Marcus Henderson has an acting portfolio that goes back as far as 2007. His most memorable roles are as Big Sid in the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained (starring with Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington) and Walter in Jordan Peele’s new race-provoking horror/comedy Get Out.
He just recently was a co-star in the Urban Movie Channel’s feature film Halfway, alongside Quinton Aaron of The Blind Side, which premiered on April 12. Now Henderson has joined the cast of Juanita, starring Alfre Woodard, a film involving The Wire director Clark Johnson.
No one can forget Henderson’s role as Walter, the groundskeeper, in Get Out. When the main character, photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), tries to maintain a sense of familiarity in Walter, he finds that his strange behavior is more than what it appears. In the end, Walter plays an integral role in Washington’s escape.
Henderson, a husband and father of two girls, ages 4 years and 7 months old, recently spoke with The Undefeated about Get Out, Django, Halfway, working with legends, brotherly love and his busy year.
Who inspired you growing up?
My mom. She said that she wasn’t proud of movies I’ve been in or what successes commercially in that sense. She was just proud to see that I was independent and I had my own family and I was taking care of things, being the man of the house and things like that. Whatever that’s supposed to mean, but I get what she means. It’s just that’s her definition of what being proud of me was. She’s been proud, so it’s like, ‘All right. Cool. Cool. I did something in this life. I made my mom proud.’
How was it like playing Paulie in Halfway and working alongside Quinton Aaron?
It definitely gave me an opportunity to showcase embodying a character fully. I’m not saying that none of my other characters aren’t embodied fully, but in Django, I got a little bit, just a little bit of, ‘Oh, I got your gun.’
He’s one of the characters who allow me to really grasp the concept of what it is to be in front of the camera and for the camera to capture everything, to make choices fully. Then it’s actually to represent a lot of people that I feel like I know. I know a lot of people in that situation who want to do better, but they’re just caught in the system that won’t allow it, that won’t allow them to play by their rules. It’s a humbling experience. It allows me to remember that there are people who are like Paulie.
Are you shocked by the success of Get Out?
Yes and no. No because from the very first day of shooting, Jordan said the word iconic. Iconic was just the word he used. No other word, and I believed him. So when Get Out came out, I felt like it was surreal because I’m thinking, all my other movies, ‘Come on. I was in a Quentin Tarantino movie,’ and I don’t even feel like it got that much attention. It was more controversy around it than it was actual, ‘Oh, man. This film is so good.’ It was more like, ‘Oh, why does Quentin Tarantino get to direct a movie about a black slave? Why does he get to do that? Why does he get to say the N-word so many times?’
How is it to work with Woodard and Foxx?
From going from watching people when you’re growing up to actually working side by side with them, it’s kind of surreal because you … I don’t like to set myself up with an expectation of who they should be or anything like that, but I always look to connect a little bit with that nostalgia of who this person was to me and what they meant to me. It’s such a great experience to learn from these veterans. You get to learn your own path through watching them.
There were certain things I didn’t even know, I got to do, until all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Jamie Foxx asked for X, Y and Z from the sound department and the camera crew, and then they’re all able to work together to make this scene happen. It’s not just about me standing here and saying my lines, it’s about really interacting with the crew, really understanding that everyone has their specific job and role to make this thing jump and highlight. Yeah, it was something that I find very useful to work with veteran actors that are still exploring and learning the art for themselves. It’s really nice, yeah. It’s really nice.
Alfre, she’s a person, she explores roles and she constantly evolves. She’s queen mother. She’s queen mother.
How was it working with Tarantino?
I’ve got to tell you, one of the things that surprised me, and especially after working with so many directors, is how caring Quentin is about his actors. He’s so full of character. In particular, I can give you an example. There was a scene at the beginning where we’re walking through the terrain, the woods or whatever, and he really wants to get a shot of our feet, but to protect us, they had these little prosthetic booties, they call them booties, feet made for us. We would walk on those as we did wide shots or shots of our faces, but he really wanted a shot of our feet. It was so cold outside, and it was freezing, absolutely freezing.
Then he ended up going and coming into the tent and talking to us. He’s talking to me and the other guys who were in the beginning, and he’s like, ‘Excuse me. Guys, I hate to do this to you, but I want to ask you. Do you mind if we do this shot without your booties on? Because we’re seeing that it’s prosthetic and this and that, and it would be a really great shot if we could get one without the booties.’ Me and my friends, we were kind of looking at each other, me and my castmates were looking at each other and, all of a sudden we’re thinking, ‘Why is he asking us?’ He could have just said, ‘Take these booties off. We’re going to do this shot.’
None of us were going to be like, ‘Oh, no. We ain’t doing that.’ It was many of our first movies, or our first go, or my first go-around, really, so I wasn’t going to be like, ‘No, man. I ain’t going to do that. It’s cold outside. My feet, it’d hurt.’ In the big scheme of things, this is Quentin Tarantino. I felt like I wasn’t going to mess up because whatever. We ended up taking them off and doing the job or whatever, and it was great. It was awesome. Like I said, I was working with directors who could care less, and they would be like, ‘Booties off.’
They wouldn’t care to ask us if we minded, but he did that, and that shows so much respect and care that it impressed me for the rest of my life, just because he was at that stature that we all buy into and he would come and say, ‘Hey. Do you mind?’ That, to me, is everything. Yeah, I would go to battle for Quentin. I would go to battle for him. That’s what it feels like.
What’s up next for you?
July 5, FX is dropping John Singleton’s new Snowfall, where I’ll be playing the neighbor of the main character played by Damson Idris. It’s a show about the rise of cocaine in the early ’80s in Los Angeles. I think it’s a great script, a really good story. These Belgian directors directed the first episodes that I was in, and then I did a few other ones with other directors. Yeah, they’re really good, top-notch guys that did a movie called Black. It was a Belgian movie called Black that’s really great.
Yeah, and then I’ll be doing Insidious 4. That’ll be out in August sometime, I believe. Yeah, 4. I’m a big fan of the first few movies that they’ve done, and then that’ll be my third Blumhouse movie. Getting into the Blumhouse family is really cool. Yeah, yeah. That’s what’s up next.
Me and my brother, we’re working on this pilot right now that I think really has some traction. I think it’s going to be going really well. I think some really great things. Maybe there’ll be a Get Out 2. Hopefully. The origins of Georgina and Walter.
What’s been the hardest part of your entire journey?
The hardest part of my entire journey is being a parent. As you know, there are books about it, but there is no specific book for one person to figure it out. We all have to figure out this journey on our own and in our own way. Having to do business on one side and really being in show business at least, it’s a lot of bringing yourself to the thing. Especially being an actor, you bring yourself to it all the time. That’s where you start.
It’s very different when you have a family and you are not necessarily jumping back and forth, but it’s a very interesting weaving of life. When I have to go away for weeks at a time or something I don’t get to see my family, and that’s hard. I think that’s one of the hardest things. I have such a humble beginning that everything is just an extra cherry on top of the ice cream for me. When it comes to life, I’m not set out to believe that this life was meant for struggle. I believe we’re all meant to live our best life and do what we can while we can. That allows me to just look at the bright side of things.
Are there any roles that you would love to do that you haven’t so far?
I love doing content that creates discussion, that creates conversation. As you look a lot of the movies that I’ve done and TV, you will see that there is conversation to be had about, in pretty much a lot of the things that I’ve been in, there’s always something to talk about, someone to reach out to, a different audience that it goes to. I like doing things that matter to me, pretty much. It’s funny because I don’t get sent out for a lot of comedy. It’s not like I’m going out and I’m on like TBS shows or ABC shows doing comedy or anything, but everything that you see me in, there’s something that is a little funny.
When I go to the movies and we go see a movie now and then or something, there’s laughter every time my scene comes up. I think that I would probably like to do a little comedy. I’m a really big fan of the Naked Gun and Airplane, those movies that the Zucker brothers did, and Police Squad and such. I’m a big fan. Me and my brother are big fans of those types of shows that, what’s the word? Absurdist. Absurdist kind of a comedy. I love that. Maybe I’ll be able to dip my hands in an absurdist show or two. I just got done doing a play, which is a pretty deep play, but I love doing theater. Theater’s my first love.
How close are you and your brother?
His name is Leon Henderson Jr. He’s a stand-up comedian. We’re both from St. Louis. Let me tell you something. My brother is four years older than me, and growing up, he was my hero. He still is in a lot of ways. My brother has always stood tall to me, even though I’m bigger than my brother. What had ended up happening was when I was 14 or so, he left to go to Thailand on a foreign exchange kind of thing. Whenever you leave home, I think, after high school, that’s when people really discover who they are and really get into tune with this life, how they operate within this life.
He learned life in Thailand, I feel like. He learned who he was in Thailand. When he came back, he had a really hard time adjusting to the things that Americans felt were important. He was just always dead set on traveling after that. He always wanted to travel, so he went to China. He went to all these places. I didn’t have my brother anymore, so then we spent a lot of years apart. We were close, but we weren’t close like that. We just didn’t really talk a lot, but one day, when I was at Yale and he had moved back to St. Louis after a trip to China, and he was working at FedEx, I think, and things weren’t going so well for that, he just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, should I say. I said, ‘Man, come to Connecticut and live with me. Live with me. I’ve got another year of school. We’ll figure this thing out together.’
He came. He took me up on my invitation and we stayed together in Connecticut. That bond started to grow stronger again. He’s my inspiration in a lot of the times. That’s hard to come by, especially for siblings. When they move away from each other, they’re not that close to each other. Me and my brother are very close. We live right down the street from each other.
He’s very close to my children. They call him Tio. Not Tio Leon. It’s just Tio. That’s another thing that makes my mother very proud. Both of her sons, her only two children, they’re in their 30s and they’re still tight. Anything my brother needs, I’m there for him.
What advice do you give to aspiring actors?
Don’t ever give up on something that you truly believe in. Just bring positivity, because there are people, there is a spectrum, and it’s a never-ending line on each side of the spectrum. You can go down far one end of it, and you can go far down the other end of it, but at the end of the day, you’re always going to be on the spectrum. You’ve got to understand where you are on that spectrum, but you can never give up on the dream in which the spectrum is based on.