By Charles Hallman
Sterling K. Brown became a thespian back in high school in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduation, he went on to Stanford, where he earned a drama degree and later a masters in fine arts from New York University.
Brown has nearly 30 acting credits, mostly small roles in television to his credit. His breakthrough role may have been in Lifetime’s Army Wives (2007-13), where his Dr. Roland Burton character was the only male among the featured group of
military spouses the show revolved around.
During an appearance at this year’s Twin Cities Black Film Festival in September, Brown talked with the MSR about his seven seasons on the cable drama.
“Army Wives was a gift from God,” says Brown on the recently cancelled series. “On a purely professional level, I got a chance to work a lot in front of the camera. It was seven wonderful years and over 100 episodes. So many people are looking for these opportunities — I was one of the fortunate few to be able to make a living from it.”
Looking back, Brown says his role “was too good to be true. There were certain things that didn’t jibe with me character-wise. But then I realized how many images of Black maleness we have out there that is too good to be true.
“To play a character who is the primary caretaker of his children, who was working from his home and is supportive of his wife’s career in the military,” Brown points out. “That was a joy because I see how important it was resonating in my community to see a positive male role model.” He also points out that the Dr. Burton character “was a better human being than [I am] in real life. [I] learned a lot from playing it.”
The actor easily recalls reading many scripts and playing not so positive roles because taking them helped “pay your bills.”
“It didn’t seem to be a lot of characters written for African Americans that weren’t stereotypical in some way,” says Brown. Understandably, when he was asked, he accepted the role as “the other suspect” alongside co-star Mekhi Phifer in The Suspect (2013), a crime thriller about two Black professors who posed as bank robbers to expose “the racial dynamics of small town law enforcement.” The feature film was screened at this year’s Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF).
Writer-director Stuart Connelly told the MSR after the screening that after he saw Brown in a Boston Legal episode, he quickly went after the actor as soon as he could: “That’s my guy,” admits Connelly. “As we started [editing] the film together, we started to see an aspect of Sterling’s character that certainly wasn’t written nor was it directed [by him]. It was really remarkable what the camera could capture [on film].”
“I read the script one night [in about two hours]” after receiving it, claims Brown, who added he enjoyed being in The Suspect as well as working with Connelly on the writer-director’s first feature film. “He [Connelly] has vision and he has contagious enthusiasm,” says the actor.
After watching the film along with the TCBFF audience, “I enjoyed watching myself and seeing everybody else up there [on the screen] as well,” says Brown. “People responded to the humor in the film which I think is very important because it deals with race and society. Seeing people being able to laugh at it as well is just as important as being able to take something from it, and think about it and discuss it afterwards.”
Finally, Brown now plays “a no-nonsense narcotics detective” on CBS-TV’s Person of Interest. He adds that Army Wives may return sometime next year in a “wrap-up” retrospective.
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