STERLING K. BROWN won an EMMY AWARD for his portrayal of LOS ANGELES COUNTY Prosecutor CHRISTOPHER DARDEN in the FX drama AMERICAN CRIME STORY: The PEOPLE vs O. J. SIMPSON, and he currently stars in gripping NBC drama, THIS IS US!!!
Hoever; STERLING K. BROWN has been around for quite some time.
SARAH GOLDSTEIN caught up with SKG to ask him a few questions for the current issue of GQ Magazine.
Here are a few interview interludes:
GQ: A lot of the recent press about you is on how it has been a breakout year for you. It's true that it's been a huge year, but you've actually been a successful working actor for a long time.
SKB: I've been able to pay the bills. I've been able to pay off my student loans. I was a homeowner before anything happened in the larger public eye. But yeah, I've been alright, I've been happy.
GQ: So then tell me how things have changed in this last year, year-and-a-half, in terms of getting work, in terms of encounters with the public.
SKB: The level of opportunity that has made itself available to me has changed. At one point in time you're just auditioning and hoping for the next job. Maybe they'll like you, this guest star can turn into a recurring, this recurring can turn into a series regular. Oh my god, how amazing would that be?[laughs] And right now at this particular point in my career I'm able to breathe a little bit easier, recognizing that there is genuine enthusiasm in having me in projects.
GQ: I'm going to switch gears to O.J. for a second. I have two questions. First, were you surprised by how well the show did? Your show did very well, the ESPN O.J. documentary won the Oscar. Does it surprise you how the story has continued to reverberate and that there's continued to be an appetite for it more than 20 years later?
SKB: When I read the script I was like, This is something that's going to touch a chord. And so I think I had an idea. You never know to exactly what degree it will become the phenomenon that it was, but recognizing that you had a sort of cultural icon in O.J. Simpson being at the center of a murder case, the echoes of having a black man, a high profile black man at odds with law enforcement, was something that was clearly of the moment. As a matter of fact, when we were doing Father Comes Home from the Wars [a play by Suzan-Lori Parks in which Brown starred in 2014 in New York] was when the murder of Mike Brown transpired in Ferguson.
GQ: That's near where you're from.
SKB: Yes. I'm from St. Louis, Missouri, Ferguson is a suburb. And when it happened, I had to do a show that night. And our cast was collectively sort of dumbfounded, and they didn't know what to say to me because I was a mess. Before I had to step on stage I went to the theater, as is my custom, to do my vocal warm up and to sort of enjoy being in the space in solitude, because it's like church. I love being in an empty theater. And I just started crying. And I know a couple of stagehands walked by me, and they gave me my space to just let it out and what not. And we talked as a cast collectively, and we decided, I can't remember if it was immediately after Mike Brown or if was after Mike Brown and then what transpired in New York with [the death of] Eric Garner. Protesters were going by in downtown New York and we wanted to be connected to that protest and so we decided as a cast at our curtain call we were going to lift up our hands into the air: Hands Up, Don't Shoot. And it was such a wonderful moment for us to be able to use our platform, for the 300 people that we were performing for, saying we recognize what is going on in the world around us and this is our way of standing in solidarity with those people who are protesting police violence against the African American community
GQ: Do you remember where you were when the verdict was announced?
SKB: I was at Stanford University, living in one of the four ethnic theme houses on campus. Ethnic-theme houses have half of the ethnicity which they're designated for and then half of the dorm is, you know, everyone else. I lived in the African-American house, Ujamaa, and I remember everyone gathered in the large lounge watching the verdict, right? And the euphoria that erupted from the black folks in this dorm was transcendent. We were like, We have gotten off collectively! Finally, the criminal justice system has worked in such a way that we got to hold our hands up in victory. And the other half of the dorm was like, What are you guys doing?
GQ: Over the hiatus for This is Us you shot Black Panther. You've spoken about this in the past, that eight, ten years ago a black superhero movie probably was not going to get made. What has changed that this movie is now getting made? And, then, what you think hasn't changed still?
SKB: I think what Hollywood is learning at large is that there is profitability in stories that are culturally specific, and that you can only address the universal through the specific. So whereas things may have been seen as commercially not viable, now there's a recognition of some things that have come out: The People v. OJ. I would say the success that Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther has had, with Fruitvale Station, on a critical basis, and then on a commercial basis also with Creed, I think Hollywood has been able to pay attention. And I mean, please, let me not forget the phenomenon of the current moment and Get Out where folks can look and say, Oh, we can make a dollar off of these stories. So if it weren't viable it wouldn't be happening. But if there weren't really great artists out there telling these stories it probably wouldn't be happening either.
GQ: What still has to change?
SKB: Right, right. There's often the sort of conversation that transpires behind closed doors, and I shall entitle this conversation [in a deep serious voice] There Can Be Only One. And what I mean by that is highlighted quite lovely in season one of Master of None where Aziz [Ansari], or Dev I should say, his character, is going to audition for this pilot and they're thinking about making one character Indian and then they decide to switch that character to be white so then they decide to make this other character Indian, and Dev says, Well, why can't there be two Indians? Why can't there be two black guys? Why can't there be a black woman?
GQ: One very last question. I saw you post a picture in a Cavs jersey. You're a Cavs fan because…LeBron?
SB: It's LeBron. I'd say the fact that this particular young man has been in the public eye since age 13, and has been sort of hailed as the second coming since he was a teenager, has come straight out of high school and has performed, dare I say above expectations. His level of basketball intelligence is surpassed by no one. And there's been no scandals associated with LeBron, there's been no, you know, extracurricular activities that I can point to for my kids to say, Look, I don't want you to be like this. He has conducted himself exceptionally on and off the court. He showed business acumen in terms of developing his own production companies and whatnot. I just love everything about this dude.