Sterling K. Brown is a happy man—and it shows. He bounces onto the set of his new series, NBC’s This Is Us, with a joviality that’s infectious. He jokes with his colleagues and sometimes bursts into song during conversations.
There’s a good reason for his good mood. It’s been a standout year for the actor. He wowed TV viewers with his portrayal of former prosecutor Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. On Sunday, he finds out if he will win the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series for his performance. And two nights later, This Is Us, his new show, premieres on NBC.
The buzz around the series – which centers on three people who were born on the same day – is incredible. Within 48 hours of its release in May, the trailer had been viewed 15 million times on Facebook alone. To date that figure is 64 million. It’s incredible success for a show that hasn’t even hit the air yet.
In This Is Us Brown plays Randall, a happily married father of two who is on a quest to meet his biological father. The actor spoke to EBONY.com about race in America, his Emmy nomination and why he thinks viewers will love This Is Us.
EBONY.com: Everyone’s being tight-lipped about the plot of the show, but what can you tell our readers about This Is Us? What can we expect from the show?
Sterling K. Brown: It’s a character-driven dramedy . . . You will laugh. You may have to pull out your tissue box from time-to-time. But it will sort of reaffirm your desire to move forward in life. It’s a very hopeful show.
You have a group of people that are all turning 36 and they share things in common because they have the same birthday. They share more in common than we even realize on the surface. Their lives will intersect in a very interesting way, as it moves forward.
My character, Randall, was adopted. He’d never met either of his biological parents so he seeks out and finds his biological father after 36 years. So that’s where we find my character at the beginning of the show.
He’s a very successful businessman, got a beautiful home, a beautiful family, two daughters and gorgeous wife. But still he doesn’t have a father figure present in his life. He feels that void.
EBONY.com: Randall seems to have a happy life and refers to having a good childhood, so what do you think his motivation is to find his dad?
Brown: It’s interesting. I can speak from my own personal experience in that I was 10 years old when I lost my biological dad, so it’s not an exact analogy situation. But right now is a really good time for me in my life. I’ve got two beautiful children, a lovely wife and the career’s going well. And I often ask myself, ‘Wouldn’t be cool if my dad was here? Wouldn’t it be really cool if he could be with his grandchildren right now and meet this woman that I chose to share my life with? How awesome would that be?’
And so I think Randall is going through a similar thing where he does have a beautiful wife, two beautiful girls, great job, but man, wouldn’t it be awesome if my dad was here…?
[It] seems almost like a no-brainer in that if he can do it – not just for himself, but for his children while they’re still young and open to meeting new people and making connections – then that’s something he almost has to do. It’s almost like he’s compelled to do it, even though he doesn’t want to.
EBONY.com: Your wife, Ryan Michelle Bathe, is an actress, too. What is it like being a couple of actors, juggling a marriage, children and your careers? How does that work?
Brown: It works one day at a time. It requires constant communication. My wife is the engine that makes our family drive. In the midst of everything, she’s able to juggle many more balls at one time andm more often than not, is able to tell me where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I forget myself.
We’ve been married for 10 years. We have a 5-year-old boy and an 11-month-old boy, and life is good. It’s a constant juggle, but it is so incredibly fulfilling when you get a chance to look into each other’s eyes at the end of the day and say, “We made it through another one.”
EBONY.com: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for The People v. O.J. Simpson. For you, is it validation that you’ve done a good job?
Brown: I guess to a certain extent it feels that way. I try not to get too high off the highs or too low off the lows. But I’m pleased it turned out the way that it did, because I know lots of other people who did fantastic work and did not see this particular kind of recognition.
EBONY.com: Why do you think people are fascinated by the OJ Simpson case after all these years?
Brown: Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the issues that the show was dealing with are still very much in the forefront of the American consciousness and the world consciousness today. Police misconduct was at the heart of the defense, and Johnny Cochran did a masterful job at putting that defense at the forefront of the jury’s conscience as opposed to the double homicide of Ron [Goldman] and Nicole [Brown Simpson].
We’ve seen many Black men lose their lives over the past couple of years, not only just heard about it. We’ve actually seen it [in] many a major city in the United States—New York City, St. Louis, Missouri, from Cleveland to Baltimore. It was those sorts of incidents that were very much prevalent in the forefront of that jury’s conscience that allowed them to believe that this man [O.J. Simpson] could have been set up.
Interestingly enough, I feel what the show was able to accomplish in a really masterful way is that White America could look back on the show and the documentary and say, “We understand why Black people were effusive at the acquittal of O.J. Simpson.” And, just as important I believe, is Black America can look back at the show and say, “Wow, I think I now understand why a lot of White people were appalled at the acquittal of O.J. Simpson.”
So people are starting to understand the other side’s perspective, and that’s where empathy can sort of begin once you quit judging other people but just understand where they’re coming from.
This Is Us premieres on NBC on Tuesday, September 20 at 10 p.m. ET. The Emmy Awards show will air on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. ET on ABC.