A decade ago, veteran stage actor Stephen McKinley Henderson mentioned to his friend and frequent collaborator, the playwright Stephen Adley Gurkis, that his life would be slow because of health problems.
You can’t quit yet, Gurgis told Henderson, because he writes plays with Henderson in mind.
Gurkis later admitted that this was a lie and that it was intended to frame his friend. But then he began work on the Tony Award-nominated play “Between Riverside and Crazy,” a play about Walter Washington, a widowed ex-cop evicted from his upper Manhattan apartment and seeking reparations for being shot by a white officer years earlier. The drama follows the son of a former police officer as he tries to rebuild his life after the loss of his mother from prison.
Henderson played Walter in two off-Broadway versions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Riverside” in 2015, while his screen career also rose with memorable roles in the film adaptation of the August Wilson play “Fences” and “Lady Bird.” “Dune.”
Now, at age 73, Henderson has received his first Tony nomination in the leading actor category. He spoke to The Times shortly after learning of the nomination. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Where were you when you found out you were nominated?
I’m in Toronto, I’m in a hotel. I am shooting for a limited series and I don’t have to work today. Anywhere would be a great place to ask about it. But it’s nice to be in Toronto, not too far from home — I live in Buffalo, New York. My wife called me and let me know, then I heard from my agent, then from my manager.
It’s funny to think that it all started when you told your friend that your career was on the wane.
Yes, that’s something. He didn’t want me to give up so easily.
How does it feel to be at the pinnacle of your career after so many years?
It’s a wonderful miracle, life itself. I am grateful to be one of those wonderful actors nominated and to be a part of this wonderful Broadway season.
You have been playing this role for quite some time. How did Walter Washington fare in the last run?
The last run was heavily influenced by realizing the son’s perspective as a policeman’s son. Before, I hung my hat on grieving for my wife, and that was still a part of it. But at this last moment, something about the son’s character struck me.
You are on stage for most of the play. How did you feel when a product was finished?
It was exciting and then exhausting after an hour and everyone was gone and I was alone. I don’t really go out – in times of Covid, hanging out and partying is not as smart as it used to be when I was younger. That was not part of my MO during this show. But there’s something about being on stage that allows you to not get tired, because you don’t have time to get tired.