Sterling K. Brown on how 'This Is Us' changed the way he talks to his kids

Sterling K. Brown used to belong to the legion of actors toiling away in under-the-radar roles across the TV spectrum. His most well-known part was in the little-seen Lifetime drama “Army Wives.”

Then 2016 happened. And Brown is under the radar no longer. 

He began the year by playing prosecutor Christopher Darden in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”  — a portrayal that won him an Emmy.

The actor is now part of an acclaimed ensemble in NBC’s hit freshman drama, “This Is Us.”

Brown plays Randall, an upwardly mobile businessman and upstanding suburban family man. As a baby, Randall was abandoned by his biological father and adopted by a white couple who, on the same day, loses one of their triplets during birth. The conflicting emotions Randall harbors about his cultural identity are explored as the series shows him at various stages in his life.

“This Is Us,” which was created by Dan Fogelman and airs Tuesdays, has been a bright spot for NBC, averaging just over 14 million viewers. The network recently handed out a two-season renewal for the show.

We spoke to Brown, who has two young sons with his wife, Ryan Michelle Bathe, about how the show has changed the way he talks to his kids, capturing Randall‘s underlying anger, and getting his “People v. O.J. Simpson” costar Sarah Paulson, who played prosecutor Marcia Clark, to guest star.

Knowing that you can play this character for at least two more seasons, what do you hope to see come in Randall’s journey?

I'm always trying to find ways to evolve. Evolution, for me, is a very spiritual thing, getting closer to the creator, closer to God and becoming a better version of yourself. I think that Randall is on a similar sort of journey. He has a certain zeal and zest for the pursuit of perfection that is a positive and also, to a certain extent, maybe not the healthiest thing. I'm hoping that he's able to find balance in his life where he tries his best but is forgiving of himself when he falls short of the mark.

Has this show changed the way you talk to your children? Do you find yourself telling more stories of who you were before they entered the picture?

I do tell them a lot more stories, yeah. My youngest son turned 1 in the fall, but my 5-year-old, Andrew, he'll ask me questions like, "Dad, were you afraid of the dark when you were a boy?" Yeah, absolutely. I find myself telling him stories about my dad who passed away. Then every once in a while we'll be saying grace, or we'll be praying, and he's like, "Don't forget to pray for your dad." 

I do talk to him a lot and try to let him know where he came from, everybody he's connected to,  because all of our family is in the Midwest. It's nice for him to have a sense of who his family is. I do it, probably need to do it even more.

It is nice to hear from other people, this desire to reconnect or connect on a deeper level with the people who are already in your life because on a subconscious, unconscious level, we take for granted that they'll always be there.

It's one of those things, I get a chance to watch on this show my [character’s] parents parent [him] and the choices that they made in order that [he] could have the life that [he has]. It reminds me of that moment when you recognize that your parents are just people, doing the best that they know how to and then you start to give them a little bit of latitude, if you will.

People, including our own film editor Marc Bernardin, have praised the existence of a character like Randall, who captures the simmering rage of a successful black man in White America.

You have a black man who's successful and good at his job, but he's raised by a white family. You already see some of the things that his family attempts to do in order to instill him with cultural values of African Americans.

Going into the workforce and being one of the few blacks. sometimes the only but at least one of the few, there's a position that I can relate to and there's a recognition that you are being watched with a different eye than everyone else and that your mistakes aren't equal to everyone else's mistakes. They are above and beyond, because you are the only. 

When I talked to Sarah Paulson, when she got her Golden Globe nomination, she was very excited about your nomination and also the nomination for “This Is Us.” She said she wants to be on the show. Make some calls!

I think I can make that happen with the utmost of ease.

Who should she play?

I hope that I would get a chance to have a scene with her. She's got to be a part of Randall's life in some shape or fashion. Maybe an ex girlfriend of Kevin's that she broke up with because she's secretly attracted to Randall.

Let’s hope Dan Fogelman reads this.

I will make sure that he does.

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