Growing up in Florida, the only daughter of a now-divorced cop father and jazz singer mother, “I was always incredibly curious about the arts,” recalls Briana Nicole Henry, who made her GH debut last year in the recast role of Jordan Ashford. “I loved to draw and paint and sing, but I really put a lot of my energy into athletics.”
Her focus began to shift in her junior year of high school, when she entered a poetry competition at the behest of her English teacher. “I ended up making it to States, and there was something about being onstage and delivering these poems in front of a group of people that moved me and stuck with me. I was like, ‘Mom, I think I want to act in college.’ ” Her parents encouraged her to test the waters. “They found this month-long summer acting program at USC for me to take and I totally fell in love with it. When I went home to Miami, I quit the volleyball team. A couple months later, I auditioned for USC’s BFA program and got accepted and the rest is history!”
She began making professional inroads while still an undergrad. “I booked YOUNG AND RESTLESS,” where she played Esmerelda, a love interest for Devon, in 2014, “when I was a senior in college, and I had actually tested for GENERAL HOSPITAL my senior year, as well. I’m actually pretty positive it was for this role, but they cast Vinessa [Antoine], so it’s kind of funny that it came full circle later on.” With 16 episodes of Y&R under her belt, “I was feeling very confident when I was leaving college. A couple of months after I graduated, it was just kind of radio silence [when it came to booking jobs]. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this hurts! This really does hurt.’ I ended up getting involved in the fitness world a bit, and I became a SoulCycle instructor for about two-and-a-half years. As soon as I started really getting into becoming an instructor and getting through training, that’s when I started booking professionally again. One of the first gigs I booked after college was UNDATEABLE, a sitcom on NBC, and after that, it just kind of started to bounce. Luckily, I continued to book things throughout the years and it led to this very wonderful and consistent opportunity at GH.”
Henry is all the more appreciative of her steady gig as Jordan because she thought being cast was a long shot, given her age (26 at the time). “The last couple of years that I’ve been auditioning, I’ve been going out for roles that are older than I actually am,” she notes. “It’s kind of been an awkward place for my age because I think that I feel much older than I am, but I don’t necessarily always look much older.” When she found out what role GH was interested in her for, she did some research, “and I realized that my son on the show was going to be 19 years old, but in real life, [Tequan Richmond, ex-TJ] is actually 26! I was flattered that they were even gong to bring me in for it. I was like, ‘Maybe they just think that I’m talented and want to see what I’ve got.’ I was definitely, I think, on the younger side of the other girls at the audition. When I got that call that they were offering me the job, I was like, ‘Wait, are you sure? Are they okay with this?’ I am significantly younger than what they wanted, and I think fans were a little trepidatious about it the first couple of weeks, but I’ve heard less and less chatter about the age difference.”
She credits her on-screen hubby, Donnell Turner (Curtis), with helping her settle in to the gig. “Donnell has probably been one of the nicest parts of this experience so far,” she praises. “He has been such an incredibly supportive scene partner. He’s just kind of been my cheerleader since I got here. I would mess up a take and he would be like, ‘Hey, you got it, Bri. Let’s do this.’ It’s really nice to have that camaraderie with him. And he makes me laugh. Sometimes when we’re on set, he’ll just be doing a little dance to himself or something that’s so goofy. Of course, he’s very handsome, and my aunts are huge fans of the show, so they were like, ‘Oh, my God, you get to be with Donnell Turner?!’ I was like, ‘Yes, Auntie, but he’s very nice in addition to being incredibly attractive!’ ”
She was also buoyed by a vote of confidence from her predecessor. “I actually met Vinessa briefly on the day of my screen test. I was called into hair and makeup and she was sitting there and we kind of smiled at each other, and I think I introduced myself. A couple of weeks later, when I went in for my first day at GH, they put me in her dressing room and there was a little napkin that she had written on: ‘Hold it down, Sis. Love, Vinessa.’ I was feeling so nervous on my first day, like, ‘I hope I can do half as good as a job as her!’ It was so nice to have that reassurance from her, that she was kindly passing the torch.”
Four months after her debut, Henry says that Jordan is starting to feel like hers. “I’m really starting to have fun with her and to find her power and to find her soft side, which is usually with Curtis,” the actress notes. “A couple of the actors asked me, ‘Are you having fun?’ and I’ve said, ‘You know, I don’t know if it’s fun yet. I’m a little nervous still.’ But now I would say, yes — it’s turning into a very good time.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthdate: January 19, 1992
Provenance: “I was born in Broward County, FL. My mom remarried when I was about 7, so I moved up to Miami around that time and was there until I went off to college.”
School Ties: “I went to the University of Southern California and got my BFA in theater acting. I absolutely loved USC. It was an amazing experience.”
Watch List: “THE HANDMAID’S TALE has kind of riveted my heart the past couple of years, especially this last season. It was just truly phenomenal and inspiring work. And I really love me some WESTWORLD. I mean, I’m confused most of the time, but I totally love watching that show! I’ve also been watching WANDERLUST on Netflix. It’s incredible. It really explores sexuality, and sexuality in older age, in a way that’s really kind of beautiful.”
Tuned In: When it comes to music, “One of my favorite artists right now is Daniel Caesar. His stuff really touches my heart, and I’m a fan of Nicholas Britell, who did the Moonlight soundtrack.”
Home Away From Home: “My dressing room neighbors are Eden McCoy [Josslyn] and Brytni Sarpy [Valerie]. Brytni and I actually know each other; we’ve run into each other at auditions from time to time.”
Parent Rap: “My mom is incredible,” says Henry, pictured in her youth with mother Tia, a jazz singer. “And I have great relationships with my dad and my stepdad,” she says. “I feel like I kind of hit the jackpot. I got a bonus dad for this lifetime, which is pretty cool.”
Marley And Me: “She’s the little love of my life,” beams Henry of Marley, who she rescued when she was 4 months old. “Now she’s five and she’s my little grumpy old lady!”
DID YOU KNOW?
• In her days as a SoulCycle instructor, the actress dated one of her co-workers, Michael Mealor, who is now on Y&R as Kyle — and is besties with Josh Swickard, GH’s Chase, who also worked with Henry at SoulCycle. “They could not be any cuter,” she smiles. “They’re adorable together. They love each other. They were always such a big commodity at SoulCycle because not only are they both gorgeous, but they’re incredible humans.”
• Her stepfather is the CEO of an international shipping company and a minority owner of the Houston Astros. “My mom and I aren’t huge baseball fans, so when he told us that he was thinking of going in on the Astros, we were like, ‘You should do a basketball team! But if it’s gonna make you happy, then we are now Houston Astros fans.’ ”
LIFE IMITATES ART
After tying the knot on-screen as Jordan in November, Briana Nicole Henry got engaged to her beau of two years, Kris Bowers, a jazz pianist and composer for TV and film who won a Daytime Emmy in 2017 for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition for the animated special THE SNOWY DAY.
The pair met “on a dating app called Bumble,” she recounts. “I was his first online date ever! I had been dating for a while and I really was kind of on my last straw with it; I had gone on a lot of dates and I was pretty fed up. My girlfriends were really trying to push me. They were like, ‘Just go. He seems nice,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll go’ — and he ended up being such a lovely human. We went on a couple of dates after that, but it really started off with just a nice friendship and really enjoying being around each other. I feel like I just kind of woke up one day and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, am I in love with this person? I think I’m totally crazy about him!’ ”
Luckily, the feeling was mutual, and Bowers popped the question last month. “I’ve never really been the little girl that’s thought of getting married or had wedding ideas in my head,” she says. “But in the past year or so with Kris, I’ve been feeling a bit more excited about it! But it was kind of surreal to get to experience that on television before I actually experience it even in real life.”
The Music Man: Henry and Bowers in 2018 at the premiere of Netflix’s DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, for which he is the composer.