Sterling K. Brown Discusses ‘American Fiction’


By Clayton Davis | Variety

Dear fans, please stop yelling “Randall!” at Sterling K. Brown whenever you see him walking down the street. That’s a reference, of course, to the actor’s Emmy-winning role as Randall Pearson on the hit NBC drama “This Is Us,” which ran for six seasons.

“It’s funny, people would be like, ‘Yo Randall!,” he tells Variety. “And now they’re like, ‘Is Randall on ‘Solar Opposites?’ It’s ‘Sterling,’ God dang it! Listen, I never want people to not know that I played the character. But if and when I reach the point where people stop yelling ‘Randall!’ it would be OK. Because it’s not my name. It’s Sterling. And to be seen for a body, instead of a character, feels way better.”

On this episode of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Brown discusses his role as a gay surgeon in Cord Jefferson’s satirical film “American Fiction,” as well as working with veteran actor Jeffrey Wright and paying his respects to “This Is Us” co-star Ron Cephas Jones, who died in August 2023. Also on this episode, we speak with Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor about her new film “Origin,” from writer and director Ava DuVernay. Listen below:


Based on the novel “Erasure,” by Percival Everett, “American Fiction” follows author Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Wright), a frustrated novelist who is fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. To prove his point, Monk writes an outlandish, stereotypical “Black” book that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and madness. He also confronts the relationships with his family, which includes his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), recently coming-out brother Cliff (Brown) and cognitively declining mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams).

Brown blazed onto the Hollywood scene in Lifetime’s long-running “Army Wives” before landing the role of lawyer Christopher Darden in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” for which he won his first Emmy — as supporting actor in a limited series. Brown would return the next year as one of the “Big Three” siblings in Dan Fogelman’s acclaimed NBC drama “This is Us.”

In what has become a staple question pn podcast interviews, we’re always curious to know what film and television pieces have influenced successful actors’ career trajectories. Surprising answers include Greta Lee citing Val Kilmer’s work in “The Saint” (1997). Interestingly, Brown chooses Jim Carrey’s clingy and cult-classic work in Ben Stiller’s dark comedy “The Cable Guy” (1996), while also paying homage to films like “Ghostbusters,” “The Color of Money” and “First Blood: Rambo.”

Brown says he had a “full circle moment” at the Los Angeles premiere of “American Fiction” when he saw Don Cheadle in attendance. Cheadle acted with Wright in the New York production of “Topdog Underdog” at the Public Theater. Brown had seen that production, and has long-admired the two men.

Brown has chased roles that challenge him and don’t just follow the tropes Hollywood often sets for Black actors or the characters they can portray. “I think you can become universal by being specific,” he says. “For the longest time, we’ve tried to do things for the benefit of folks that might not look like us. You want to represent the culture and the community, but I also feel the human experience is universal.”

Brown has played varying genres and degrees of difficulty, including voicing Halk in Hulu’s sci-fi animated series “Solar Opposites.” “I would definitely reprise the role,” he says. “I had so much fun doing it. I have a few other things going on in the animation space right now, so I would have to complete those arcs.”

We also asked Brown to pay tribute to his late co-star Ron Cephas Jones, who played Randall’s biological father, William Hill, on “This is Us.”

I shared my gratitude for seeing their portrayals and that on-screen relationship helped me reconcile my relationship with my father before his passing in December 2021. Brown also shared his love for how Jones always talked about getting back on the stage, particularly to play “King Lear.”

“One of the last things that he got to do before he ultimately passed away is he got to go on Broadway, and he got nominated for Tony,” Brown says. “It may not have been Lear, but he was somebody who had a vision of how he wanted his career and life to go. He was able to take chances, and while we don’t have him, he probably gave himself several more years that he wouldn’t have had. He lived to the fullest. The fullest version of his life until he was with us no more. Some of us are just existing. And not all of us are really living. And in the words of [‘Shawshank Redemption’ character] Andy Dufresne, ‘You either get busy living or get busy dying.’ Ron lived to the end.”