Stephen McKinley Henderson wears a press lanyard in 'Civil War'.

Stephen McKinley Henderson Gets His Hero Moment in ‘Civil War’

Stephen McKinley Henderson has become a staple of A24. We’ve watched McKinley Henderson’s impressive range in movies like Lady Bird, Beau Is Afraid, and now Civil War. His role as veteran journalist and mentor Sammy in Alex Garland’s latest film brings much-needed humanity to the relentless movie.

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Sammy is my favorite character in Civil War, and in talking with McKinley Henderson, it’s easy to understand how he embodies characters we root for. “You hope they will,” McKinley Henderson said. “He’s [Sammy] a really generous spirit. It is hard for me to explain, but I’ve been fortunate because I was mentored by people like that. You have to have someone along your path. There’s always some duds there, but you have to have some woman or man along the way who is really as generous and forgiving of your errors and the sort of braggadocio of your youth or whatever it is that you got that can really give you that calm center. And I was very fortunate. I had several women and several men along my path who really did endure me until I was able to be whoever they thought they saw whatever they saw in me.”

He went on to discuss how Sammy’s role is mirrored in Lee’s (Kirsten Dunst) reluctant mentorship of Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) in Civil War. “And that’s why it’s wonderful in this film to watch Cailee and Kirsten, and that sort of thing happened and to be able to have a conversation. Because the writing is so wonderful to have a conversation with Kirsten about how she was when she was that way.”

One of the best moments in Civil War sees Sammy having an unlikely “hero” moment (which I won’t spoil here). When I brought up the scene to McKinley Henderson, he said “Oh, I’m so glad you said that, … Listen, I’ve had two things and I won’t even talk about the other one, but this was two of my favorite things to do on screen. And this is the top to be in my seventies and have a hero moment in an action movie. Come on. Now, I’m telling you, I’m rocking baby. I’m rocking.”

Finally, one of the last things we spoke about was Alex Garland’s comments on filmmaking. Recently, Garland spoke about stepping back from directing for the foreseeable future, which is disappointing for his many fans. When I asked McKinley Henderson about potentially starring in Alex Garland’s last film, he expressed his gratitude to Garland.

“I remember when he told me that,” he said. “And to have gotten to be a part of his stable of actors, because we did previously Devs and to be in the number of the artists that got a chance to work with him in that capacity, because he’s still gonna write, and he’s still gonna be around. I’ll still see him as a friend, I’ve got it. I gotta have my dose of Alex every now and then. But yeah, it’s quite meaningful, quite meaningful. And this project is very meaningful for me.”

Civil War is in theaters now.

(featured image: A24)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.