The latest adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is now on Amazon Prime; and now a new generation will be able to experience the story in a whole new way. One of the cast members bolstering the show’s roster is Brad William Henke, known for his wide range of character roles, including on Orange is the New Black its Desi Piscatella and now on The Stand as Tom Cullen.
Taking to the screen as Tom Cullen, Henke manages to portray a very different role from many he has done in the past. Set in a world ravaged by plague, and now embroiled in a struggle between good and evil, this limited series gives Henke some time to flex his acting muscles in new and exciting ways. With this in mind, CGMagazine got the chance to talk to him over a call, to discuss his career, the characters he brings to the screen, and how he took to this new role.
CGmagazine: You’ve had a pretty exciting career in the last little while, and have been part of some major shows. How has that been?
Brad William Henke: I take the recognition very well. I’ve been acting for a long time, so it’s nice to finally be working with top actors, top writers, top directors, and roles that challenge me.
CGmagazine: You recently finished a run on Orange is the New Black—where you were one of the standout characters—and now you’re going over to The Stand where it’s a much more dark, gritty type of experience. How was that?
Brad William Henke: Kind of going from two really high profile roles, but very different. I mean, it was great to just be able to show range and, well…Orange might be a lighter show. My character was heavier and on this show, but my role is kind of the heart of the show.
CGmagazine: How has it been working with some major names on The Stand, and how has it been working with such a major talent in the industry as a whole?
Brad William Henke: I’ve worked with Sean Penn and I’ve worked with Maggie Gyllenhaal. I’ve worked with Jeff Bridges. So I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great actors. It was just great to be in a situation where there were so many of them on both shows and the writing was so good, because that brings out the best in me.
CGmagazine: Were you a fan of Stephen King’s work before being a part of the show?
Brad William Henke: Was I a fan of Stephen King’s work? I wasn’t a fanatic, you know what I mean? I really like Steven. I didn’t know when I saw Shawshank Redemption that Stephen King wrote that. I was really a big fan of his diversity and I was just a fan of how prolific he is. I was just honored. In the middle of the shooting his son actually told me that he liked what I was doing with the character. So that was really nice.
CGmagazine: Did you read the book before being a part of the series?
Brad William Henke: No. I hadn’t read the book before I was offered the role. And then I read all the scripts first; and then I read and listened to the book on tape. Cause it’s like a thousand pages long. When I was driving to Vancouver to shoot it, I listened to it on tape. So if I was driving in the car, I was listening to it. And if I was not, I was reading it.
CGmagazine: Once you read it, were you a fan of the book? Did it draw you in even after you were already part of the show?
Brad William Henke: Yes. I was trying to grow into it, you know what I mean? That’s what I had the scripts for; and so it was fun to read the book because it was just like extra things I could add to my character, extra things I could add to my backstory. So reading the book was just knowledge for me.
CGmagazine: Now, for people that don’t necessarily know this story or don’t know Stephen King, what should they expect? What will they get jumping into The Stand and will it be surprising?
Brad William Henke: Yeah, it will be surprising. You know how my character is a little isolated, in his mind and everything, so I kind of stayed a little isolated, even though the cast were really nice people. I’ve just been watching the show as a fan and I can’t wait to watch the next episode, what happens to the people? And I’m like, “oh man, Chavonne is a great actor.” I didn’t do any scenes with them, so I didn’t know that, do you know what I mean? And he’s awesome. I’ve been watching it; first of all, the acting’s great. The writing’s great.
CGmagazine: What brought you to the show? How did you get to the role? As you mentioned, you were not a fanatic. What made you want to take it?
Brad William Henke: How did I get the opportunity? Ben Cavell offered me the role, he and Taylor had both written for me when I was on Justified—so I knew them through Justified. And then I had also done Sneaky Pete, which Ben was a part of. So, you know, if they call me for a job, I’m going to take it because they always do great work. They always have great characters for me. And if you look at my character in Justified, Sneaky Pete and The Stand, they’re all completely different. And then when I read it, I was like, “Oh my God”, but I could either be terrible or awesome at this role, really nothing in between. So that was exciting.
CGmagazine: How do you get into your characters? How do you find the way they will be portrayed? And is it a collaborative effort or do you kind of try to bring your own concepts to everything you play.?
Brad William Henke: I try to go with what’s written. You know when an actor goes, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” that’s cool because you don’t know your character. So you got to figure out why your character says it. I think that’s half the fun of it. Changing it to talk like me, every role you would see, I would be just like me. It’d be boring, right? At first, I was learning the business; and then I’m, you know, trying to get jobs and then I’m just trying to make money, you know? I mean, I’m still being an artist, but still I’m trying to survive. Lately I’ve just tried to do it for the love of it. Just cause I love creating the characters—figuring out how they talk, how they stand, all the physical things and all the emotional things.
“The Stand was kind of draining just because I was just completely by myself all the time.“
So honestly, my new technique—which I just started doing a few years ago—it’s read the script a few times before I start, then I hire someone to run lines with me. Then I will start to think about my ideas about the scene, because most of the time when you just run it for two hours and you just try it different ways, try it every way, try it right away. It kind of forms itself.
You know how with Tom, I felt like he was isolated. And then I knew someone in my life who had had a head injury. A blood clot had popped in their brain when they were in college and he was really frustrated. So I tried to bring all those different colours to it. Not just some simple, happy dude. You know what I mean?
CGmagazine: What was your most emotionally draining role and why?
Brad William Henke: Most emotional? Split was kind of emotionally draining. I haven’t even watched it. Do you know what I mean? Actually this last one, The Stand was kind of draining just because I was just completely by myself all the time. I did that to myself and then it was in Vancouver and it was rainy and the suns never coming out, and I’m just trying to stay in this mood. Like that was pretty draining just because I was so isolated. Um, Which one do you think would be draining?
CGmagazine: Just looking at it, as I mentioned, Orange is the New Black. Your character went through some things and it looked like it was a struggle, even just watching your role.
Brad William Henke: Yeah, but that was an acting gift, do you know what I mean? Just cause, first of all, people don’t know everything about my character. When everything about my character comes out, people are shocked, you know? So I had to do a good job of not showing that to people, but then when people find out they’ll believe it, you know what I mean?
CGmagazine: Anything else that you want to kind of just leave readers with as they might be going into this season and show and looking at your other work?
Brad William Henke: Like I said, I think I can recommend the show. I wouldn’t if I didn’t, I would just say nothing, you know what I mean? So I really recommend seeing it. I really think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. And I was really into every episode I’ve watched. I can’t believe that happened.
CGmagazine: Thank you so much for your time today.
Brad William Henke: No, thank you.
You can read the full interview in the next issue of CGMagazine