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Ex-Wildcat Brad Henke tackles whole new career as an actor

DAVE PETRUSKA Citizen Assistant Sports Editor

Brad Henke once played with the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, the center stage of pro football.

But now all the world’s a stage for the former University of Arizona defensive lineman.

Henke, who played at UA in 1987-88 after transferring from a junior college, got his start in acting in 1994 by doing commercials. He has been appearing more frequently recently in films and television.

”I’m fortunate I’ve found something I love to do a million times more than playing football,” Henke said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. ”I was kind of lost for a while after my football career ended, and I’m so glad I found this. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with the best of my life already behind me.”

Henke’s most recent role was a Jan. 8 episode of ”ER.” He played a homeless man in the hospital waiting room who is upset that he lost money in a soda machine.

He takes out his frustrations on the machine. The machine wins, falling on top of him, so he has to be treated for a leg injury. Later in the episode, he flirts with Randi, one of the admitting clerks.

”I might get a call-back and get a date with Randi,” Henke said. ”I thought that was a nice scene with her. I had an earlier scene with Anthony Edwards, and that was just a great experience. He’s a really nice guy.”

Henke had a major role in an episode of CBS’ ”Michael Hayes” last October – playing a mailman who was accused of kidnapping a child – and has appeared on ”Chicago Hope,” two episodes of ”Nash Bridges,” and on ”Silk Stockings.”

In films, he played the wacky friend of Joan Cusack in ”Mr. Wrong,” which starred Bill Pullman and Ellen DeGeneres; has a small role in the just- released ”Desperate Measures” starring Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia; and also had roles as a baseball catcher in both ”The Fan” with Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes, and in ”Space Jam” with Michael Jordan.

”I was also a catcher in an episode of (HBO’s) ‘ARLI$$.’ I guess I looked like a catcher at the time,” said Henke, who weighs about 220 pounds now, down 80 pounds from his football days. ”The funny thing about all that is I was getting some roles as an athlete, but I hadn’t told anyone that I was a former athlete.

”If people asked me if I played football, I said no. The football stuff might have helped me initially, maybe in getting roles as a thug, but then it might have held me back by typecasting me.

”My first audition was for ‘Mr. Wrong,’ a goofy comedy, and I might not have gotten that if people were thinking about me as a football player.”

But it was a football connection that got Henke his first work.

After his pro career ended in 1992, Henke had a succession of jobs as a substitute teacher, a jewelry salesman and as an assistant football coach at a Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., before a chance meeting with former Raiders player Rod Martin helped turn his life around.

”Rod mentioned there was a need for actors to play football players for commercials, so I tried out for it and got one for Pizza Hut,” Henke said. ”While I was there, a guy invited me to attend an acting class. I went and it hit me that this is what I wanted to do.”

Henke had hoped to have a long pro football career. He was drafted in 1989 in the fourth round by the New York Giants but was let go in the final cut. He was picked up by the Broncos and played in the 1990 Super Bowl loss to San Francisco.

He was hurt in training camp in 1990 and was let go by Denver. He tried out with the Cardinals in 1991 but got hurt again.

He switched to the offensive line and played two years in the World League of American Football with Raleigh-Durham in 1991 and Barcelona in 1992.

Along the way, he had six operations on his left ankle that eventually forced him to quit.

”I kind of regret not starting acting sooner,” said Henke, who took just one drama course at UA. ”But I think my life experiences before I found my calling have really helped me. I’m building my career by myself, on my own merits, not for what I did on the football field.”

Henke initially thought he might just work in films because his first three roles were in ”Mr. Wrong,” ”Space Jam” and ”The Fan.”

”But after working on ‘ER,’ ‘Chicago Hope’ and ‘Nash Bridges,’ I wouldn’t mind doing a TV series, if it’s a quality show, because I’d have a little more financial stability that way,” he said. ”I don’t want to do something that’s not very good just for the money.”


In his brief acting career, former University of Arizona football player Brad Henke already has worked with two of the world’s biggest superstars – Michael Jordan and Robert De Niro.

And while it might be a stretch to call Jordan of the Chicago Bulls an ”actor,” Henke was still impressed with Jordan’s preparation for the movie ”Space Jam.”

”The scene we shot together was the first one, and Michael was taking his time, running his lines, making sure we got things right,” said Henke, who played a baseball catcher.

”But we had to reshoot parts of the scene two months later, just before the NBA season, and he just wanted to get it done. I spent two eight-hour days working with him during the production, and he was really nice throughout.”

Henke, who also played a catcher in De Niro’s ”The Fan,” had two scenes but no dialogue with the actor.

”But I would come to the set as often as I could just to watch him work,” Henke said. ”He is very focused when the filming is going on, such a professional. It was intriguing watching him.

”Before they’d start shooting, he was nice as could be, would always say hi to you. He was friendly, but kind of shy. And unlike what you hear about other stars, he didn’t have an attitude. He was not arrogant at all.”

Henke still follows sports fervently and not surprisingly, because he played in the Super Bowl for Denver in 1990, Henke is pulling for the Broncos.

”It would be great for John Elway if they won,” he said. ”I haven’t been gone all that long, but it’s kind of amazing that there are only four guys left from when I played for them.”

- Dave Petruska

Busy in Hollywood


Major Releases

• “Mr. Wrong”

• “Space Jam”

• “The Fan”

• “Desperate Measures”


• “Desert’s Edge”

• “Seed”


• “Sugar”

TV guest roles

• “Nash Bridges”

• “Silk Stalkings”

• “Chicago Hope”

• “ARLI$$”

• “Michael Hayes”

• “ER”

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