To say that Joshua Henry has come full circle with his Tony-nominated performance as Flick in Broadway’s Violet would be the definition of an understatement. Back in 2003, when Henry was just a sophomore at the University of Miami, he landed his very first role in a college production. The musical was Violet and he was cast as, you guessed it, Flick. Get ready for another twist: The director was Michael McElroy, who played the original Flick Off-Broadway in 1997.
Playing Flick and working with McElroy was life changing. But would Henry have ever imagined that a little more than a decade later he would revive the very same part on Broadway opposite Sutton Foster and earn a Best Actor Tony nomination? “Not in my wildest dreams,” says Henry.
The actor knew instantly that the show, about a woman whose face is scarred from a childhood accident and the people who help her heal, was very, very special. “The first thing that hit me was the music,” Henry recalls. “When I found out I got the role, I studied that score like I’ve never studied anything before. I could sing you every note in it.” Up until then, the very inexperienced Henry was convinced that being an actor meant “putting on a mustache or altering your voice.” But as he explained, “Flick seemed so much of who I am. It was the first time I thought to myself, wow, you actually play characters that are sort of like you.”
Now with the Tony awards just weeks away and the rigors doing eight shows a week, things are busier than ever for the actor. Here he walks us through a day in his life.
I got up and went to the gym and ran five miles in 40 minutes. I was happy with my run because I got a really good time.
I went to a studio downtown where I’m working on a project for a music video. It’s an arrangement that I came up with of two Oscar nominated songs this past year. I won’t tell you which ones they are but they are two very famous songs. The message that comes out of both these songs is letting go of what you believe in the past in order to have a happier life. It’s really special to me because it promotes acceptance regardless of what you look like. It’s very much an “I Love New York” video. It has to do with how we New Yorkers hold our cards really close. This video is about letting your guard down a little bit to find more happiness. It’s going to be great because I’m using a lot of Broadway talent.
I had an audition for a really exciting project at HBO. I still audition a lot and try to give it 100 percent each time. This past January was pilot season and very busy for me. I’ve been going on a lot more film and television auditions. I started studying with Alan Savage, an acting teacher who’s awesome. He opened my eyes to a lot of great techniques for film and television. When I audition for a piece I try to find what in the character connects with me. The more I can connect myself to my character, the more it feels like you’re not really acting and it’s coming from you.
I walked to a meeting with the executive vice president of NBC, which is also very exciting. Between the subway and the streets, I probably walked like four miles.
I had to go to the Tony Awards office because I had to set up tickets. My family’s going to be coming into town. So I had to get that squared away.
I ran to the American Airlines Theatre [where we perform Violet] at 42nd Street because I had to get a haircut. Because I was running around so much, I didn’t have time to really sit down. I had just had a light Muscle Milk for lunch. So finally, when I got to the theater, I ate a salad from Pax with mixed greens, mushrooms, cranberries, and sesame ginger, one of my favorite dressings. Oh, that was good.
Every day before the show, I try to do the same ritual. I show up at the theater an hour before the show starts. I do some sun salutations, listen to meditative music, have throat coat ready and drink it a lot. It’s essential for doing eight shows a week. Then I make sure I’m really loose and warmed up. By 7:15, I can relax and just think about what I’m about to do on stage. I try to give myself a lot of time so that I’m not rushed with costumes and mikes.
I had a meeting with our director, Leigh Silverman. That ended just in time for half hour at 7:30. Thinking about Flick, I love his outlook on life. I love that he believes — even as an African American in the sixties in the south — that that his voice matters. He’s not defined by what people think about him. And he believes that in his heart.
At half hour, it can get a little crazy. People come to your dressing room and there are a lot of technical things that need to happen. I like to give some leeway if something happens like you get a stain or a rip in your costume. So that’s why I show up to the theater a little bit early.
One thing occurred during this show that usually doesn’t happen. Colin Donnell [who plays Flick's friend Monty] and I have this moment where we’re drinking and about to go into a dance club with Violet. And somehow we just started laughing. It lasted all the way through the dance scene. It made it more real for the moment.
After the show ends and the curtain comes down, I go right to my dressing room and immediately start warming down. I do vocal drills to stretch out my voice. It’s like a muscle, so you have to treat it like one like an athlete would their body. I warmed down and drank some tea and then headed right home after signing some autographs at the stage door. I always say I shut it down monk style. I don’t use my voice. There’s silence. Even at home at with my wife, if I want to talk to her, I get within a foot of her because I don’t want to expend my voice more than I have to. It’s that serious. When you’re doing shows eight times a week, you have to.
As soon I get home, part of my monk style shut down is ESPN. I have to watch at least half an hour of what’s going, especially right now. It’s the NBA Playoffs. A lot of times I’ll lay on the couch a half an hour before I go to bed. It just seems like the perfect transition. Also, for the last like two months, every night when I go home I have a sliced apple and crunchy peanut butter. I don’t know what it is but that snack is just doing it for me since I’ve started doing Violet. It’s healthy and you need something after performing.
If I can get to bed by 12:30, Josh has been a good boy. It’s hard for me to go to sleep, so I know I need to shut it down early. Sometimes I can go to bed and not fall asleep for another half an hour or so. If I’m usually in bed by 12:30am, 1am at the latest then I’m good.
Sleep. It was quite the day — straining yet invigorating at the same time. I guess that’s the story of New York. It can kill you but it gives you so much life. It’s very exciting. As crazy as the day was — and it’s probably one of my busiest days so far this year — I loved every minute of it. That’s why I not only love New York, but I love this business and I feel really, really blessed.