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Ryan Murphy on Sterling K. Brown: ‘This Guy Is, Like, Marlon Brando Good’

IndieWire Honors: Murphy says he's eager to work again with Brown, and is exploring ways to even re-pair him with 'People v. O.J.' co-star Sarah Paulson.

Sterling K. Brown and Ryan Murphy



Sterling K. Brown graduated to superstar status after his Emmy-winning turn as Christopher Darden on “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Executive producer and director Ryan Murphy remains tight with the star, who has even been advising him recently on how to live a vegan lifestyle.

Brown is busy starring in “This Is Us,” but the two are already discussing ways to work together again. “We’ve talked a lot about it,” Murphy said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to give America what they want, and reunite Sterling and Sarah Paulson. I would love for him to be a part of ‘Five Days at Memorial’ [the Hurricane Katrina-themed “American Crime Story” installment] that we’re doing. I always want to work with Sterling. I’m a busy guy, but he’s just as busy as hell. How are we gonna make it work? We will. We had a really great director/actor thing going that I would really like to continue.”

Below, Murphy shares with IndieWire his respect for Brown, and his pride in seeing the actor become a household name.

I feel that Sterling K. Brown has become an iconic actor. He means a lot to a lot of people, and I think that he’s a trailblazer. I’m just super proud of him. I’m not surprised at all at his success, because once we started working together, I was like, “Oh. This guy is, like, Marlon Brando good. This guy has huge, huge depth of talent, and on top of that, he’s charismatic and good looking, and sexy.”

The hardest part that we cast on “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” was Chris Darden. We looked at hundreds of people. We met with a lot of famous people. But [executive producers] Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson and I kept saying, “Eh. I don’t know.” Sterling had auditioned, and we sort of overlooked his tape at first. But once we were nearing the difficult part, where we had to make a decision, we looked at all of them again.

When you see a talent — particularly somebody’s who not 20, somebody who’s been working their ass off, and just paying the rent, somebody who clearly is a star —there’s no better thing than to say to that person, “I see you” and “I see what you’re capable of.”

Sterling fucking earned that job. We made him do a read with Sarah Paulson that he knocked out of the park. Sarah was instantly taken by Sterling, and I think that the thing that she felt was, “OK. I have a sparring partner here. I have somebody who can actually throw it back to me, just as hard.” I think she was super relieved.

When we shot it, and I was directing him, he was always the most prepared. He was the most humble. He was just so thrilled to be there, and to have material that was great, and I think worthy of his talent. Everybody on that show, from Sarah to John Travolta, to David Schwimmer, to Courtney, B. Vance everybody was so proud of Sterling. He was sort of like the baby brother of the group. I think people felt that, the night of the Emmy awards, when he won.

Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown in "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story."

Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

Ray Mickshaw/FX Networks

Sterling, when he works, is really ferocious. He, like Sarah, comes prepared to win. He has every line memorized. He has your lines memorized. He is a very technical actor. He’s an incredible role model, and I think Sterling is also somebody who can do anything. I found that when I was directing him. There’s a scene where he has to cry and be emotional and then the next scene we shot that day was him, I think dancing to some goofy song with Sarah, so I think that he can do any genre. He’s not just a drama guy. He can be a comedy guy. He can be a goofy guy. He can be a romantic lead. I think he’s got it all.

Sterling has what I call the “Julia Roberts factor.” When you work with Julia Roberts, or you work with Sterling K. Brown, everybody who works with them falls in love with them, not necessarily in a romantic sense, but you’re just overwhelmed by their soul in some weird way. I would say it’s a very rare thing to have the instant ability to make people fall in love with you, of all sexes and genders.

The hardest thing in the world to find is a leading man, between 30 and 45. It’s always been the thing that I have struggled with the most in my career, the male actors. Who are those male actors who can appeal to women and men, and have a huge reserve of talent?

You know, I love him. I feel very protective of him, and yet I feel like I don’t have to be, because he has a great family. He has a wonderful wife, and Sterling really is smart and has a great business sense. He’s just supremely focused on being the best that he could be. Sterling is somebody who also continually loves to be challenged. He picks his material correctly, and you know, we talked a lot about that, like what he should do, or what he shouldn’t do. He has such a strong group of people around him, who love him and protect him and offer incredible guidance.

Success happened later for him in his life. He had already been married. He had already had children. He really has a great gratitude for it, and a great humbleness about it, because he waited a long time for it. When it finally happened, he was ready. His development as a person … He got there at the right time. I think that’s another thing that people sense about him, is he’s just grateful, and humble as a person, and incredibly fun to hang with as well.

— as told to Michael Schneider

IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.

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