, which is explained as a tradition passed down from generation to generation; And later, in episode six, Paper Boi is employed to save face for a fashion brand named Esco Esco after its white designer was criticized for releasing a sweater that read “Central Park 5”, among several other cases.

“Alfred is truly a man in a foreign land,” Henry said. “He’s in a foreign country where he’s been regaled as a successful pop star, but people aren’t really willing to understand his code or move on to the way he’s able to understand them, which is the history of being black. Period.”

“It’s about changing the code,” adds the actor. “I think most black people in their lifetime must have experienced code-switching.”

Code-switching, or “a strategy for successfully navigating black people in interracial interactions” that “has big implications for their well-being, economic advancement, and even physical survival,” as defined by Harvard Business Review, proves essential for Alfred abroad.

In a lighter case, while attending a high society party in London, Paper Boi mistakenly assumes that the billionaire host offers him weed using the word “tree”, although the man actually refers to a literal plant. Deeper into their conversation, however, Alfred reveals that he doesn’t like British rap because he can’t understand the lyrics and mentions that he’s also unable to understand the women sitting next to him at a table. of poker, resulting in unspoken tension.

“Before, it was like you didn’t speak Paper Boi’s language, so he didn’t give a fuck about you. It was as simple as that,” he says. “But now he realizes, especially when it comes to success, you have to change a lot, and a lot more than you want.”

The role of Alfred himself has had a profound impact on Henry’s own life – while the actor is able to find solace in his character in many ways, there is this symbiotic relationship that connects them to a even deeper level.

“I truly believe that Alfred was placed in my life at some point in my life to save my life,” he said. “I really love him. I love everything about him. He represents the parts of me that I’m a little afraid to show, and I can protect him in ways that he’s not necessarily protected.

Henry, who only read the first five pages of the initial script before falling in love with the role, had a magnetic connection to the show from the start. “Something inside me just connected with Alfred immediately,” he says. “I had spent most of my formative years in Atlanta. I went to college here. I have nurtured so many beautiful friendships here. I discovered who I was and what I wanted to do and become here.

Now, with two Emmy nominations under her belt (one for her role as Alfred in Atlanta and another for his guest starring role on NBC It’s us) and an impressive interim bill that also includes How to get away with murder, Deputy Directors, Boardwalk Empire, The Knick, The good wife and Law and orderHenry admits the most exciting aspect of his career is his “ability to say no”.

“I remember at one point in my career I believed I had to take everything that was given to me because I felt like no one was going to give me another opportunity like this. “, did he declare.

“Especially as artists of color, we tend to feel like we have to take on the roles that are given to us because we should be so happy that someone paid attention to us and said, ‘Hey. , here is room for you.'”

“This career and this life that I am in right now is something that has been in the making for decades. I have to remind myself every day that I am worthy to be in this space and that I am moving things to make myself feel good. place,” he added. “Acting isn’t just about portraying someone and portraying that life of someone, you have to go into it with a really good understanding of who the hell you are.”

To catch Atlanta season three on FX every Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.