He won our hearts and an Emmy nomination — if not the case — in “The People v. O.J. Simpson” as dogged prosecutor Chris Darden. Now Sterling K. Brown is about to break our hearts again in NBC’s compelling new drama “This is Us.”
You’ve been acting for years before “People v. O.J.” but has the role changed your life?
I believe it has, but I’m still sort of in the midst of witnessing what that change is. I just got finished doing a movie about Thurgood Marshall in Buffalo, which was a wonderful opportunity. In terms of the whole whirlwind of it, I still live in my little 1400-square foot house, and I still change diapers. So, the day to day seems pretty regular, and maybe something crazy will happen.
What was it about “This Is Us” that appealed to you?
He’s adopted. He’s looking for his biological father in the pilot. I’ve been without my father for 30 years. He passed away when I was a young man. So, the idea of trying to reconnect with a father figure is something that resonates with me. I’m always attaching myself to other people’s dads looking for that father figure. My father left me with a wealth of love, and, even though memories fade over time, that love is there constantly, but just watching other people with their dads and wanting to have that same sort of relationship, I think that was probably the core thing that brought me to the role in such a visceral way.
With the Emmy nod and all the buzz for “This is Us” it does feel like you’re having a moment right now. Have you been able to process that all?
I’ve had people come up to me many a time throughout my career and be like “Hey, man, do I know you?,” and I was just like “I don’t think so, man, but I’m Sterling. Nice to meet you.” It’s like “Yeah, we didn’t do Boy Scouts together?” People are always trying to figure out how they know me. I think, for the first time, people are starting to say “That’s Sterling K. Brown,” which is cool, which is uncharted territory for your boy. It’s nice to be called by your name when you’re not in character.
What have you learned from this experience?
A lot. I mean, I look at my other castmates from “People v. O.J.” and the media blitz that has come from the miniseries and how they’ve conducted themselves. Some people, like Cuba, take their clothes off and go dancing in night clubs. Then, other people don’t. So, I try to take the lead of the people that don’t, not that I mind taking my shirt off from time to time, but I can do it at home when I’m taking a shower, and that works pretty well for me. Also, just learning that what you say, once you say it, it’s been said and can’t be unsaid. So, trying to make sure that I frame things in such a way that I speak from my own personal truth, but I don’t give anybody fodder to try to make more of what I say than what I actually want.
It’s a challenging time to be in the spotlight.
It’s an interesting time. It’s an interesting time as a black man. People ask me, “Why does ‘The People v. O.J.’ still resonate with so many people today?” Unfortunately, it’s because a lot of the themes that the show touched on are still very much relevant, if not even more so, today than they were 22 years ago. It’s a very frightening feeling to feel like you can have a busted taillight or wear a hoodie or be playing in a park, and someone can take your life away. To have two children, two black boys, you ask yourself a lot of questions about how do I protect my family. Is there anything I can actually do? Then, at the same time, I have to go out of my way to make sure that someone is comfortable with my presence, just because. There are assumptions that are made by looking at my physiognomy, and, then, I automatically have to be sort of “No, it’s okay. I’m just a guy. We can all just have a conversation, and everything’s going to be fine.” It’s a shame that that is my reality. You know? And that may very well be the reality of my two boys.