Among the many familiar faces of Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration – including Josh Groban, Martin Short, Shania Twain, David Alan Grier and Rita Moreno – is one TV viewers may not be familiar with: Joshua Henry as Gaston , the Hunky Himbo chasing Belle (HER). With his powerful baritenor voice and a striking facial resemblance to the late Sidney Poitier, Henry steals the show by singing, dancing, and for laughs through a makeshift pub with long locs, subtle prosthetics, and, as Gaston himself puts it, “biceps to spare”. cares. (The chest hair and cleft chin are fake; the bulging muscles are real.)
It’s really rare that a male actor takes center stage as…tightly as Henry does here, singing, dancing and punching lines. But if you got to this story after thirsty Googling “Who is that??” During Thursday’s show, do you know that the 38-year-old actor has built an impressive resume.
Though ABC’s two-hour anniversary special, which airs Friday on Disney+, is arguably Henry’s best-known screen project to date, Henry — who was born in Winnipeg, grew up in Miami and lives in New York City with his wife and three sons — is a three-time Tony Award nominee previously starring in the Netflix series Tick, Tick… Boom! film and has built a career on stage with roles in Hamilton, Carousel, American Idiot, In the Heights and The Scottsboro Boys.
Hours ahead of a Broadway performance of “Into the Woods,” Henry spoke to The Times about getting heavier — and hairier — to play the beloved character, releasing a new single and where he hopes his new body goes next will lead.
Singing, dancing, raising barrels and swinging Lefou around – as Gaston you look like you’re having a great time.
Yes! This number is just huge and iconic and hilarious and I can use my full chest voice and sing with all this bravery and enthusiasm and dance with Rizwan and have so much fun [Manji] who plays Lefou and find so many different comedic beats. Of course, people have seen this number before, but they haven’t seen it with Jamal Sims’ unexpected choreography. When I first saw him doing it during rehearsals, I thought, “Okay, I have to do justice to what they’re doing to fit into this amazing jigsaw puzzle.”
Since Gaston “has spare biceps,” how did you physically prepare for the role?
I love the gym and this was a great excuse to lift really heavy and put on a few pounds. When I got this [role] In late June, I slowly started up my calories, stopped doing crazy cardio, and started lifting as heavy as I could week in and week out. I would actually talk to myself like him at the gym and just say, “One more thing for the ladies” to get into the character.
I haven’t measured my biceps before, but I have to think we’re at least two inches taller, which was great because that works for Gaston. But our costume designer Marina [Toybina] was a bit pissed – I mean, the stuff fits me, but when I’m also doing the choreography, I slit my pants twice, right where the sun isn’t shining. So we had to adapt the costume to the movement.
It’s fun to morph a bit for this character, who obviously leads with his body. Since filming, I’ve maintained the heavy lifting. It feels good to be really strong. I hope the world sees me that way and that it leads to action projects or other things where I can use my physicality to tell the story. Also, I have three sons, so I have to be ready to pick them up anytime.
How old are your sons? Have you ever seen a version of Beauty and the Beast?
My eldest is four and a half and the twins are 22 months old. They don’t [watched] but my eldest came to the set when we were rehearsing and met HER and Martin Short. I showed him a picture of me in a bow and arrow costume and he was like, “Daddy, you’re like a superhero!” It’s really special that my sons and so many other chocolate little Joshuas see me in this iconic role because it suits me and I’m really good at it. I hope that their eyes will be opened and that they will find their place in seeing this.
If you’re playing this role, you’ll have quite a bit more hair on your head and chest than usual…
They go to the middle of my back. It took four and a half hours to get them in and then I had them in for three weeks while we rehearsed and shot. I’ve never had any braids or locs. I loved the look, my wife loved it and even my manager said, “That’s the vibe.” But it’s a lot of maintenance – I was like, y’all, I can’t shower, I can’t drive, I can’t sleep, so I was happy to take them out once we were done.
And the chest hair, well, let’s call it the chest or the chest chia pet. We have gone through different gradations; the first one was way too much, you might have thought it was like Don Cornelius on my chest like you could lose your hand in it. So we had to find a good balance.
There’s also a lyric in the song that says, “No one’s got a swell cleft in his kin like Gaston,” and while I have many other physical attributes that go with this character, the chin wasn’t one of them, so I have also a tiny prosthetic chin. It’s super subtle, but it’s all about the details.
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Although you are well known for your stage work, many viewers of this special may be seeing you for the first time. What do you want them to know about you?
I come mainly from the stage and am an acting, singing dancer. This is where I live and I just do what I love. I spoke to Lin-Manuel [Miranda] the other day, and he said, ‘Listen, I’m so glad people can see you do what you do. Nothing has changed here except the venue.”
I’m a guy who has a very fulfilling life. I have lived a life dedicated to my family, my art and my growth. I’m happy that a lot of eyes will be on me and that the audience will see me and what I do, but it’s something that didn’t come overnight. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and I’m constantly progressing in my craft and I want everyone who looks at me to understand that this is possible. It’s possible to graduate from college at the end of your class and not know where your place is for a while and then find it and make your mark to one day be on the Broadway scene and in this Disney classic to be. When you devote yourself to your art and grow in it, good things can happen.
I imagine some people will be surprised at how much you resemble the late Sidney Poitier? How many times have you been told that?
So many, countless over the years! I got it as a kid, in high school, in college. It could be our West Indian ancestry; he is bahamian, i am jamaican, our complexion is the same. I loved his book and I would love to play him one day.
You just released a new single, following your debut album last year. How is your sound developing as a musician?
I feel inspired by where I am as a songwriter. The song I just released is called “Can’t anyone tell us anything?” You can nod your head, but there’s also an emotional pull to it. It’s all about being in that fiery, undeniable place of love, with all its fireworks and intimacy. I’m all about love – for your partner, for your art – and this is about feeling like you’re in the middle of that embrace.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a show this Saturday at the Kennedy Centerand after “Into the Woods” ends on January 8th, I’m playing shows in February with the Philly POPS that’s all about the history of soul music. And then I take a month off to do nothing and just be with my family because I’ve hit it really hard. People will have to wait and see what I do next.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-12-15/beauty-and-the-beast-abc-disney-joshua-henry-gaston Meet the hunky Gaston of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ live on ABC