Bria Samoné Henderson Gives The Inside Scoop On The Good Doctor - Exclusive Interview

Bria Samoné Henderson thrives on portraying strong characters. From trailblazing feminist and Ms. Magazine editor Margaret Sloan on "Mrs. America" to her current role as Dr. Jordan Allen on "The Good Doctor," Henderson's characters have been headstrong women unafraid to speak their minds and live their truth. And while Henderson chooses roles that resonate with her personally, she's not one to be typecast: Her characters may have strong personalities, but they are as different from each other as they are similar. Margaret Sloan was a proudly out lesbian in an era when homosexuality was taboo, while Jordan Allen is a devout Baptist whose faith fuels her career.

And Henderson has other projects — and equally fascinating new characters — in her sights as well. In this exclusive interview, she shares her life on the set of "The Good Doctor," the lessons she's learned from A-list luminaries, and her big plans and ambitions for the future.

She sees a lot of herself in her character, Dr. Jordan Allen

First of all, your role as Jordan Allen — what attracted you to that?

I just remember getting the breakdown last year, the character breakdown and just reading that she was a full-figured woman, and she was also very confident and fashionable and a hustler and an entrepreneur. And it just reminded me so much of me, and being in this industry and being a plus-size, dark-skinned black woman in this industry is tricky. It's tricky. And there's a certain way you have to navigate it. And a lot of times when we get character breakdowns, it's never positive like that. It never really exudes the diverseness of black women. And so when I got that breakdown in juxtaposition to the others where it's like, "Oh, you're the fat funny best friend or you're the fat person who's very insecure about her size or you're not the love interest," this was so different. I just knew that when I'm ready, I said, this sounds like me. And that's what I think piqued my interest.

And you partly answered my next question: Which ways are you like your character and different from your character?

I think Jordan speaks out a little bit more. I feel like people who know me will also say that I do, too, but I just don't think I do it as boldly as Jordan would do it. She just chooses any time if she has an opinion, she's just going to say it. If she feels like she has the best advice to give to a coworker or a patient, she's just going to say it. She's that kind of person who crosses boundaries when it's appropriate. But it's also that thing where it's like for Bria, I would be uncomfortable. I would have the thought, of course, but I wouldn't necessarily be so bold to let it just spill out of me.

But our similarities, I was raised in a Christian household. I'm very spiritual. And Jordan's also a Baptist, so that love of God and love with spirituality and that being the center of who she is and what guides her, I think we connect in that way. We definitely meet in the middle with that. And her hairstyles. Jordan's really big with her hairstyles, her fashion. And hair has always been a part of my life and just being a black woman, and hair has just been, it's always been a thing for me. So that's also fun bringing that piece of who I am to Jordan as well because it just makes sense for Jordan.

She's a huge fan of Grey's Anatomy

So what is it like for you to work on a medical drama? Have you always liked medical dramas?

So medical dramas — I have been a huge fan of "Grey's Anatomy" for a really, really long time. I remember when I first went to grad school in Seattle, Washington — I went to the University of Washington — and I was so alone and I was in a different part of the world. I left Atlanta, Georgia, where I did my undergrad time. And then I went straight to Seattle, and there was just two different worlds, two different coasts. And I just remember being depressed because I was just lonely. I just didn't feel like I knew anyone or no one really understood me. And so I took to Netflix to move through my depression because when you're in grad school for acting, you do not have time to have a therapist. You don't have time to do health checks.

You're just in school. They take all of your life and hours. So the only time I actually had was when I was done with homework or very late at night. I would just watch either "The Office," "Walking Dead," or "Grey's Anatomy." And I chose the shows that had the longest amount of seasons, so I could just get lost in them. And I ended up really enjoying "Grey's Anatomy" because of how they also just give so much space for the characters and who they are outside of the medicine. And Chandra Wilson is someone I've watched for years who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey. So it's really weird. It's kind of like a thesis moment of watching this Black woman who was just always just so fierce on camera and still is. Miranda Bailey is still a force on "Grey's Anatomy," and that's someone you will always remember in that show. And then to come into another medical role and play another fierce Black doctor is an honor. It's an honor. And also aligned with who I am. But that's the only medical drama I've really watched and been a fan of. Medical dramas are a very specific world that I'm still learning to get used to. Because there are other genres that I would love to be a part of and working towards being a part of.

She digs deep to understand her characters

What's a typical day like on the set of "The Good Doctor"?

You wake up really early, and you head to set. And as soon as you get the set, you go right to hair and makeup, and that's almost two hours. And then you go onto set to rehearse and block with the director for that episode. You put your thoughts out about what you think is happening with your character, how it works and fits in the storyline. You block it, you show everybody so everyone's clear, lighting's clear, camera people are clear, everybody's clear about what's happening. And then you head back to your trailer. You get dressed in your costume for the day, and then you come back and you start shooting. And shooting can be from three to six hours at a time for each scene, depending on what we're doing. And then on surgery days — so when we're filming surgery, that's a whole other ball game. Luckily, we're in really comfortable clothes because you're standing up for hours, you're doing the same lines and you're faking all of these procedural things and stuff, but it can be fun. It's like being in like biology class all over again.

What do you like most about being on the show?

What do I like most about being on the show? That's a good question. Hmm. Let me think, what I like most. I think I like when I get to meet different directors, and I'm learning more of my process. I feel like for an actor, your process always changes and evolves with you. And so for this show, I'm always just trying to make sure that I don't get lost in the medical world of it. That also besides being Dr. Jordan Allen, she is a full person. She has a life outside of the hospital and how to bring that in, in a natural way. So I enjoy really playing with guest stars, and I love playing with different directors, too.

What can you tell us about the rest of the season? Are there any hints that you can share?

Not any hints, but also, we just had the winter finale last night, and I know a lot of the fans were like, "What's about to happen?" It feels like a big face-off between Dr. Lim and Salen Morrison. And I'm excited to see that, too. But I think so far, this season has given us a lot of twists and turns, and what we think is going to happen, something different happens. And I just say, look forward to more of that.

Working with A-listers boosted her confidence

Moving to some of your other stuff: You previously worked on "Mrs. America" with a lot of A-list actors and people like Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne. What was that like?

Yes. Also with Niecy Nash and Uzo Aduba, who I really enjoyed working with. That was my first-ever booking. That was me straight out of grad school a year later. That was my first gig that I booked. And it was, honestly, I still can't believe that happened. It just went by so fast that I was just caught up in being so enamored by the opportunity that I don't think I stayed as present as I wish I would have. But that's what happens sometimes. You get these big bookings and you're like, "Is this real?" And the whole time there I'm like, "Is this really real?" But it was amazing to work with A-list actors like that who would just show me where I know my career will go one day, and I was able to handle it on my own.

Even though I was so nervous, it was great. And I loved those kind of stories too, period pieces where we can go back and really dive into the past and bring to life people that you may not know. I played Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and I know a lot of people don't even know who she is. I had no idea who she was when I auditioned for her. But to know the groundwork that she laid for Black women like me, it was an honor to play her and to bring her to life on screen for the first time.

What Bria learned from the Mrs. America set

So what was it like playing her? Did it surprise or intimidate you? Did you learn anything from it?

Oh yes. It was very intimidating. I had to do a lot of research, which I love. I had to really snoop and find and dig because there's not a lot of information on her on the internet. But I was able to find an old interview she did on this '70s show, back in the day, where she was talking about the work she was doing with the National Black Feminist Organization. It's just her as a writer and a feminist. And I was just able to just watch a little bit of her body language and some of her idiosyncrasies to take that in, and choose what I wanted to use to help build her, but then also bring in who I was as well, as a Black woman, but also as an activist and someone who speaks out on things as well, and just to merge that.

I think what was so exciting was that I got to do research for this real woman and while booking this huge part, I was able to learn some of my history that I had no idea existed. It was very intimidating, but I did my best to cut the intimidation by just putting the work in, having the proper preparation. And so that helped subside the intimidation part of it.

And when you were working with some of these other actors, like Cate Blanchett and all the others, did you learn anything from them that you've been able to take to your other jobs?

I just remember working on [a] scene with Niecy Nash, and since then, she's been someone who checks on me and she just gives me advice. Anytime I hit her up, she's there as a listening ear, and she just makes me feel seen. And I just remember how she took up so much space, and she just knew what she brought to the set, and she was able to take up this kind of space that's not ego, but it's just this confidence of getting work done. And it's something that I want to continue to build every time I step on set, especially when it's a new set with new people, to know that I'm here for a reason, and there's a reason why I'm in this room, and to bring that kind of energy to the room, because that's what everyone needs. That's what the director needs. That's what the DP needs. That's what your producers need. And that's what honestly the character that you're playing needs. And it was just amazing to watch her take up space. And she brought everyone up to her level of energy. And so that is something that I will always keep with me.

She's also launching her own pilot project

So do you have any projects coming up that we should keep an eye out for?

This summer I was able to executive produce, write, and star in my own indie pilot project called "Virginality." And it's about a 30-year-oldish virgin, who is a writer's assistant for a TV show. And she wants to get into the writer's room, but the execs are saying, "Hey, like your writing. It's just a little too pure and innocent," which is basically like a parallel to who she is. And so she decides to do something different and create a bucket list of things she's never done, which all kind of lean into all of the experiences she hasn't had sexually. And she starts to check those things off her list to try to change the way she sees life, which could change the way she writes, and that could get her the job of her dreams. So it's a concept idea of the show that I would love to one day showcase and put on some streaming service, some network. So we're right now in post-production and we're submitting to festivals around the world. So soon, within the next couple months, I will be hearing back from festivals. So fingers crossed!

So kind of related to that, what would be your dream role if you could play anyone?

Ooh, my dream role, if I could play anyone. I feel like that always changes and I feel like a lot of actors know that it changes, but I think I would love to play ... Oh, okay. So I would love to one, lead my own dark comedy dramedy show. I would love to lead that, whatever world and story that just works. I would love that, but a dream role would be playing Dinah Washington, who was this jazz singer and pianist around the '50s, and she's known for the song, "What Difference a Day Makes." Her story is so interesting. She died at the young age of 39. She was addicted to her body image. She was on a lot of pills and stuff like that. I just think it would be [a] great story to dig into. And she's one of our jazz singers that you just don't know a lot about. We hear about Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, but Dinah is right there in the mix with those women. I think she deserves her own story, her own biopic, and I would love to play her.

Her volunteer projects have taken her around the world

On a different note, I understand you do a lot volunteer work. Can you tell us a bit about some of that?

Yeah, so I've volunteering for a long time. Service has been a part of my life since I was young. So every summer, my dad would have us, me and my brother, working at a summer school, helping with the youth or tutoring. We were always doing something, working at the museums in Richmond, Virginia, which is where I was born and raised, my hometown. But then from there, when I went to college at Spelman, I became a part of a group called Bonner Scholars program. And that was a program I was a part of for four years. And through that, I was a part of a group called For My Sisters. And we promoted excellence and community service with young women in the city. But then we branched out to Lagos, Nigeria, and then to North Andros, Bahamas. And we worked with about 20 girls and we mentored them and tutored them in being service leaders in their community.

That was a big organization that I was a part of years ago. And then after that, of course, acting's my life, but I love to coach and I love to teach. A couple years ago, I was a part of a group called the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, where I would go to juvenile detention centers and teach young girls how to be playwrights and to write their own shows and use their lives or experiences that they had to turn into a positive and create stories from that. And just to also stretch your artistic muscle because art can be healing. It is healing. So those are some of the things that I do.

That sounds really exciting. 

The celebrity fashion moment Bria adored this year

Finally, I'd like to wrap up with a couple of fun questions. First of all, do you have a favorite reality TV show this year?

I love these questions! So right now my favorite reality TV show, I'm going to say, is "Real Housewives of Potomac." So this is the thing: I'm a "Real Housewives of Atlanta" fan. That's my No. 1 "Real Housewives." But this last season wasn't the best. So I kept hearing all this buzz about "Real Housewives of Potomac," and I decided to just start binging some of the episodes this season, and I kind of got into it, and so now it's in the reunion circuit. So I already just watched Part 3 of the reunion, and I'm really into it and it's so good. It's so good. It's a guilty pleasure. Me and my mom, we watch it all the time together.

So do you have any favorite celebrity couple right now?

A favorite celebrity couple. Ooh, favorite celebrity couple. I'm going to have to say I really love Beyoncé and Jay-Z because I'm just here for just how they just take over the world together. But right now, my favorite celebrity couple will have to be Megan Thee Stallion and Pardi. I really love them together. They look great together cause they're both tall, but also you can tell that they're just so into each other. And I love that for Meg. Black women deserve love, and it's just beautiful to see.

Is there any particular celebrity look that you like this year?

A celebrity look, ooh. Hmm. Ooh, celebrity look, you know what, Kelly Rowland is gorgeous, and she posted a picture when she, no, actually she posted a video that actually had Instagram in a chokehold with this either tiger print — it was an animal print dress. It was a low, it showed a little bit of cleavage, but it was so sexy and understated. And then she had this amazing red lip and then she clearly had a fan cause her hair was just blowing perfectly and that look, I was like, I'm enjoying this. Also, I love a soft wave curl on her. I'm into her.