STERLING K. BROWN on 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story'
Actors produce perfect performances by basing them in truth. For this reason, Sterling K. Brown and the cast of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story were essentially given gold when Ryan Murphy hired them for his take on Hollywood's most beguiling murder case. Most widely known for Army Wives, Brown plays prosecutor Christopher Darden who famously asked O.J. to try on bloody gloves during the trial.
Starring alongside Sarah Paulson, Brown's performance has already received praise from publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. S.K.B. talked with HYC about nabbing his role in the highly anticipated miniseries, working with Ryan Murphy, his upcoming film with Tina Fey and more.
RP: What do you love most about being an actor? SKB: With each new character I get to play, I learn a little bit more about myself, and a little bit more about humanity in general. I have the freedom of becoming less judgmental by walking around in someone else's shoes. RP: Your training is from both Stanford University and the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. What have you taken away most from your studies of the craft? SKB: Your time is your most valuable commodity. It is not to be wasted. So, when you're in rehearsal or you're on a set, and you need to focus, there is nothing unkind about giving yourself the space to give the best performance possible.
"Your time is your most valuable commodity. It is not to be wasted."
RP: You've had notable performances on amazing television series like Supernatural, Army Wives, Person of Interest, etc . What has been your favorite experience?
SKB: Thank you kindly! On TV... my FAVORITE experience?... That's a tough call! I've done a lot of things that I'm very proud of... it's always nice to be greeted by someone in the Armed Forces, or families of the brave men and women who serve this country, and hear how Army Wives helped them through their most recent deployment... but getting beheaded on Supernatural was pretty dope! Ha!
Sterling as Roland Burton in Army Wives (Lifetime).
RP: Ha! I bet. What's your advice for performers looking to break into television (and not necessarily get beheaded)? SKB: Buy a camera! Watch yourself. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become. RP: That seems to have worked well for you. You play Christopher Darden in the highly anticipated Fx series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. How did that come about? SKB: I really wish I had some fantastic story about "Ryan" reaching out to "my people" to check my availability, but alas, I'm not quite there yet. Uhh... I auditioned. I got the appointment, I read the sides, I watched A LOT of Darden on YouTube, I shaved my head, broke out my "audition glasses," put on a suit, looked at myself in the mirror and said, "I think you can do this, Brown!" RP: Did you meet with Christopher Darden at all throughout the process? SKB: I did not meet with Mr. Darden, though I would have liked to. Having had the opportunity to "kinda" walk a mile in his shoes, I do understand how it is not a period in his life that he would be amped to revisit.
RP: How did you go about creating your performance?
SKB: I read two books about the trial. Jeffrey Toobin's book, "The Run of His Life: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson," and Darden's book, "In Contempt." Both were extremely informative about the ins and outs of the trial itself, and about Mr. Darden as an individual. It's very interesting to see how an outsider perceives you, and how you perceive yourself. Then, of course, I watched as much video as I could find.
RP: Due to the nature of the story, you work closely with Sarah Paulson. Did you learn anything from her as a performer? SKB: Sarah Catherine Paulson is a bonafide BEAST! Her talent is tremendous; Her work ethic may even be more extraordinary! While we were shooting ACS, she was also doing season 5 of American Horror Story! And she's killing both of them!
"You can't take your eyes off of someone who is always telling the truth!"
I think what I took away from Sarah most is that she's physically incapable of telling a lie. On camera and off. And you can't take your eyes off of someone who is always telling the truth!
RP: I imagine it must be thrilling to work with Ryan Murphy. He seems to love bringing actors back for other projects or seasons. Is there a show you’d like to work on with him? SKB: If Ryan Murphy wants me to work on a show called "Bagging Groceries," and all it's about is people bagging groceries... I'm in! If he's doing it, he'll make it fly and I'll want to be a part of it!... that and Horror Story, of course. RP: Ha! I'd be down for that. What is it like to work with him? SKB: He knows what he wants! He challenges his crew, and his actors in the most magnificent way. He asks for things that can be incredibly difficult, whether it be technically or emotionally. But he asks in such a way, like, "You can do that, right?" His expectations are high, but he can be so incredibly nonchalant about it, that all you can say is "yeah." And then you surprise yourself. I love him. I hope I get a chance to do it again. RP: Any other projects you'd like to share with us? SKB: I made a film with Tina Fey that should be releasing in 2016. It is about America's coverage of the war in Iraq in the early 1980s. I also have new pilot for NBC written by Dan Fogleman and a theatrical production of Suzan-Lori Parks "Father Comes Home From The Wars: Parts 1-3" at the Mark Taper in Los Angeles. I recently shot a movie with a very acclaimed director that I can’t talk about just yet, but 2016 will be a wonderful year.
RP: It certainly sounds like it. To end on an inspiring note for our readers, what is your best piece of advice for aspiring performers?
SKB: Know why you're doing it, and own it! If your reason for being in this profession sustains you, then you won't have a choice but to persevere. And personally, I think it has to be something bigger than yourself, bigger than fame. Although, that is a sufficient motivator for some, I don't think it works for most of us.
"Your artistry can change the world."
Before any performance, I remind myself why I do what I do: To Entertain, to Educate, and to Edify... the three Es. First and foremost, an audience has to enjoy itself. If you don't get the first E, you can't keep them on the hook for the other two. Second, I hope they get to learn something about the world in which they live. Third, I want them to be inspired. That can manifest in a multitude of ways, (inspired through laughter, love, etc.) but ultimately, inspired to go out into the world and be a better version of themselves. Have a reason that helps to take you out of your own head, and reminds you that, when done well, and with a sense of responsibility, your artistry can change the world.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story premieres Tues. 2/2 on FX. Be sure to follow Sterling on twitter @sterlingkb1.