Before his Emmy-award-winning performance as Randall Pearson on This Is Us, the role that rocketed him to fame (and into the thirsty eyes of thousands of NBC nightly viewers), Sterling K. Brown was another NYU acting grad, living in New York, grinding out a living. Which is to say, before This Is Us, Stirling Brown heard the word “no” a lot.
“There’s attrition. You fall off,” Brown says in our November cover story. “There’s so much rejection that you have to be willing to deal with it and let it sort of roll off your back.”
Brown wasn’t alone in the grind. He graduated drama school with Mike Colter (who would go on to play Luke Cage) and on the heels of Mahershala Ali, and the three would audition for similar roles. Fresh out of school and alongside another young actor, Idris Elba, Brown went out for The Wire, HBO’s Baltimore-based crime drama written and created by former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon.
“I was very close to Stringer Bell,” Brown, said referring to the central drug dealer of a three-season cat-and-mouse police investigation—ending with a wiretap, hence the series’ name.
The role famously went to Idris Elba, then a little-known English actor. Bell became the breakthrough ticket for Elba—one that would ironically guard him against having to play the criminal, or drug dealer, or convict roes that so many young actors of color would be (and are) pigeonholed into playing.
“Idris was dope, and Idris is dope,” said Brown, who bears absolutely no grudge for the missed role. “What’s been really cool for me in terms of the usual suspects is that it has been a situation of all love. We were like, somebody’s gonna get the gig. I hope it’s you.”
Brown said that type of support was unique with actors of a theater background; they had a kinship. “You’re supportive of each other because you know how hard the grind is.”