When fans stop actors on the street, they usually snap selfies. When they encounter Sterling K. Brown, they often ask for hugs. “I feel incredibly proud to be a part of something that has affected people the way that it does,” says Brown, who is nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of adopted son Randall on the breakout NBC family drama This Is Us. “People are just effusive, and they want to hug you.”
It’s better than the alternative. When he starred as a villain in Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel, audience members would seek him out in the theater lobby to tell him how much they hated him. “I would get booed so vociferously [at the curtain call] that when I walked out on stage, I would come out like Charlie Brown after he just missed kicking the football,” says Brown. “This is a much better experience.”
After he returns for the second season of This Is Us (Sept. 26), Brown will co-star in Marshall (Oct. 13), a biopic about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in which he plays Joseph Spell, an early client of Marshall’s who was accused of a violent crime.
“I think he is a man who’s incredibly flawed, but do his flaws necessarily mean that he’s a criminal?” says Brown, who won an Emmy last year for playing Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. “Dancing in the gray with a character is incredibly interesting to me.”
Next year, he’s appearing alongside Marshall leading man Chadwick Boseman in Marvel’s Black Panther (Feb. 16) as a mysterious figure from the superhero’s past. Beyond that, Brown dreams of producing with storytellers of color, collaborating with his wife on a script about how they fell in love or perhaps playing a superhero of his own.
“Listen, I’m 41 years old,” he says with a laugh. “There are only so many years that you have while you can actually do it. My body’s still holding up. I still feel great. Let’s not waste any more time.”