Sterling K. Brown may be known for his ability to tug at your heartstrings in "This Is Us," but the Emmy-winning actor who’s juggling more than a half-dozen upcoming projects isn’t about to be typecast.
"Variety is No. 1," Brown says, sharing that one of his former acting teachers described his craft as "controlled schizophrenia." "There are lots of different characters living inside you."
The actor’s current resume reflects just that: He’s on your TV screens as Randall Pearson on Tuesday nights, on the silver screen as Ronald in the film festival-favorite "Waves" and in the upcoming season of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." His voice can be heard in the "Angry Birds" film sequel, now in theaters, and the highly anticipated "Frozen II," out Nov. 22. And, he’s the face of a new episodic cancer awareness project, Survivorship Today.
"I find it incredibly therapeutic to step into another person’s shoes because you can’t play somebody and judge them at the same time," he says of his decision to sign onto roles on various ends of the spectrum. He’s a family man in "This Is Us" and "Waves" and a cartoon character in "Frozen" and "Angry Birds." His role in the ’50s Amy Sherman-Palladino comedy-drama series is not yet known.
"Each time I do it, I consciously or unconsciously release a little judgment that I may have been holding onto about another person’s life. I step out of judgment and into understanding," he says. "I’m grateful to work in a time where I’m not locked into film or television. I am so very proud to be Randall Pearson, but I’m happy to be N’Jobu [in ‘Black Panther’] and be animated in ‘Frozen.’"
Variety and all, the actor may still be most commonly recognized and critically praised for his ability to slip into emotional character roles and make fans cry (thanks to "This Is Us"). To that, he laughs and says he simply aims to capture the essence of a character as "honest as possible" without "manipulating" the viewer’s emotions.
"I find people say that specifically about Randall, but I actually find him really, really funny too. I’m always trying to lean in and find the more humorous side to the character. But what he feels, the audience feels with him and that’s pretty high praise that people connect with him as they do."
Randall is the patriarch of a family that’s arguably the most beloved on NBC’s series. Fans of the four-season-long drama are connected to his decisions as if they’re their own. As Brown puts it, Randall "is that rare individual who always tries to do the right thing … He allows emotions to hit him each and every time."
In season 4, he’s moved his family from New Jersey to Philadelphia to pursue a career as a councilman — a choice that fans didn’t take lightly when it caused tension in his marriage.
"I’m that guy who did the deep-dive on social media just to see how people are reacting. They were so unaccustomed to having Randall be selfish in that way, and I’ll admit there were things that were selfish, but I also think he was being practical in his role of becoming councilman," he says.
He continues: "Obviously there’s Team Beth, Team Randall, but the fans who I really enjoyed were like I don’t care whose fault it is, if ya’ll don’t get it together, I’m not watching this show."
Though he couldn’t reveal details of his next role, in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Brown teases it’ll be quite different from Randall. "It was fun to slip into [’50s] gear. I think folks will enjoy not looking at Randall all the time, but looking at a new series."
Balancing it all, the actor is also hosting a cancer awareness project from Bristol-Myers Squibb that he signed onto after experiencing a personal loss. "My Uncle Sunny passed away 14 years ago. He was diagnosed with cancer and died about six months to the day of his diagnosis. It was brutal. It was tragic. So, I’m happy to be partnered with Survivorship Today knowing that people are living longer and that cancer may cease to be a death sentence in my lifetime."
Brown filmed his latest Survivorship Today episode — a sit-down conversation with cancer survivors on the struggles they face in complete remission — in New York City. "When people say yeah I’ve survived cancer but I’m having a tough time, they can appear as if they aren’t totally grateful for their new lease on life. They’re grateful and also worried it could come back. Their mental, spiritual and physical has been personally changed from what it was before their diagnosis."
Through this project, Brown helps expose resources and create a sense of community for those struggling. He also brings to light the emotional stories of survivors’ hardships.
"It’s been revelatory," he says.