Former Bay Area resident Sterling K. Brown feels ‘blessed beyond words’

Sterling spoke with the Mercury News about what his success means to him and how he found his calling of acting.

Sterling K. Brown spent most of his 15-year professional acting career “just showing up, saying lines and going home.”

Then, suddenly, he became an “overnight success.”

Last September, Brown earned an Emmy award for his remarkable portrayal of prosecutor Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Just a couple days later, he made his debut in “This Is Us,” NBC’s wildly popular family drama.

As “This Is Us” prepares to complete its freshman run on NBC next week, the Stanford grad is still pinching himself.

“Man, I have been blessed beyond words,” he says. “This last year or so has opened up doors that I hadn’t been able to walk through before. I never saw this as part of my future. But now that it’s happening, I feel so incredibly fortunate.”

This newfound star power wouldn’t have ever materialized if Brown hadn’t made a dramatic existential detour during his days at Stanford. A native of St. Louis, he arrived in the Bay Area as an economics major, fully intent on becoming a big-time businessman.

“In the application essay I wrote to get into Stanford, I talked about how I was going to own one outlet of every popular fast-food chain, so that I’d be constantly be in competition with myself,” he recalls, smiling. “I did some acting in high school, but I didn’t think it would be prudent to pursue it as a career possibility.”

However, shortly after Brown settled in at Stanford, drama professor Harry Elam Jr. (now a vice provost at the university) came to the Ujamaa dorm looking for black students to appear in a production of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Brown landed the role of Herald Loomis, and when the play finished its run, Elam had some encouraging words for the young man.

“He told me, ‘I know you don’t plan on majoring in (theater), but you might just want to hang around the drama department and have some fun with it, because you’ve got some talent.’ ”

So that’s what Brown did. He hung around and occasionally took to the stage — until something finally clicked.

“I realized that every time I did a play, my grades got better,” says Brown, his voice rising and taking on the sense of wonder often conveyed by Randall Pearson, the character he plays in “This Is Us.” “That’s because it fed my soul. It took a couple of years for me to figure out that my hobby really was my calling.”

It certainly didn’t hurt, either, that Brown found a soulmate — and his future wife, Ryan Michelle Bathe — while performing together in one of the student plays. (Both members of the Class of 1998, they married in 2007). And when he earned his Emmy last fall, Brown gave a rousing a shout-out to his “extended Stanford family,” during his acceptance speech, blurting: “Stand up, Chocolate Cardinal in the house!”

More exciting work is coming Brown’s way as his profile rises. Later this year, he’ll appear in “Marshall,” a big-screen film about a young Thurgood Marshall. He has also signed on to appear in the latest “Predator” movie, as well as the Marvel superhero flick “Black Panther.” The latter film, set for a 2018 release, is being directed by Oakland native and former Saint Mary’s College student Ryan Coogler.

But for now, millions of “This Is Us” fans will continue to know him as one of three adult siblings in a family saga that Brown has called “nuanced and heartwarming and funny and just beautiful.” The show, notorious for turning fans into blubbering messes, is the one true breakout hit of the broadcast season and already has been renewed by NBC for two more seasons.

As “This Is Us” entered its stretch run, Brown was involved in the season’s most poignant story line — one that saw his character forge a bond with his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), only to lose him to cancer.

Brown, whose own father died when he was 10, admits that he “bawled” when he read the farewell script and says he hopes the story line encourages viewers to stay connected with their loved ones.

After the episode with William’s death aired a couple weeks ago, a tearful Brown shot a Facebook live video in which he said, “If you have family that you haven’t talked to in a while, or friends that you feel you’ve gotten out of touch with, then call them up and let them know how much you love them and how much you care — because tomorrow is not promised.”

 

One comment on “Former Bay Area resident Sterling K. Brown feels ‘blessed beyond words’”

  1. S. A. Peckham says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention his role on Supernatural.

Comments are closed.