Ask Brian Tyree Henry why he wanted to star in new Apple TV+ film Causeway and he'll give you a straight, simple answer - Jennifer Lawrence.

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Henry cannot speak more effusively about his co-star, saying that as soon as he learned of her involvement, he signed on to appear in the drama, despite not knowing her personally.

"I've been a fan of Jennifer's for a long time, especially in her independent film days," Henry says. "So to see that she was coming back to do another independent film after being away for so long, kind of getting back to her roots, and me being a part of it, was just very exciting to me."

Calling Causeway an "independent film" might be an understatement. This is the independent film of all independent films, a slow-paced, quiet meditation of grief, trauma and friendship, with a minuscule cast and not a VFX shot in sight. An old-school drama with no camera trickery; just strong, subtle performances front and centre.

Raised voices are minimal and silences speak a thousand words. It's a far cry from Lawrence's days being painted blue for X-Men, or Henry's days "running after a lizard and a monkey for a little bit" - his words, not mine.

Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway.
Brian Tyree Henry as James and Jennifer Lawrence as Lynsey in Causeway. Apple TV+

Causeway tells the story of Lawrence's Lynsey, a soldier who returns home from Afghanistan having suffered a traumatic brain injury. As she struggles to return to her daily life, she meets James, a man struggling with his own personal trauma - the death of his nephew.

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The film comes from director Lila Neugebauer, with this being her debut feature following some TV work and a successful career in the theatre.

As it turns out, Neugebauer and Henry have history - the pair have known one another for 20 years, and she specifically asked for him for the role of James. Henry explained that everything coalesced to make this a project he couldn't refuse.

He says: "I've always wanted to work with [Neugebauer] in any capacity, because I think she's incredibly brilliant. We never got a chance to work on the stage together - we both did theatre in New York, and we just were two ships crossing in the night when it came to that. So when I was offered this part to work with her on this film, I had to take it immediately."

Henry was also impressed with the script, saying he was attracted by "how simple it was".

He explains: "It felt very quiet, it felt like a movie that was truly about two characters just having conversations with one another, just existing in space and time. There was nothing too overcomplicated about the text, there wasn't a lot of exposition, there wasn't a climax here and a conflict there.

"It was really, pretty much just a story about people trying to find their way and make a true connection with one another and a friendship. And that was very exciting to me."

Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway.
Brian Tyree Henry as James in Causeway. Apple TV+

Throughout the film we learn more about James, particularly with regards to his central trauma. He was involved in a car accident which led to his own leg being amputated and killed his nephew. And not only that - he was driving at the time.

Beyond this, we don't exactly get a deep dive on his backstory. As Henry notes, this isn't a film swimming in exposition.

I wonder whether this led to Henry fleshing out his character's backstory in his own mind. "Sure," Henry says. "Yes, because when you first meet James in this movie, by all looks he seems to be an ordinary man working at an autobody shop. We don't really know much about him and I think that was very exciting to me, to figure out what got him to where he is.

"And then once we peel back the layers, we see that there is a man who is incredibly weighted down by loss and grief and guilt, and I really wanted to figure out how he got there. What was his journey to becoming this man that was completely alone and isolated in his own way?

"And as we continued to tinker with the script and figure out how to unveil these different parts of James, we realised that a lot of the story came from our own personal lives."

The film first entered production in 2019 but was stopped twice - first by Hurricane Barry, then by the COVID pandemic. It finally re-entered production in 2021.

During this time, Henry notes that the film underwent extensive re-writes, to bring more focus onto James and the central relationship he has with Lynsey.

Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway.
Jennifer Lawrence as Lynsey in Causeway. Apple TV+

He says: "Before we went back to it, the story was pretty much following Lynsey and the people who were popping in and out of her life. There were never truly any scenes that had her truly connecting with somebody.

"And we realised that the one character that she probably would connect with the most was my character because in essence, he was also a person wandering through life the same as she was.

"So after 2020 happened, we sat down and were like, 'We have to come back and really branch out and figure out what this is.' And in essence, we realised that Lynsey's journey was complete because of her connection with James.

"And so we went back and filmed that, and discovered that not only was the story different, but we were different. We had taken this time off and we had dealt with our own losses, we had dealt with our own changes in our lives and so we in essence, kind of brought that to the story itself, which then opened it up in a completely different way to become the story you see now."

These changes weren't just made in the scripting stage. Henry reveals that the team would often sit together before shooting individual scenes, or even while on set, to work out "what walk we wanted these characters to take separately and together".

Henry says this approach comes from Neugebauer's theatre roots, calling her an "actor's director".

"I think she comes from such a deep theatre background, it allows her to be incredibly malleable when it comes to crafting scenes and figuring out characters," explains. "Because the theatre world is incredibly collaborative. That's why I love it so much is that it is a collaborative effort to create a story."

Jennifer Lawrence being directed by Lila Neugebauer in Causeway.
Jennifer Lawrence being directed by Lila Neugebauer in Causeway. Apple TV+

So what of Henry's main draw to the project, the reason he immediately signed up to take part? Well, it's fair to say he wasn't disappointed.

Lawrence is magnificent in the film - it's a complex, subtle, occasionally abrasive yet often heartbreaking performance. Off camera, Henry notes that, similarly to their characters, the pair grew close during filming, explaining how this also affected the finished film.

He says: "The beauty of what was going on with this movie is what was happening between takes. Our friendship was blossoming, our connection with each other was growing, and so in essence, that gave us a place to be as messy as we wanted to be whenever action was called. It gave us a place to feel safe, it gave us a place to wander truly.

"And then we realised that in that wander is where exactly James and Lynsey developed from. That's kind of what we wanted the most, was to show a friendship through all this tragedy and grief, a connection through the guilt. We wanted to see these two characters, in essence, find home in one another."

Early on in the film there are certainly inferences made on both parts as to how platonic this friendship is. One moment sees James call Lynsey his "girl" to fend off a lecherous drunk who is harassing her, leading him to clarify his intention to her. She reveals to him that she is gay, and their friendship continues as before.

In spite of moments such as this, Henry doesn't think James ever saw Lynsey as anything other than a friend. He says that "it's easy for it to be inferred that here you have a man, here you have a woman" but that there's "nothing more intimate than sharing grief because it kind of leaves nowhere to hide, honestly".

He continues: "What I like the most about James and his approach to Lynsey is that he sees a lot of himself. He sees someone who is struggling to find their footing and I think for a long time his character was going through that himself.

"I think that he was somebody who was wandering around lost on his own, in search of someone who would truly see him. And I think that when Lynsey comes along in his life, he sees someone that is just like him, and that gives him a place to kind of lay his burdens down a little bit."

Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway.
Brian Tyree Henry as James and Jennifer Lawrence as Lynsey in Causeway. Apple TV+

For anyone who has watched Causeway, it will come as no surprise that the film's ending is ambiguous and inconclusive. It sees Lynsey attempting to reconcile with James following a rift in their friendship, with an offer of beer and a determination not to go back to Afghanistan for "now at least".

She asks whether James would still consider her living with him, something he had suggested earlier in the film, before finally laying out the whole truth - "I'm trying to make a friend."

Asked whether he thinks it's a hopeful ending, Henry says: "I wouldn't even say it's a hopeful ending. I'd say it's a hopeful beginning."

He continues: "The possibility is what's there for these two people, who kind of threw possibility to the wind in their lives. You get to see them actually have a kind of longing for something else, a kind of possibility.

"Because you're dealing with two people who are labelled as the disabled and being told what they can't do anymore, or the places they can't go anymore, the things they're no longer able to accomplish. Or that they have to alter their lives in a way.

"And this possibility of something else isn't muscled, it's not something that is going to take away from anything, it actually is something that could give them a fresh beginning. And I think that that's what I love about this ending is you're actually watching the beginning of something rather than an ending."

Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway.
Brian Tyree Henry as James in Causeway. Apple TV+/YouTube

The ending appears to have been a sticking point throughout the film's development - "Man, if you knew the conversations we had about this ending!" - with Henry admitting multiple endings were conceived before the finished article was struck upon.

"That was the word that kept getting to us, is ending, like why does it have to be an ending?" he asks. "Why does the ending have to be the end?"

He continues: "So we sat down and really had several conversations of exactly where to bring James and Lynsey, and all we knew is that we wanted them to want more. Rather than wrapping this thing up in a nice little bow, we wanted there to be a sense of, and I don't want to just use the word hope, but a sense of of aspiring for something bigger.

"Even in how simple the request is - we see her walking down the street with a six pack, and all of a sudden James just happens to be on the porch. And I'm like, 'Well, that's their friendship, right? They show up in each other's lives exactly when they need to be there.' And we really wanted there to be a well of opportunity for a possibility of a beginning to be there.

"I don't know where they end up but I do know that they at least end up in some way with each other, in each other's lives, with that kind of extending, like 'Hey, I want a friend.' And that gave me hope for them."

Brian Tyree Henry as Al and Donald Glover as Earn in Atlanta.
Brian Tyree Henry as Al and Donald Glover as Earn in Atlanta. FX

When it comes to the future, Henry certainly isn't short of exciting projects on the horizon. Next up for UK viewers will likely be Atlanta season 4, the final instalment in Donald Glover's experimental drama which has already aired stateside. Henry has one word to tease that particular season: "Epic".

Further down the line, Henry is also returning to work with Apple TV+ on a series called Sinking Spring, adapted from the Dennis Tafoya novel Dope Thief. The limited series is being adapted by Peter Craig and executive produced by Ridley Scott, and Henry notes it is going to be "very different from Causeway".

"It's gonna be incredibly great," he says, but admits that categorising it is difficult. "I want to say that it's a… crime, drama, comedy… dramedy? But Peter Craig is an amazing writer and to work with Ridley Scott is just next level for me, so I'm very excited about that."

Then, of course, there's Eternals. Henry made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Chloé Zhao's bold, divisive, epic superhero film, and while he has no concrete news on a follow-up, it certainly appears that he's keen to reappear as Phastos whenever the opportunity arises.

On the possibility of another instalment, he says: "I wish I knew. They know that I'm down, but I don't know yet. I hope so because I loved making that film. It was really great to do, and to be a superhero - I'm never gonna say no to doing that again."

Causeway is streaming on Apple TV+ now – you can sign up to Apple TV+ here.

If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our dedicated Film hub for all the latest news.

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