For the last 16 months, Henson has been performing the role of Elder McKinley, a devout albeit closeted Mormon, in the national tour of The Book of Mormon, which comes to the Straz Center in Tampa from Nov. 12 to 24. Henson was chosen for the role in June 2012, just one month after he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in acting and musical theater. We caught up with the actor by phone on Oct. 25, during the show's stop at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans. "I know I've grown up a lot during the tour, but I don't think the role has changed me,'' Henson said. "Actually, that's not entirely true. Every once in awhile, something will come out of my mouth, and I'll think, 'Oops, a Mormon definitely wouldn't say that.' "
What's on your nightstand?
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I love it. It's really well-written. It's set in San Francisco and is about a guy who takes a job at a 24-hour bookstore. There are these mysterious club members that frequent the bookstore, talking about books that have codes. It's really a good read. I love the whole idea of conspiracy theories, and it seems like that's where this is going.
How did you find it?
I was in London and bought it at Heathrow Airport before my flight home. I assumed he was a British author, but he's American. I'm also reading The Buddha Walks Into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation by Lodro Rinzler. I've always appreciated meditation, but before reading the book I never understood it, and as an actor, it's beneficial. It can always be difficult keeping it fresh on stage, so I think a clear mind-set is necessary. The book has helped me realize the benefits of meditation being spiritual and a way to help find that inner peace.
Speaking of spirituality, when it comes to The Book of Mormon, do you think the same story would have been as successful if it focused on another religion?
Yes, I do. In a way the show takes on everything. There's no stone left unturned, but the thing about the Mormon religion that works so well in musical form is that we play on that stigma, that image, that they are so happy in the first place. When you look at (the universal) Mormon family, it already seems like musical theater.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected]