Originally Posted Thursday, April 11, 2007
An interview with Stephen McKinley Henderson, who plays Elmore in King Hedley II:
What attracted you to the role of Elmore?
I was not particularly attracted to the role of Elmore. I had seen Charles Brown essay the role wonderfully in the Broadway production. My attraction was to being a part of another Signature revival. I was willing to serve the play and the season because August's works are both challenging and fulfilling. This experience epitomizes that for me.
How did you approach the role of Elmore?
I simply opened up to him. The role is so gloriously written, I found him by seeking him out. He wasn't hiding at all.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I don't know if I do anything interesting in terms of ritual. I do the same things but in varying order. I do say a prayer in Arabic, Latin, and Hebrew before I go on... nah, just kidding.
How does audience response affect you during a show, if at all?
The audience affects me by sending back the energy we send out. Whatever form they send it back in is fine with me. It is when they are not responding to what we are sending out, but conversing about it with each other that we have something detrimental going on. The audience is always frank and opinionated with a Wilson play because he touches them where they aren't normally touched. Sometimes they love it, sometimes they don't.
What has your experience of being in King Hedley been like?
The inexhaustible layers of meaning in the play continue to amaze me. I have benefited from hearing the play from two perspectives. Having done Stool Pigeon first and now Elmore, I marvel at August's craft as a playwright and affinity for his characters.
How did this experience compare to working on the Broadway production of King Hedley II?
King Hedley II was my first Broadway show and now that theater is The August Wilson Theater. Those facts make the first time occupy a unique place in my journey. This production is a labor of love because of the memories we are making. They don't compare, they complement each other.
What has your experience been working on more then one show this season at Signature Theatre Company?
I have had an embarrassment of riches in so many ways at the Signature this season. I had brief but meaningful conversations with Lee Blessing, John Guare, and Romulus Linney. I worked with Ruben Santiago-Hudson on Seven Guitars and the Signature Gala, being a part of a wonderful company of actors from all of the plays who will proudly wear Signature Series Merchandise for years to come. I have been in rare company this season and I am grateful for it.
What was your first experience with August Wilson's work?
The first Wilson play I did was Joe Turner's Come and Gone for the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo, NY. It remains a cherished memory.
How did you become interested in the theatre?
Love of poetry led me to the theater. Fear of singing in public led me to dramas.
How did you get started in acting?
I was encouraged to speak in public when I was very young after I did an Easter poem. I also would describe parts of movies to my brother who missed some important dialogue off camera. He was deaf and though he could read lips amazingly well, there was always something in the storyline that he hadn't grasped because of off camera lines at certain points. I really got into giving him this reenactment. His two favorites were, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and A Patch of Blue.
If you weren't an actor what other profession would you be interested in?
I would love to be someone who is trusted to clean and revitalize classic art works on canvas, on walls, reliefs, sculptures, tapestries. I would take great pride in going to ancient cites or museums and being allowed into rooms that patrons never see where delicate restoration is performed. Yea, I would spend private time with great works of art and those who cherish them would know that I was a true friend of Culture.
What will you be working on next?
I just finished a pilot for Fox Television called New Amsterdam. I hope to be working on that this summer if fortune smiles.