Andre Braugher (‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’) on doing ‘wilder and crazier things’ as Raymond Holt [Complete Interview Transcript]

Andre Braugher earned his 11th Emmy nomination this year, his fourth for playing Captain Raymond Holt on the NBC comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He previously won Emmy Awards for his performances in “Homicide: Life on the Street” and the miniseries “Thief.”

Braugher recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Matt Noble about the evolution of Raymond Holt, what initially attracted him to “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and what he’s looking forward to in the future. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: This season on the show, Andy Samberg’s character said that your character was no longer the joyless robot he once was. When did Raymond stop being the joyless robot? 

Andre Braugher: Which episode over the last seven seasons?

GD: Yeah, which episode?

AB: Wow. It’s kind of hard to remember. We’ve been at it for such a long time. I don’t know, I would have to say my involvement with Madeline Wuntch has humanized me in a certain way. The arrival of Santiago and Peralta as a married couple and having a child or being pregnant has humanized me a certain way. I feel very grandfatherly in that way. So I’d have to say, really, it’s somewhere along the continuum of really watching my fellow detectives grow and mature and turn into an actual as well as a workplace family somewhere along that line. 

GD: You mentioned stuff with Wuntch. That rivalry came to a conclusion this season. What was that like wrapping that up and sort of putting a bow on that story arc? 

AB: Well, I mean, I loved every part of it. Kyra [Sedgwick], she’s such a superb actress and she’s so funny and she’s played a lot of tough gals in the course of her career but she’s such a sweetheart and she’s such a terrific comedian and delivers her role with a kind of crazy quirkiness that I really respond to and it was just fun. It was absolute fun to see Raymond Holt be so damn petty for so many years when it came to Wuntch and in a certain way, she brought out the best of him and I’m really gonna miss that aspect of being involved in the show. That’s been one of the high points. That, and the heists. 

GD: Oh yeah. She got killed off and then the next episode, Kyra was in to direct, right? 

AB: She was. She did a terrific job. She’s a very gentle director and I really appreciate that. 

GD: This was your first sitcom, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” especially as a regular. What have you learned from being part of this series? 

AB: Well, you can’t plan everything. I mean, comedians are very spontaneous, very sharp, with a really interesting sort of perspective, so I think of Joe Lo Truglio and Andy Samberg and Chelsea Peretti, they all have a real interesting perspective on the world and watching them improv and watching the way that they construct their comedy has been really instructive to me. I came to the sitcom to learn and I’ve been handsomely rewarded over the years. 

GD: Is there a particular lesson you’ve picked up from observing them or working opposite them? 

AB: Well, you’ve got to make it funny now. I mean, it’s not going to get funnier in the editing room. So it’s when things aren’t funny and what’s necessary to transform it or to write new lines or discover a new take on the scene, that’s the most interesting part of every episode is watching the wheels turning based upon the necessity of making it funny now, and these guys really take it to heart. 

GD: At the beginning of the series, you come in as a very high-status character, but that’s been played about throughout the course of the series with different relationships and stuff. This season, you take a step down and go to that lower status before working your way back up to running the precinct. From a comedic level, what’s it been like playing with different sort of status levels? 

AB: Well, I get a chance to be cheeky as a patrol officer in a way that I couldn’t as a commander, and I get to voice my unpopular opinions and to not give a damn in a way that Captain Holt can’t and I get to have fun solidarity with my fellow characters. So Diaz and I can be two LGBT characters together and relish it informally as opposed to having to keep it under wraps as a commander. So I thought it was liberating in a certain way. 

GD: And what has been your favorite evolution of Raymond Holt? 

AB: The evolution… well, I would have to say, going back to Wuntch again, the appreciation that my former flame, you might call it, my arch-rival, my nemesis was really one of my most important and productive relationships over the course of a lifetime. It’s part of Raymond Holt’s mellowing that I really enjoy is his ability to sort of appreciate life and these relationships in a way that he couldn’t before. 

GD: Now, you, for the Emmy Awards this season, have submitted the episode “Ransom,” where your dog gets kidnapped. Do you want to talk a bit about maybe why that selection was made? 

AB: I thought it was a funny episode. I thought, number one, it had to feature Holt if it was going to be used for a submission and it was a funny episode and I think it showed off a badass aspect to Captain Holt that he usually keeps under wraps. He’s typically a very composed and taciturn character and this was an opportunity to get sort of emotionally involved and really to bring out that badass aspect that we don’t often get a chance to see. There used to be a time in the first few seasons where we would do flashbacks about different things that Raymond Holt would talk about in the course of his career and that younger Holt was a real badass and that episode gave me an opportunity to sort of reintroduce, to hook up with that aspect of Holt’s character again. So he gets to be wild and emotional and he gets to have a two-minute fistfight in the street over his fluffy boy. It just seemed like more fun than I’ve had in a long time. So that’s why I submitted it. 

GD: You get to go all “John Wick.”

AB: I do (laughs).

GD: Do you have a favorite or most fun “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” memory from your time on the show?

AB: Well, we’ve done 140 of them so there’s a bunch of them up at the top. I can’t tell you what they are right now. There was a different sort of tone in the first couple of seasons than there are now. We’ve matured. The characters have grown in a way that allows us to do even wilder and crazier things than we did at the very beginning, because I think now the audience knows, understands, gets where we’re coming from, feels our perspective. So the writing seems to be getting better and better on the show. After seven seasons have aired, eight that have been picked up, I think these characters are really fully fleshed out. But I’ve been enjoying that. I’ve been enjoying the attempts that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has been making to really explore issues revolving around important social aspects. So, for example, there’s an episode about stop and frisk, there’s the whole storyline about Rosa coming out and whether or not her parents accept her, the dangers of coming out and how to work and heal your family from something like that. I love those episodes. So that’s where I think “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is really hitting its stride. 

GD: And you’re just going in to work on this show after so many years. Is that what keeps it fresh or special or is there something else as well? 

AB:Well, I mean, I’ve been at it for 35 years, so it’s still work. It’s a really good job with really interesting storylines and so, I feel like I’ve been incredibly fortunate during the course of my career even though my choices are typically sort of spur of the moment or emotional. I read the script, I turn the last page, I’m in or I’m out. And so I read “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and I was in. My only question for Dan [Goor] and I remember that question clearly is I asked Dan, in essence, “Why is Captain Holt gay? What’s your intention behind it?”  So he gave me his rationale and the respectful long-term aspects of the character’s development. But the thing that pleases me most about that is he clearly viewed Captain Holt not as a gay captain, but a captain who is gay. So he had an understanding and appreciation for Captain Holt that wasn’t defined by his sexuality and I really respected that. That was really the conversation that stood between me saying yes immediately and me saying yes eventually, and Dan has been true to his word during that time. I mean, he’s continued to write an interesting, multifaceted, three-dimensional, humane character who is not defined by sexuality and I respect him tremendously for that. 

GD: And this, Andre, is the longest job you’ve had in acting right now. 

AB: Oh, the longest series, yes.

GD: The longest series you’ve been working on so it must be getting old hat a bit now, in a lovely way. 

AB: Yeah, in a lovely way. The whole show depends upon whether Andy Samberg wants to film, so we’ve gone from 24, 22, down to 13. This year we’re gonna be doing 10 when we come back sometime in the fall and as long as Andy wants to do it, he’s the draw. As long as Andy wants to do it, I think we’re in a good place. But most shows, eight years is a long time, so most shows don’t last that long. 

GD: Is there something from the series or from your time there that you think is just really funny or just the line you’ve found the funniest on the show? 

AB: You are challenging me in ways I never expected (laughs).

GD: As we’re talking, if you think of anything you can throw it in, Andre. Talking about Andy, have you seen “Palm Springs”? 

AB: Oh no, I have not seen “Palm Springs.” I saw the advertisement for it. I’m happy for him because he’s an ambitious young man and very, very talented and he’s really pulling it together. I congratulated him on that. I have yet to see it but then again, I’m always sort of slow off the mark when it comes to seeing things when they come out. But an incredible talent and in a certain way, we have to expect it that he’s going to produce and star in things that are more interesting and more varied than the stuff he used to do. 

GD: Well, speaking of ambition, Andre, you won your first Emmy Award back in 1998 for your role on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and Gold Derby, we’re an awards website, we love covering the awards and our boss, our chief, our fearless leader, wrote the book on the Emmys and I thought it’d be fun to read you the paragraph of Emmy history that you are in for the year you won your first Emmy. “Also overdue for Emmy recognition was star of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street,’ prior to the award cast the AP wrote, ‘If Andre Braugher doesn’t win, we’re calling 911 to report a crime.’ Justice was served when the star, long a darling of TV critics, finally won after quitting his TV role as an attitude-heavy Baltimore police detective. Backstage, Braugher said of his belated kudos, ‘That it came late did not make it any less sweet. I plan to use it to prick the size of my ambition.'” So I wanted to ask you, Andre, what is the size of your ambition now? 

AB: (Laughs.) My ambition now 22 years later? It’s changed, I have to say. What can I say? I’m not as interested in being a movie star as I am in being a good husband and a father. So I’ve mellowed a little bit. I’ve had a really terrific career and I’ve gotten a chance to work with some fascinating people on material that I’m really proud of. So where my ambitions will take me next, I have no idea. I’m hunting for, interested in finding the next sort of compelling character. I don’t know in what way that’s going to appear. But once again, Dan called out of the blue seven years ago to offer me this role that I wasn’t lobbying for and it’s turned out to be one of the high points of my career. So I’m going to knock wood and stay open to the fact that the next role is coming. I just have to be open to it and really commit to making it something special. I have no idea what it is or when it’s coming, but I’m ready for it. 

GD: Interesting that your first Emmy win was for a show set in a police precinct and your Emmy nominations now are for a show set in a police precinct, but the shows almost couldn’t be any more different in tone. 

AB: They are. One of the reasons why I was interested in it is because having played a cop or a criminal justice professional or a lawyer or something for so many years, authority figures, doctors, sea captains, all the rest of it, the chance to lighten this up and the chance to do a sitcom and in a certain way make fun of the conventions of the police show was really attractive to me. There are a lot of cop shows on television, but there’s only one cop comedy so I happened to have stumbled upon it and I’m proud of the work that we’ve done over the past and I’m really looking forward to the kind of work that we’re going to do in the future based upon the fact that the world has changed and the world’s relationships and knowledge of police forces around the world has changed. It’s really a question of how is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” going to confront this? How are we going to hold the mirror up to life and still produce an enormously funny show? I don’t have a formula for that, but I know that Dan Goor is a terrific writer and is thinking long and hard about this. So I’m looking forward to the scripts that we’re going to get and how we’re going to challenge ourselves to tell a more truthful story.

GD: Andre, I wanted to finish by asking this question. You work with so many talented people on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Who, in your opinion, is the most amazing human/genius? 

AB: Stephanie Beatriz.

GD: There you go. Didn’t even need to think about it. 

AB: She’s amazing. 

GD: Obviously a bit of a reference, my question, to the heist episodes. Do you have a favorite heist? 

AB: The one I won, so I would have to say that’s my favorite heist. The heist in which I proved that Raymond Holt is an amazing detective/human. So that’s my favorite. 

GD: Fantastic. Do you look forward to those every year? 

AB: I do. Every year.

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