When Sterling K. Brown won the Emmy this year for his starring role in “This Is Us,” the actor felt a weight beyond the statue’s own six pounds.
“There was some heft on it,” Brown said. “When it was brought to my attention that it had been 19 years since an African-American had won in the category, and 16 years since an African-American had been nominated in the category, I was like, ‘Wow. This is sort of historical.’ It does have this feeling that, to quote ‘Hamilton,’ ‘History has its eyes on you.'”
Next up, he’s on the inaugural roster for the first-ever IndieWire Honors, which aims to recognize talent who thrive thanks to their own creative independence. And Brown isn’t taking his own rise lightly.
“As the needle moves and opportunities come, the opportunity to create opportunities for other people is also arising,” he said. “And that’s something that I get very excited about. The idea of possibly producing within this next year different artists and writers whose work I have appreciated over the years, who I can help to sort of greenlight their pathway.”
Brown said he’s eager to start developing new projects with fresh talent. “I’m very passionate about stories with people’s color in the forefront, and people having reflection of themselves seen on screen, whether large or small, validating their existence,” Brown said. “Validating their humanity. If you go an extended period of time without seeing a reflection of yourself, it’s easier to believe you’re invisible and of minimal value. I want everyone to know that they are seen, appreciated, and their story is being told.”
He’s still in the early stages; Brown said he wants to educate himself first. “I’m constantly reading different plays, meeting different writers, producers, with the hopes that something organically will take place that I can lend my name to to help get made,” he said.
Michael Becker/FX Networks
Brown became familiar through a regular gig on Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and recurring roles on series such as “Supernatural” and “Person of Interest.” However, it was his turn as Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” that helped elevate Brown to superstar status.
Brown was perhaps the least-known series regular in a cast of household names, but his charming portrayal of Darden, and the chemistry he elicited with co-star Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, helped cement the series as a critical success and awards darling.
“I feel that Sterling K. Brown has become an iconic actor,” said “American Crime Story” executive producer Ryan Murphy. “I think that he means a lot to a lot of people, and I think that he’s a trailblazer. I’m just super proud of him.”
The actor followed it with another hit. “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman locked in Brown for the NBC series just before “The People vs. O.J.” debuted, at the recommendation of his directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra from the Tina Fey film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” Fogelson still marvels at his luck.
“I had no idea the Darden thing was coming,” Fogelman said. “As luck would have it, Sterling had ‘O.J.’ in the can at the same studio [20th Century Fox TV]. So the studio was like, ‘Done!'”
As Randall Pearson, Brown wound up being the first actor cast in “This Is Us,” which quickly became a ratings success. Brown’s character struggles with the nature of his adoption, and finally develops a relationship with his birth father in Season 1. In the show’s sophomore season, his character now is in the midst of potentially adopting a troubled teenage girl from foster care.
“What I like about Randall is I feel as if he’s always giving 100 percent,” Brown said. “I strive to be the kind of person who always gives 100%. I think sometimes when I’m sloughing off, it could fall down to about 89.2 percent or something like that, but I love his desire to give, his desire to make his family first and foremost.”
Similarly, the star looks to balance his demanding schedule with his home life. (Brown is married to actress Ryan Michelle Bathe, and they have two young children.)
“My son, the other day, says to my wife, ‘I wish Daddy wasn’t so famous.’ And she said, ‘Why, sweetheart?’ He goes, ‘Because he’s just not here as much as he used to be,'” Brown said. “My heart broke a little bit because my kids are my everything, so I let him know when Daddy’s at work, he’s working. But he’s going to try to be here as much as possible… I hear these things from my children, like, ‘Dad, I wish you were here more. Can you pick me up from school today?’ ‘No, I can’t get there today, but I promise I’ll make up for it over the weekend.’
“That’s what it is. It’s not that I’m a bad guy. It’s just that I’m an actor who is having a really good moment right now, and it has its own particularities that we have to deal with. That is the biggest challenge right now.”
The 2017 IndieWire Honors will recognize Mary J. Blige, Sterling K. Brown, James Franco, Diane Kruger, Kumail Nanjiani, and Issa Rae, at a celebration on November 2 in Los Angeles. IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.