If he’s not already, Sterling K. Brown is about to become one of your favorite actors. Not only does the St. Louis, MO, native have his name tied to three big movies set for release this year and next, but he’s also the star of the popular primetime television show This Is Us, for which he recently won an Emmy.
“This is the second year that I’ve been blessed to step on that stage. I’m like a kid in a candy store each time it happens,” said Brown of accepting the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series last month. “To be on a network TV show in the company of such wonderful and talented people, I feel like I’m living out my dream.”
If Brown’s name seems like a new one, it shouldn’t. The actor has graced the big and small screens for the past 17 years, with roles on shows such as Army Wives, Person of Interest and Supernatural. But it was his 2016 performance as Christopher Darden on FX’s American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson that thrust the experienced actor into the spotlight. The powerful role not only garnered Brown an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, but made viewers, and casting directors, take notice.
“I feel like I’m at the beginning of my career,” said Brown on becoming a household name. “I get to do this until the die I die, and I don’t plan on doing that for quite some time. I’m so excited to see what the future holds and am thankful that people are embracing me at this point in my career. I’m happy to receive the love that comes my way.”
Brown’s powerful performance in American Crime Story opened the door for his current role as Randall Pearson in NBC’s This Is Us, which is currently in its second season. The show centers around the Pearson family at various points in their life; from how parents Jack and Rebecca (Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore) met, to where the Pearson children, Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall, who was adopted at birth, are in present day.
The unique format of the show, which switches from past to present, allows viewers to see how the certain experiences—be it bullying, a break-up or dishonesty in a marriage—have long lasting effects. The show tackles issues such as parenting, the loss of a child, cancer, self-image, anxiety and more, with deep, emotional storylines and relatable characters that have captivated millions of viewers.
Brown is full of praise for his fellow castmates, noting that one of his favorite parts of the show is the casting.
“I love that it’s a show that uses the actors to help tell a really complex story,” Brown said, “I’m not opposed to color blind casting, but what’s better than that is when you choose an actor of a different race or body type, and use those people to help tell stories only they can communicate.”
For Brown, that means portraying an African American who was adopted into a white family and had to forge a connection to his own culture. As a hardworking, successful professional with a strong marriage and children he dotes on, Randall defies stereotypes usually assigned to African American characters. It’s a role Brown said he is proud to take on.
“It’s a responsibility, one that I’m eager to accept,” Brown said of bringing Randall into homes each week. “Randall is a lovable human being. People who don’t have a great socialization around other African Americans, when they see the humanity in this man, it helps them take a step towards embracing people of all walks of life instead of being fearful. And for the African American community in particular, it’s good to see the positive imagery of yourself reflected back to you. I take great pride in putting this image forward.”
Playing a father who lost his dad has a special meaning for Brown. The father of two lost his own dad—the man he credits for making him a “TV junkie”—when he was 10 years old. Brown was able to relieve that experience at the end of Season 1 when Randall’s birth father, William, passes away from cancer.
“It was very cathartic,” said Brown of filming the emotional scene. “For me, to have lost my father at a young age and to have this relationship that Randall has with William is a dream come true. What if I got to have a few more months with my dad? I get to play out that dream on screen as Randall. I couldn’t be more thankful for this job.”
Brown’s next big role finds him returning to the courtroom, but this time he’s the one on trial as he plays Joseph Spell in Marshall. Based on a true story, the film, in theaters Oct. 13, follows a young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), a lawyer for the NAACP at the time, as he defends Spell, who has been accused of sexual assault and attempted murder by a wealthy Connecticut socialite.
Brown said when he read the script for the film, he knew it was a story that had to be told.
“It really points the finger at the institution of racism and reminds us how difficult it is to separate ourselves from that. I don’t know if we can ever fully separate, but it’s good to be reminded of how insidious it is so we don’t repeat the cycle,” said Brown, noting that current events have made the movie especially relevant. “I’m looking forward to people seeing this movie, because hopefully it can wake them up and keep them from going too far in the wrong direction.”