After a career as a respected character actor in a variety of television roles, last year Sterling K. Brown had his big breakthrough role with his Emmy-winning performance as Christopher Darden in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Later that fall, he starred in NBC’s family drama “This Is Us” as fan-favorite character Randall Pearson. Randall was abandoned at a fire station as a baby, where he then got adopted by Jack (Emmy nominee Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) after one of their triplets died in childbirth.
If Brown were to win the 2017 Emmy for Best Drama Actor, he would become only the fourth black actor to ever win in that specific category and the first in 19 years, following Andre Braugher for “Homicide: Life On The Streets” in 1998, James Earl Jones for “Gabriel’s Fire” in 1991, and Bill Cosby for “I Spy” between 1966 and 1968.
Much of Brown’s scenes on “This Is Us” are shared with Randall’s biological dad William (Emmy nominee Ron Cephas Jones), who is dying of cancer. Randall spends the rest of the season re-connecting with him and finding out more about his past, while also serving as a husband and father to his family. Some of Brown’s most memorable moments are where he’s buying William clothes and he points out how the black experience uniquely affects him even though he is seemingly very well off. Brown also shines in another scene where he breaks down crying at the dinner table at the end of “Pilgrim Rick” after revealing to his mother that he found out that she had known who his birth father was all his life.
Another powerful episode of Brown’s is his emotionally raw drug trip in “The Trip” where Randall talks with a hallucination of his dead father Jack and cries out for his mother, who he sees really does genuinely love him and his siblings in spite of her deception. In the next episode “Last Christmas,” he talks down a man (Jimmi Simpson) from committing suicide out of guilt for having cheated on his wife, by explaining to him how his daughter will hate him forever if he kills himself on Christmas Eve. Last but not least, in Brown’s Emmy episode submission “Memphis,” we see him finally say goodbye to William as he passes away in his hospital bed, and then we see Randall drive off, crying but with a small brief smile on his face, at peace with himself, knowing that his father is now in a better place.
Prior awards shows have singled out Brown as the clear standout of the “This Is Us” cast, like the SAG Awards, which nominated him individually for Best Drama Actor but snubbed all the other show’s performers. Brown eventually lost at SAG to John Lithgow for his performance as Winston Churchill in the Netflix period drama “The Crown,” but they won’t face off at the Emmys as Lithgow now contends as Best Drama Supporting Actor. More recently, at the Television Critics Association Awards, Brown was nominated for Individual Achievement in Drama, though he lost out to Carrie Coon for her work in both “The Leftovers” and “Fargo.”
Here are some quotes from respected TV critics praising Sterling K. Brown’s performance in “This Is Us.” Will Emmy voters follow suit?
Dan Fienberg (The Hollywood Reporter): “Brown, unrecognizable in demeanor from his Emmy-nominated People v. O.J. Simpson turn, confirms his star-worthiness, playing well opposite both onscreen wife Susan Kelechi Watson and Jones, a ubiquitous character actor whose name I’ve learned this fall and which you should learn as well.”
Gwen Ihnat (The AV Club): “Brown—fresh off a People V. O.J. Simpson Emmy win after being woefully underutilized as the only non-military husband on Army Wives—gets some decent play here as a successful businessman searching for the crackhead who abandoned him as a baby.”
Jeff Jensen (Entertainment Weekly): “Brown – coming off his Emmy-winning breakout in The People v. O.J. Simpson – navigates his scenes with such intelligence, authenticity, and charisma, I yearn for the show to write him more challenging material, just to watch him rock it.”
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