“What attracted me to the script was the simplicity of it, the silence of it. There were no scenes like, “Here’s the conflict, here’s the climax.” It was really just about being human and being,” Brian Tyree Henry says of his new film Causewayfor which he has already been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Performance by the Gotham Independence Film Awards.
Henry was visiting Palm Springs – after flying back to the US from Australia two days earlier, where he had filmed Godzilla vs. Kong sequel — in support of a Palm Springs International Film Society screening of Causeway last Friday hosted by Apple Original Films, A24 and The Hollywood reporter.
Directed by Lila Neugebauer, an award-winning director making her feature film debut, Causeway starring Jennifer Lawrence as Lynsey and Henry as James, two trauma survivors – she suffered a brain injury while serving in Afghanistan and he is a New Orleans auto mechanic coping with his own pain – who slowly open up to each other as they carefully explore a possible friendship. Written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders, the sensitive two-hander was produced by A24 and is currently streaming on Apple TV+.
Henry knew Neugebauer from their days at Yale, where she was a student while studying at the School of Drama. “We both saw something in each other that we would see each other someday, somehow, but I never thought it would be,” Henry says. “But when I saw the script and saw who was part of it, I jumped right in. I’ve always been a fan of Jennifer Lawrence and her craft and her ability to show humanity.”
Over the course of his film career, Henry – an Emmy nominee for his work on FX’s Atlanta — is adept at moving between intimate dramas such as: If Beale Street Could Talk and large scale action movies like Eternals and bullet train. Causeway offered the option to go back to a silent mode.
“James’ character was really attractive,” Henry says. “There was something about this man – it was easy to look at him and think that he was someone who was being tortured, that he was someone who was sitting on the floor. But I really wanted to understand how he got where he was because I know he didn’t start there I know there was some kind of spirit in James because of where he’s from, what he’s doing But then this tragedy came and changed him I wanted to explore what his grief was, explore how he dealt with loss What I didn’t know was the connection that would come out of Jennifer We honestly found out what the film really was between takes Really talking, berating each other, really being around each other and realizing that this is the essence is who James and Lynsey belong to.”
And not just between takes. Shooting was suspended in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID pandemic and only resumed in the summer of 2021. But during the closing, Lawrence and Henry continued to talk to each other and went even deeper into their characters.
“At one point, halfway through the pandemic, I realized she lived just over the hill from me,” explains Henry. “And we would check in together. But there was always the feeling that something wasn’t finished. So we called each other and said, ‘Let’s crack open this shit.’ We had many in-depth discussions about what we had been through and what losses we had suffered. The craziest thing was when we went back to New Orleans to finish it, everything was different. New Orleans was different, we were different. I think that was something we had to bring in, how we wanted to reconnect after so long in isolation and with our own thoughts. Let’s see what the real connection is between these two people.”
As he puts it, the effects of trauma and grief were central to both their discussions and their performances.
“There’s something weird that happens when trauma bonding happens,” explains Henry. “Because you bond with someone because of a big loss, a big weight, and you end up stuck there. What we wanted to find out is what it looks like on the other side. What if there comes a connection that’s just for two people is, for the moments when they are together, when trauma falls by the wayside? They actually see a light in connecting in a different way. That was a big part of what we came to do. It was a real collaboration with Lila and Jennifer to come together to tell this story.”