Sitting Down with Sterling K. Brown
There are certain people who command attention when they enter a room. Sterling K.Brown is one of those people, for all the right reasons. When he arrives at our NOBLEMAN cover shoot on a cloudy day at the Sofitel in LA, his megawatt smile instantly brightens the room. Carrying his own thermos of tea, he first introduces himself to the team, repeating everyone’s name back to them to make sure he got it. He then asks, “What do you need me to do?”
A consummate professional and quintessential gentleman, Brown flies through the shoot like he’s spent a career as a model rather than an actor. He’s the first to hold a door and is genuine and unfiltered, speaking openly about anything from his appreciation for pineapple to only recently embracing fitted clothing, to the delight of his wife, to the possibility of adopting a child one day. The shoot is the day before the LA premiere of Hotel Artemis, a star-studded sci-fi film about a secret hospital for criminals. Brown plays a bank robber alongside his on-screen brother and real-life best friend Brian Tyree Henry. “We’re all bad guys in the world of Hotel Artemis,” Brown says. “But hopefully bad guys that you want to root for.” The cast is rounded out with Jodie Foster, Jeff Goldblum, Sofia Boutella, Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, and Zachary Quinto.
The shoot is also the day before the royal wedding, perhaps the inspiration for Brown frequently slipping into a pretty spot-on British accent throughout the day. He has practice. He says, “I read Harry Potter to my kids on a nightly basis, and I think my Hermione is a very tight and dignified British accent.”
Unlike his character Randall Pearson on NBC’s award-winning This Is Us, who’s the father of girls, Brown has two sons, Andrew, 6, and Amare, 2, with his wife of 12 years Ryan Michelle Bathe. While he says he doesn’t foresee his wife giving birth to another child, he shares that, like his family on This Is Us, he’s open to the idea of adopting one day.
The similarities with Randall don’t end there. “We’re very, very similar,” he admits. “When I think about Randall and what I have to give to him, I understand that pursuit of perfectionism. It’s a great thing to drive you, but it can also be debilitating once you come to the recognition that you can’t achieve everything in the timetable in which you want it.”
In real life, he’s learned to keep the push for perfection in check, explaining, “You have to aim high, but you’ve got to enjoy the journey. If you’re only focused on the goal, you’re missing the majority of life. So now I’m more focused on the journey and enjoying it—but always still aiming high.” Always having lofty goals, Brown, who describes his younger self as “a Calculus-AP-Econ nerd,” went to Stanford University “because they had the number one economics program in the country” and planned to be an Econ major.
“I worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, Missouri,” he says, “and for my essay to get into Stanford, I remember saying I wanted to own one of every fast food restaurant so I could be in constant competition with myself.”
Although he’d done some theater in high school, Brown says he always thought of it more as a hobby than a career—not something you could do to make a living. Thankfully for us, while he was head down in the books studying numbers, a professor encouraged him to audition for an August Wilson play. He did and says, after that, “I stopped thinking about money and realized every time I was on stage, my soul felt like hope, like everything else fell into place because I was doing something that I loved.” Two years into college and an encouraging conversation with his mom later, he made the transition to pursuing acting.
It was also in that first play that he met fellow Stanford student Bathe. After undergrad, they’d both go on to receive master’s degrees at NYU. And now, after a dozen years of marriage to his college sweetheart, he says some things he’s learned about having a happy marriage are “You can’t take yourself too seriously” and “It’s better to be in peace than be right.” He explains, “Sometimes men get a little tied to the idea of being right, and there’s no peace. I can let that go.” Also, “Never stop talking. When couples stop talking to each other, that’s when small things can become big things.”
Other ever-present influences in Brown’s life are his parents. His dad passed away when he was only 10 years old, but Brown says, “He was an awesome human being, and I think about him every day. I look like him, so when I look in the mirror, I get a chance to see him.”
His dad is the one who instilled in him an early love of television and film. “We loved entertainment,” he says, “We loved watching movies and TV shows and things that I shouldn’t have been watching at five or six years old…. The idea that I’m now doing this for a living—I know he’s smiling, and his smile makes me smile as I get to continue doing this.”
His mom has been his biggest fan—and critic. “My mom has been my rock through it all,” he says. “She’s come to every play, she goes to every movie opening, and she’s a fairly harsh critic. Although, as of late, she’s been pretty complimentary.”
The public is in agreement with his mother—on the latter point, at least. In just the past couple of years, Brown has won an Emmy for his portrayal of Christopher Darden in FX drama The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and he became the first African American ever to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama Series for his role on This Is Us. He’s also in the record-breaking smash Black Panther, a film he hopes will finally lay to rest the idea that a film led by African American actors can’t sell overseas.
The enormity of Brown’s avalanche of recent success isn’t lost on him, and he says, “I remember a conversation with my agent and he said, ‘You know this doesn’t happen,’ and I was like, ‘I know.’ After 15 years of just paying the bills and being under the radar, I could recognize that this was/is a special moment, and I’m hoping it continues.”
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Words by Jen Birn
Photography by John Russo
Film by Josh Hamilton @ Process Creative
Styled by Francisco and Eddie Barragan
Grooming by Leah Rial for Exclusive Artists using LXMI Skincare
Shot on location at Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
Clothing provided exclusively for NOBLEMAN Magazine by:
Strong Suit by Ilaria Urbinati
Shoes by Mezlan
Travel Bag by Louis Vuitton
Sunglasses provided by Leisure-Society
Watches provided by Panerai South Coast Plaza, and Traditional Jewelers, Fashion Island