Interview w/ Sterling K. Brown (‘This is Us’) hosting Atlanta charity gala against domestic violence

THIS IS US — “Memphis” Episode 116 — Pictured: Sterling K. Brown as Randall — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

This was posted on Saturday, June 17, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Sterling K. Brown – a star on NBC’s hit show ‘This is Us” and Christopher Darden in 2016’s “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” on FX – is one of those classic overnight success stories that was a long time coming.

Starting in Hollywood 15 years ago with a small role in the film “Brown Sugar,” he then appeared in shows such as “E.R.,” “NYPD Blue,” “JAG,” “Boston Legal,” “The Good Wife” and “Person of Interest.” In his first regular TV role, he starred as the lone “Army husband” in the Lifetime drama “Army Wives” for seven seasons from 2007 to 2013.

For Brown, 2016 was just his time. His embodiment of Darden in that FX miniseries was so convincing, so trenchant, he overshadowed many of the bigger names on that showy cast and won himself an Emmy. He was cast on “This is Us” before “O.J.” even aired, but his role as family man Randall Pearson was a major reason why the show became the only real new hit on broadcast TV this past year.

Brown tackled Randall with verve and a density that made him that much more appealing on a cast already packed with flawed but lovable characters.

Instead of resting on his laurels, he has spent his off-season from “This is Us” shooting three big-budget movies. He nabbed roles in the new Marvel film “Black Panther” at Pinewood Studios in Fayetteville, a “Predator” reboot in Vancouver and a spot in a Jodie Foster thriller “Hotel Artemis,” shooting now in Los Angeles.

He is also squeezing time to fly to Atlanta Saturday, June 24 to host a charity event “Dinner for Divas,” honoring 150 survivors of domestic abuse and raising funds for the Alma G. Davis Foundation. Brown met the organizer Alma Davis in March, 2016 while he was promoting “People Vs. O.J.” with Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Singleton at Morehouse College. (I was there, too, and met Brown in person. Read my story from that time here or watch the video below shot by my colleague Ryon Horne.

“Alma is the embodiment of persistence,” said Brown during a break in production of “Hotel Artemis” Saturday. “She would not take no for an answer in the midst of my busy schedule.”

At the same time, Brown said, this is a no-brainer worthwhile cause. “The psychosis of violence has to stop,” Brown said. “It’s a cycle and can run through generations. If I can lend my voice to shine light on this particular issues and help bring it to a stop or curtail it to some degree, the use of celebrity makes sense to me.”

Brown, 40, said the issue is especially important for the African-American community. “It’s a by-product of the institution of slavery. Spare the rod and spoil the child… There’s discipline and there’s abuse. The line of demarcation can be easily crossed. We don’t want to expose our children to violence out of habit. We want to do something to put them on a path toward self-improvement, to not just be seen but heard.”

He has two sons with his wife Ryan Michelle Bathe. Although Brown said his mother did use corporal punishment when he was a child, she did not abuse him. With his own kids, he chooses other ways to teach his children about right and wrong. “I believe in love,” he said. “I believe in giving my children the freedom to express themselves, even when it comes with expressing themselves at times in contradiction to me. Although it can be a bit of a pain in the patootie sometimes, I recognize exercising their right to be their own person is important. They’ll grow up being adults who recognize the importance of their voices being heard and not silenced.”

He sounds very much like his character Randall on “This is Us,” who has a strong marriage and raises two happy daughters. Randall and his non-biological twin siblings lost their father when they were relatively young and that still impacts everyone in the Pearson family to varying degrees. (The show still won’t say why the dad died.)

 My interview with Susan Kelechi Watson, Brown’s TV wife Beth, earlier this year when she came to Atlanta to promote the show. 

Then to make matters worse, he discovers his mother had been hiding the existence of Randall’s biological father William (Ron Cephas Jones) for decades. The interaction between Jones, who played William with brutal honesty and warmth, and Brown anchored one of the most emotional and memorable story arcs of season one. (I can’t imagine anyone reading this doesn’t already know but SPOILER ALERT: Jones’ character William dies of cancer in the season finale.)

“I lost my own father when I was 10 years old,” Brown said. “So stories about fathers and sons are always near and dear to my heart. It was cathartic for me to say goodbye as Randall to William, something denied to me 30 years ago when I was just a little boy.”

With season two just around the corner, “I get sad thinking about” not having Jones around, Brown said. “There will be episodes in which we do see William incorporated in different ways but it won’t be the same presence as season one. He’s such a beautiful soul, such a wonderful performer. He’s amazing. His presence day to day will be missed.”

Brown loves playing Randall and hopes to do so for many years to come.

“He hits every emotional point known to man season one,” Brown said. “He lives his life with real joy… When he finds out his mother kept that huge secret about his biological father from him, he was heartbroken. He wound up hallucinating having a conversation with his late dad looking for help wherever he could. As a character on this show, you get to experience the full gamut of life.”

Brown thinks the show’s title “This is Us” says it all. The show’s appeal is universal. “It’s a story about a family trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got,” he said. “It tackles transracial issues, body image issues, artistic integrity. What’s the right way to raise your children. So many themes are addressed through the course of the show. It’s something everyone can relate to or another. I’m very proud to be part  of something that can entertain, educate and edify on network television.”

He loves how the show is able to bridge what is happening in the past with what’s happening now: “It’s a simple story told in a very artful way. The format speaks to me as a parent. You get to recognize your parents are doing the best they can with what they know. It humanizes them and gives them a break. When I watch the show, I get a chance to be an adult who sees a younger version of myself as well.”

Brown has been given an overview of what season two will be like but is in no position to spill the goods. The best he could say is that “we have some good stuff on the horizon.”

CHARITY EVENT

“Dinner for Divas” to support the Alma G. Davis Foundation to eradicate domestic violence hosted by Sterling K. Brown

7 p.m., Saturday, June 24, 2017

$125-$175

Atlanta Marriott Marquis

265 Peachtree Center Avenue NE., Atlanta

General admissions tickets are $125 per person. VIP tickets which include a private reception are $175 per person. All donors can choose to sponsor survivors for the event. To purchase tickets, go to www.almagdavisfoundation.org.


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