Sterling K. Brown and Mahershala Ali: Their Full, Uncut Conversation on ‘Ramy,’ ‘Maisel,’ and More

The next-level actors talk about how they met, cheering each other on, and doing the work.
Mahershala Ali Sterling K. Brown
Mahershala Ali and Sterling K. Brown
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu//Ron Batzdorff/NBC

There are few things as intriguing as the conversations that happen when two old friends get together and talk about old times. That’s exactly what happened when Emmy-nominated actors Mahershala Ali (“Ramy”) and Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) stopped by IndieWire’s TV podcast, “Millions of Screens” recently.

The pair, who first met while attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, have found real and lasting success within both the film and TV industry, with Ali earning two Oscars and Brown earning two Emmys in the last five years. While a portion of the actors’ chat was previously released, we’re offering fans an opportunity to listen to the entire (lightly-edited) conversation, which touches on a variety of topics including religion, success, scarcity, and comedy.

In it, Ali details his grad school memories of Brown, partially excerpted below:

“I met Sterling K. Brown in 1998,” Ali said. “Grad school is three years, I was in my second year and Sterling was in his first year. The school is really small. In each year you have max 18 students or so.”

“These conservatories are really intense, dense, emotional, jarring experiences,” he said. “It’s jarring because you’re just constantly being criticized, with the idea of helping you become not only just the best actor you can be, but your best self. Back then, we were there, but in comparison to the other students, there weren’t a lot of black students per se. And so when you see other brothers come in, you’re going to pay particular attention to them as people, but also looking at their work in a different way.”

Ali continued, explaining how traditional acting schools weren’t always designed with Black performers front of mind.

“You’ve got to remember when you go to the schools, for so many of us, especially people of color, you’re almost being trained out of your culture so that you can be considered transformational when it comes down to doing Tennessee Williams and Chekhov and Ibsen and all these other people,” Ali said. “And maybe, maybe if you’re fortunate in your three years there, you’ll get to actually play a Black character or be in a Black play. Maybe. If you’re lucky.”

“And so I just always paid particular attention to Sterling,” he said. “He always felt like a big brother for me, even though he was younger than me. Always, so mature and and smart and funny and just generous. You could never not notice Sterling and everyone had the utmost respect for him and for his his work, his thoughts, his opinions, his personality. This brother even let me crash at his place one time out of grad school.”

How did Ali end up on Brown’s couch? What happened during the week they spent cohabitating? Find out by listening to the actors’ complete discussion below.

Millions of Screens” is available on AnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.

This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

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