Eternals Star Brian Tyree Henry Says The Film Put 'Power' Back In Him Again

"Atlanta" star Brian Tyree Henry tends to play characters who have gone through a lot of personal trauma, whether it's rising rapper Paper Boi on the FX series, crime boss Jamal in "Widows," or Arkham Asylum's clerk in "Joker." He's seen a lot of the dark side of humanity, and it was starting to take a real toll. Taking on the character of Phastos in Chloé Zhao's "The Eternals" did him a world of good, however, and helped the actor feel power within himself again. 

Love is Powerful

At a press conference for "Eternals," Henry explained that the state of the world had him feeling pretty low, but the idea of playing an Eternal being who was also a Black man helped resurrect his spirits. Things have never been great for Black men in America, but the past few years have been especially publicly brutal on a national scale. Henry felt burnt out by all of the images of Black men in media and how they're portrayed, but Phastos felt like something invigorating:

"The thing that really attracted me to this part was that I just think about all the images of Black men out there and how we are portrayed. And what I love the most about Phastos is that one he's an ancestor. All of us are ancestors technically so Phastos predates everything, and had to probably go through all these things which could actually make someone lose faith in humanity very quickly. And I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity. We're just looking at all the things that we've been through and just what the images of Black men were and how we're being portrayed and how we like the power was taken from us like the lack of power or feeling powerful, and what I really loved the most about Phastos is that through all of that him being Eternal him never being able to die, he still chose love..."

There's something deeply powerful about choosing love in the face of hatred and injustice, but there was more to it than that. On top of getting to play such a powerful Black superhero, Henry found that he was joining a cast and crew that celebrated diversity. 

Squashed Superhero Size Concerns

One thing that concerned Henry before signing on was his weight. He had seen the transformations other actors had made for Marvel movies and was worried he might be forced to do the same. Instead, they told him that they wanted him exactly as he was:

"I remember the first time that they were like, we want you to be a superhero, I was like, 'Whoa, how much weight do I have to lose?' And [they were] like, ”What are you talking about, we want you exactly as you are and to be again to be a black man to have someone look at you and say we want you to exactly the way you are,' — it's unlike anything that I've ever felt, and so it just triggered me, to be an 11-year-old kid who is watching these superhero movies and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected. And I would take these posters and put them in my locker and just hope that you know one day there will be somebody representing me, and the way you know that I am and I truly believe that, that moment started when I sat with Chloé."

Now Henry is the one who kids will hang posters up of, and he'll be able to inspire a whole new generation of comic book fans. The family of the Eternals, comprised of so many different people from incredibly different backgrounds, gave him hope for the future:

"I just think that is the one thing that absolutely everyone takes away from this movie is that the heart of humanity is still worth saving. And we can still bind and mend and do everything we need to do love, and that's what Chloé showed."

"The Eternals" hits theaters on November 5, 2021.