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‘Out of my comfort zone’: Actor says role in ‘The Stand’ helps him ‘grow as an artist’

Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen in “The Stand.” (James Minchin/CBS)

Brad William Henke was familiar with Stephen King’s “The Stand” before he was cast in the new series.

He also knew there was a miniseries in the 1990s.

“I didn’t watch it before I got to working on the series,” he explains. “I wanted to come at the role with a fresh perspective.”

New episodes of the nine-episode series air on Thursdays on the streaming platform CBS All Access. It is adapted from the King novel of the same name, which is about the biblical aftermath of a global pandemic that kills 98% of the population, setting the stage for a clash of good versus evil.

Nat Wolff as Lloyd Henreid in the CBS All Access series “The Stand.” (Robert Falconer/CBS)

The series stars Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail, Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg, James Marsden as Stu Redman, Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood, Amber Heard as Nadine Cross, and Owen Teague as Harold Lauder.

The new version will include a new end of the finale written by Stephen King himself.

Henke plays Tom Cullen.

Cullen is a mentally handicapped man from May, Oklahoma, where he lived with his mother and borderline-abusive father, Don.

He loses his mother to the superflu and ends up being the last living resident of the town of May. He is the first plague survivor Nick Andros encounters after leaving Shoyo, Arkansas.

Owen Teague as Harold Lauder and Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith in “The Stand.” (Robert Falconer/CBS)

“Tom has some challenges communicating and challenges understanding some depths of many things,” Henke says. “He has a huge heart. What’s good about him is by treating him with kindness, it makes him come to life. He would do anything to help these people and becomes a hero. He is the heart of the show.”

Preparing for the role, Henke says, was difficult because Cullen isn’t understood easily.

“Because people don’t treat him with respect, I tried to come from a place of understanding,” he says. “On set, I also spent most of my time alone, so I could feel more isolated. It helped me get into how Tom would feel. It’s been the most challenging role for me. Luckily, I had three months to prepare for it.”

Acting wasn’t always at the forefront for Henke.

A scene from “The Stand.” (Robert Falconer/CBS)

Before working in the film industry, Henke was drafted out of college to the NFL by the New York Giants. Then he was picked up by the Denver Broncos and played in Super Bowl XXIV in 1990 against the San Francisco 49ers.

After hanging up his cleats in the mid-1990s, Henke put all his work into film and TV.

He’s landed roles in “Lost” and “Justified,” as well as the films “Fury,” Bright,” Choke” and “SherryBaby.” He is known most for his role as Desi Piscatella in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”

“With Piscatella, I was able to build that character before everything got heavy,” he says. “I wanted to show myself and other people the type of work I’m capable to do when I have the time.”

Henke’s work has also brought him to New Mexico for a coupe of projects.

He appeared in both “Longmire” and “The Night Shift.”

Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor and Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood in “The Stand.” (Robert Falconer/CBS)

“I really enjoyed that shoot,” he says of “Longmire.” “It was in Santa Fe, and it was so peaceful. I would love it if I got a show like that again and in Santa Fe. I like the people there. I’m from Denver, and it feels a little familiar. Plus, I’d get to eat some chile rellenos.”

Henke says that at this point in his career, he’s looking to work with the best writers, which is what happened on “The Stand.”

“I want to work with great people so I can grow as an artist,” he says. “I want to play characters like Tom because it helps push me out of my comfort zone.”

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