‘Fame is a weird maze to nav­i­gate, there’s no guide­book’

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - WEEKEND TV -

There is more than one way to be robbed. That ap­pears to be the main les­son when At­lanta re­turns for a sur­real, cre­ative and am­bi­tious sec­ond se­ries. There is lit­eral rob­bery, when rap­per-on-the-rise Pa­per Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is shaken down by his own drug dealer, but there is also the theft of pri­vacy, dig­nity and sense of self.

The first se­ries bagged cre­ator Don­ald Glover both a Golden Globe and a cou­ple of Emmy Awards, and now the show is back for a sec­ond out­ing, dubbed “At­lanta Rob­bin’ Sea­son”.

“It’s very much lit­eral and metaphor­i­cal at the same time,” Henry (36) says. “Al­fred (Pa­per Boi’s proper name) is go­ing through this sea­son with a lot of recog­ni­tion, so in his own way he’s be­ing robbed of his anonymity be­cause now peo­ple know who he is. Peo­ple are shout­ing, ‘Pa­per Boi’ from across the street, peo­ple are telling him that they hear his song on the ra­dio.”

The show fol­lows Al­fred and Earn (played by Glover) as they try to make it in the music in­dus­try, Al­fred as Pa­per Boi and Earn as his hap­less man­ager. While the first se­ries of At­lanta buzzed with lazy — but vi­brant — sum­mer sun­shine, the sec­ond is filled with an eerie dark­ness and hus­tlers do­ing any­thing to get ahead.

“Rob­bin’ Sea­son” refers to a real pe­riod of time in the city, right be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas, when theft and rob­beries in­crease.

“The open­ing was the most per­fect way to just alert ev­ery­one that what they are view­ing is Rob­bin’ Sea­son. This is how it’s go­ing down, man,” Henry says. “That is what I like about the shock and awe value of At­lanta. When you think you know what is go­ing on, you don’t know what’s go­ing on at all.”

So, while Al­fred and Earn may be on the rise, that success brings with it alien­ation and dis­il­lu­sion­ment. In fact, there are few shows that de­pict dis­ap­point­ment and fail­ure like At­lanta does.

“You nor­mally see where the pro­tag­o­nist wins in the end and you hold up the crown and ev­ery­one is, like, hur­rah,” Henry says. “There is very much that con­cept of fame — es­pe­cially when you’re up-and-com­ing as an artist of colour.

“Fame is such a weird maze to nav­i­gate. It kind of feels like that maze at the end of The Shin­ing. In the first sea­son, if some­body would cross Al­fred, or did some­thing he thought wasn’t right, he could just go off and back­hand them, but now there are a lot of peo­ple look­ing up to him. And that is re­ally hard for him to un­der­stand, be­cause no­body has re­ally given him the guide­book of how to nav­i­gate fame.”

The first se­ries starts with him jump­ing out of a car to shoot some­body, but the rest of the episodes go about prov­ing Al­fred is not the thug, or gang­ster, you might at first think.

“There are all kinds of things that led him to get to where he is. He has heart, he’s some­body’s cousin, some­body’s best friend, some­body’s con­fi­dant. I re­ally wanted to fo­cus on those things be­cause it is very easy RIS­ING STAR: for me to put on a polo and a gold chain and all of a sud­den I’m la­belled as a thug, I’m la­belled as a threat.”

In­deed, born in Fayet­teville, North Carolina, Henry has been swerv­ing stereo­types since he started out on Broad­way in Book of Mor­mon af­ter study­ing at Yale Drama School.

“Act­ing is my job. It’s my craft — it’s what I love to do and I refuse to be pi­geon­holed by any kind of stan­dards that peo­ple hold up to say that, if you’re go­ing to play this, then you have to look this way. We are in a time that rep­re­sen­ta­tion is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and diver­sity is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.

“It’s al­ways been im­por­tant, but it’s all about the sto­ry­teller now. It’s re­ally about how we come out un­apolo­get­i­cally and lay th­ese stories out in front of you and you can take from the buf­fet, or you can sit your ass down some­where else. I love that.”

Fin­ger­ing his beads, he adds: “I think there are no ac­ci­dents. This hap­pened when it was sup­posed to hap­pen and I’m re­ally glad that I was a part of this kind of re­nais­sance.

“Peo­ple are al­ways like, ‘You’re hav­ing a mo­ment’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not hav­ing a mo­ment, we are hav­ing a move­ment’. We charge in and knock down ev­ery wall. The show is so quintessen­tially black, but at the same time the ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing a black per­son around the world can res­onate with any­one.

“We all know what its like to be over­looked, we all know what in­jus­tice looks like, we all know what it feels like to be the un­der­dog.” At­lanta: sea­son 2, Fox, Sun­day, 10pm

Brian Tyree Henry in At­lanta

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