The next time you watch a Popeye’s commercial, chances are you’ll never look the same at its lead character Annie, played by actress Deidrie Henry. The West Indies native secured the spokesperson role back in 2009 and has been turning thousands into fans and customers of the Louisiana-based company with more than 2000 locations worldwide ever since.
Before visions of crispy golden chicken tenderloins dipped into her cajun creamy garlic sauce ever came to be, Henry, who was born in Barbados where she lived until her family moved to Atlanta when she was 10, originally thought she would be flying the friendly skies after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida But after graduating with a degree in Aeronautical Science, her plans of working for Eastern Airlines came to an end as the airline folded in 1991.
Change in Trajectory
This turn of events actually put her on the trajectory of becoming an actress, which was one of her inspirations before choosing to become a pilot, so as many may say, sometimes things happen for a reason.
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“The year that I graduated was the year Eastern Airlines folded and so when I got out I couldn’t find a job flying anywhere so I moved back to Atlanta. I had one specific friend who started a theater in Atlanta and he was like, ‘Alright, come on, come and act in my theater and so I did theater in Atlanta and he kicked me out of his theater and told me to audition at the big house and I did that, the Alliance Theatre, being directed by Kenny Leon who just won a Tony in New York and part of the rest is history,” says Henry.
From acting in Atlanta, Henry went to New York, from New York to Oregon where she did Shakespeare for four years and from there off to Paris where she lived for a year prior to moving to Los Angeles where she currently is in 2004.
Things quickly progressed while in the City of Angels and Henry traveled the country for a year and a half performing at various theaters in Berkeley, Seattle, and Philadelphia and when she returned, landed the role in Dael Orlandersmith’s “Yellowman” where she won multiple awards including Best Actress.
Who is Annie?
As a dramatic actress, her role as spokesperson portraying the character of Annie almost didn’t come to be. Her manager didn’t think the commercial route was the way to go but she decided to give it a chance when a good friend convinced her otherwise.
“Honestly, I auditioned for a year and was getting call-backs and what not and was getting put on hold for the commercials I went up for. I booked one commercial right before Popeye’s and that was a Time Warner spot where I played a mom and it was just a little regional thing and I did. And then I was riding in my car and I got a notice that I had an audition, it was a Friday, and I had an audition for Saturday which was really unheard of. It said something about the character is the chicken queen and I thought ‘oh great.’ But I got her, I loved it. I loved the language. It is all about the writing. If it is written well, it can be played well. I went into the audition and then on Tuesday, I got a phone call that I booked it,” Henry recalls.
So who really is “Annie” that was created by Mike Blair who has transformed the brand with such a lovable character who could easier be myself, my mother or grandmother.
“Annie is one of those people who takes ownership and pride in whatever she does. She didn’t come up the secret of the ingredients, but she takes ownership over the taste, the development, the innovation, the culture of fried chicken and the culture of Popeye’s fried chicken.”
Henry goes on to say, “When I thought of Annie, I thought when she walks into the room, she will own the room just by her personality, gregariousness, intelligence and just by the power that she has within her of her knowledge of how to cook it, how to fry it, how to get the perfect taste and the perfect mix of ingredients to elicit a reaction.”
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Directed by Rocky Powell, Henry and the team shoot a new campaign about three to four times a year. The production is shot on location in New Orleans to give it that true, authentic look and feel. After all, New Orleans is such a historic and cultural city that its authenticity and essence just can’t be duplicated elsewhere.
Six years later, the success of the campaign can definitely be contributed to the company’s creativity and the fact that Henry owns the character who we stop to watch every time a commercial comes on. At least I do.
Like any actor, it is important to stay on the grind which Henry truly understands. Returning back to drama later this year, you can see her on “Criminal Minds” with Shemar Moore where she will play a naval commander. Henry would like to be a series regular which I have no doubt will happen.