2019 was a very good year for Sterling K. Brown.
Not that 2018 was particularly shabby (Black Panther, guest Emmy nomination for Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Or 2017 (lead actor Emmy win for This Is Us). Or 2016, for that matter (supporting actor Emmy win for The People v. O.J. Simpson). But the gifted, magnetically charming actor continued to impress this year, driving some of This Is Us’ most engaging story lines (another Emmy nomination, thank you very much), making waves in, well, Waves, laying down the law in season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and bringing new dimension to an animated universe in Frozen 2. (Don’t forget about Angry Birds 2, too. Or his Sia stand-in stint in The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience. Or his newly formed production company that has multiple shows in the works.) For these reasons, the 43-year-old Brown has been named one of EW’s Entertainers of the Year. “I’m thankful for all of it,” he says of his 2019, “and also thankful that I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Before Brown reaches the other side, let’s ask him to reflect on his frenzied-yet-triumphant year.
THIS IS US
Fans of NBC’s time-hopping drama finally exhaled when Randall (Brown) resolved tensions with wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) at the end of season 3. The first half of season 4 featured Randall slowly embracing Deja’s (Lyric Ross) new boyfriend/straight-A student/teen father Malik (Asante Blackk), while also worrying about the rapidly declining mental acuity of his mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
Brown shines in this potent indie drama as Ronald, an overbearing, walled-off father who seeks connection with his daughter (Taylor Russell) and wife (Renee Elise Goldsberry) after his son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) tragically spirals out of control. (Warning: Spoilers below)
“The reason I said ‘yes’ was because I was so afraid. I was really afraid of whether we were going to be telling a story that demonized a young black man and added to an already very negative stereotype of black male youth. He takes someone’s life at the midpoint of the film, and I wanted to make sure that if that was going to happen — which was the crux of the story — that it had to be a good boy losing his way, making a terrible mistake.…. For Ronald, there’s a wonderful arc. He starts off very armored, very stern, is a practitioner of tough love, but the tragedy of the loss of this young lady [Alexa Demie] hits his family in a devastating way. While the son doesn’t die, he experiences life imprisonment; it’s the closest thing to a death that you could come to as a parent. Through that loss, he recognizes that there has to be another way to be with your children — because holding on so tight didn’t yield the results that he was looking for. So when it finally comes to this wonderful conversation that he has with his daughter, there’s a realization borne out of necessity more than anything else, that if I want my children to share their lives with me, I have to share my life with them. Thank God, if there has to be tragedy, at least there’s some learning that transpires in the midst of that tragedy.”
THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL
Brown guest-starred (and even sang) in the Amazon Prime retro comedy as Reggie, sharp and protective manager of Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain), the entertainer who tapped Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) to be his opening act.
The sequel to the blockbuster animated fairy tale added Brown’s Mattias, a loyal lieutenant who was sworn to protect the kingdom — and who helped to open up this all-white winter wonderland.
“We tell these fairy tales and for some reason the fairy tales are all white. And we’re now to a point where someone has brought that into attention and there’s a recognition. Thankfully on the part of [directors] Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, they’re like, ‘Oh snap. There’s something that needs to be done about that.’ Arendelle should be populated with everyone that populates the world as we know it.…. With Lieutenant Mattias, you can do a voice, and you don’t have to necessarily be the color of that voice on screen. But they made a black man who was a soldier in the army of their grandfather who has now been stuck in the enchanted forest with the people of the Northuldra for 30 years under the auspices that they are bad. The narrative that [Arandelle] fed was that these people are a threat to us. And then that notion gets challenged. Jennifer [Lee, who also penned the screenplay] wrote something so incredibly nuanced and thought-provoking. When you take a second to examine whose version of history that you are digesting, you realize that it can’t be objective. I love that Jennifer wrote something that took that into serious critical examination and said, “No, no, that is not the truth. And once we find out what the real truth is, we have a responsibility to make things right.”
• Sterling K. Brown sheds light on Randall’s fracture with Kevin, fall finale
• This Is Us producers on the ‘creepiness’ of that Kate cliffhanger
• This Is Us producer breaks down Rebecca’s fight — and those flash-forward shockers