NEW YORK — Flowers are blooming for Stephen McKinley Henderson. For those in the know, the former Buffalo University professor is one of the greatest actors of his generation, but his career has been largely unsung until now.
With a role-rich career spanning five decades on and off stage, Henderson has finally achieved leading man recognition with a 2023 Tony Award nomination for his performance in the revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Between Riverside and Crazy.” His sole nomination until now was a supporting actor nod in 2010.
The honor comes in a season rich with long overdue rewards. Henderson received the Harold Prince lifetime achievement award from the Drama Desk organization earlier this week, and last month he accepted a lifetime achievement award during the 2023 Lucille Lortel Awards. Being recognized later in his career has special significance for the star.
“You know, it’s really meaningful because you’ve been doing it a while,” Henderson told The Daily News of the honors. “It’s for all the time, it’s not for the one time that everybody thought you were a hit, when everybody said, ‘You’re OK.’ It’s all the times you tried to figure out what it’s about, where you were, and why you are doing this. It’s for the whole journey. So I really, really absorb that.”
Though the Julliard alum has reigned supreme on the stage, filmgoers know him from appearances in “ Dune,” “Fences,” “Lincoln,” and “Lady Bird,” and TV viewers have seen him in shows such as “The Accidental Wolf,” “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” and “Fear the Walking Dead.”
The 73-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, native, currently appearing in the horror comedy “Beau Is Afraid” with Joaquin Phoenix and Patti Lupone, is now shooting “The Madness” in Toronto. The series, set in the Pocono Mountains, revolves around a media pundit defending his innocence and his life after he stumbles upon a murder.
Filming the new series affords him to be home in the Buffalo suburbs with his family. Last May, when the Tops supermarket mass shooting occurred, Henderson happened to be on break from filming the upcoming movie “Civil War.”
The tragedy hit home for Henderson, who used to frequent the area once a month, joining an old buddy to cash his check and eat Chinese food from the eatery next door.
“Everybody knew somebody, the six degrees of separation is very true,” he said.
Though being so close to the shooting was “tough,” Henderson was glad to be home with his wife. “A lot of times you’re away on work when things and events occur in the life of America that you say, ‘Oh gosh, I wish I were home to be with the loved one to get through this.’”
McKinley also recognizes, 50 years into the start of his career, that he’s lucky to be busier than he’s ever been.
“I’m blessed and grateful,” he reflected. “And to have three grandkids and have a family to have been able to have a family you know that’s still speaking to me, you know, and have a career that people acknowledge about your work, my cup runneth over.”