Interview with Actor, Joshua Henry
Ted Sod: Where were you born? Where were you educated? When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
Joshua Henry: I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. I left when I was three. My parents went to Miami, and that's where I grew up. I attended the University of Miami, where I studied musical theatre-it was the only school I auditioned for, which probably wasn't the smartest thing, but I got in, and I knew after the first day of being there that this is what I could do until I was old and gray. I was obsessed with acting, singing, and dancing. It's funny that I'm doing this production now because the first school production I was involved in was Violet.Michael McElroy, who was the original Flick off-Broadway back in '97, directed me in the role that he played years earlier. That was my first real performing experience in college. That experience gave me many tools. Michael, who I look up to, showed me what it took to be a professional in musical theatre.
TS: I'm curious about what you make of Flick and the relationship he has with Violet. For a story set in the South in 1964, it's rather fascinating.
JH: I think Flick is a man of character. We find out that his mother bestowed on him some great qualities. Qualities like: even when it's not popular, you can be yourself; you can have a voice; what you have to offer is very important. Those are the things that Flick is built on that were contrary thoughts to many concerning African-Americans in the south in the 1960s. For him to be advising a white woman, whom he finds an attraction to, takes bravery. He decides he's going to give advice to this girl, and he ends up seeing things in her that he truly admires. It's such a unique relationship, and I think we don't know what happens after the piece is over. But we do see that they are willing to take a very courageous stand at that time.
TS: What do you think he sees in Violet?
JH: He sees somebody who's not happy with herself and is seeking outside sources to find happiness. I think what Flick has learned throughout his life as an African-American in the sixties is that if you always look outside of yourself to find happiness, you're in for a world of trouble. That's something that I happen to believe. Happiness is important, but I think Flick knows happiness is something you find inside of yourself. There's a beautiful lyric that he sings: "You have to give yourself a reason to rejoice. The music you make counts for everything." I think he sees in Violet someone who has not really gotten a hold of that. What's attractive about her is that she doesn't seem to care who he is. I think he is overwhelmed by her passion later on, and he realizes the strength that she has. And I think that really piques his interest.
TS: There's a moment in the two-act version where Violet casually uses the n-word and Flick moves away from her and Monty. What do you sense is going on there?
JH: I'm not sure it's Violet that uses that word in this version, but there is definitely a moment where she offends him racially. I think that's a very deep burn for Flick because Violet has piqued his interest at this point. It's a big moment where Flick has to swallow his pride and really go back to what his mother told him: "It doesn't matter what people say. You are very important. It doesn't matter what people think about you. You are a unique individual." It's a moment for him to count from one to ten, so to speak. We do see him actually get back in the fold quickly-which is a testament to how thick-skinned he (like Violet) has had to be.
TS: What do you make of the relationship between Flick and Monty?
JH: It's such a big brother/little brother dynamic because Monty is just reckless. Monty is literally a kid who Flick cares about. They're both soldiers, and that relationship is also unique because as black and white soldiers, they're in this thing together. They need each other, and all of a sudden they end up competing over this girl, Violet. So when you have a big brother/little brother relationship and there's a little bit of a rivalry in there as well, it's a very touchy thing. Because you get the whole "guy" code being messed around with.
TS: What kind of research do you do as an actor to enter the world of the play?
JH: I've researched a lot of the Civil Rights Movement. I just did a reading of My Dream, which is the story of Martin Luther King and I played Dr. King, so I had to research a lot of that time period. That's a time period that is very important to me. It's filled with people who had so much hope. I think that's what I take from that moment-hope. And I don't know if the people at that time knew how big it was going to be. I think about, what is Flick sitting on? How much is he aware of that time period which he's in? How does he have the confidence to approach someone like Violet in the way that he does?
TS: Can you tell us what it was like doing the reading at Encores! this past summer?
JH: It was like a rock concert. It felt like it was the return of a cult classic. And that was a great thing to be a part of. We only did two performances of it, but the audience's response was tremendous. I've never experienced anything like it in my seven years of performing onstage in New York. The subject matter deals with things that we all have to deal with at some point. The themes in Violet are universal: accepting yourself with all of your flaws, moving on, and the forgiveness and freedom that comes along with that. You know, we all have issues in our lives that need to be addressed and that we have to move past, and I think audiences really connect with that. And when you have that with a phenomenal score as well, I think you've got yourself a great musical.
TS: What do you look for in a director?
JH: I think it's nice when you come into the room and the director has a plan, a vision of exactly what he or she wants the piece to be. Because when that happens, then you feel safe. You feel safe to make choices and to do something big and just fly because there's a structure around you. I like directors who come ready to challenge you to ask the right questions about your character and I know that directors appreciate that in actors as well. I look for someone who's going to make you feel that you're a part of the decision-making. Clearly the director has the final say, but any director who makes you feel like your input matters, that's someone you want to work with, because it is a collaborative art form.
TS: Did you find major differences between the two-act and one-act versions?
JH: When we did the ninety-minute version, it felt so right. I didn't feel like I was missing anything because the action moved forward naturally. There are a couple of differences, but nothing that I felt; "Oh, wow, the audience is really going to miss that," or the audience won't get the point of the story if we don't put this back in.
TS: Is there a question you wish I had asked you that I didn't?
JH: I have to talk about Sutton Foster because I've been a big fan of hers since I began studying theatre. I came up to New York to do The Wiz, and after that production, she Facebooked me, and I was like: "What? Sutton Foster Facebooking me? Let me just relax and read this message." She wrote: "You really were incredible on that stage; I couldn't get my eyes off of you." Sutton's so sweet. And you know, I joke around all the time with my wife because I've always had a crush on her. She's just one of those actresses that a lot of great things happen to, and you feel like she deserves it. She's so talented and this role is going to show audiences Sutton Foster in a way that they've never seen her before. I really have a lot of respect for her, and I'm thrilled to be working with her again on Violet.
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