This Is Us Star Sterling K. Brown on the Secret to a Lasting Marriage
Sterling K. Brown looks ridiculously suave in bright pink jeans and a checkered Gucci coat as he nonchalantly unloads a bag of groceries from a vintage Porsche.
This is the way all Hollywood stars dress to do chores, right? Nah. The in-demand actor is merely playing along for this photo shoot. Normally he is a fan of more dad-friendly athletic attire and deems the designer clothes he is wearing on these pages “expansive.”
That word could also describe the 42-year-old’s career, 16 years of which he spent paying his dues (his “incognegro” period, he jokes). All that changed roughly two years ago, when he received his first Emmy nomination (and win) for playing prosecutor Christopher Darden in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Next, his portrayal of the sensitive perfectionist Randall Pearson on NBC’s hit show This Is Us earned him more awards, including another Emmy and a Golden Globe. And earlier this year his brief but pivotal role in the runaway blockbuster Black Panther skyrocketed him even further into the celebrity stratosphere.
Now, at the start of the third season of This Is Us, Brown, who also has two feature films in the hopper (a revenge thriller called The Rhythm Section with Blake Lively and Waves, a teen romance with a musical twist), kicks back to reflect on breaking through.
Glynis Costin: This is the Best-Dressed Issue. What’s your typical everyday look?
Sterling K. Brown: I would call it athletic casual. As a dad [to sons Andrew, 7, and Amaré, 3], I want to be ready to play. I want to look presentable at an executive meeting, but then when it’s like, “Daddy, wanna come play soccer?” I can say, “Yeah, man, let’s do it.” So a comfortable pair of tennis shoes, a nice pair of jeans or shorts.
GC: You got a lot of attention for a certain Instagram pic you posted back in March 2017 of your super-fit abs. Hoda Kotb called them an eight-pack. Where do those come from?
SkB: My motto is that it’s easier to maintain than it is to acquire. I was blessed growing up as an athlete. I played football, basketball, ran track. My aunt Vera was in the military and had this sit-up board. She’d say, “I’ll give any kid $10 who can do 100 sit-ups without stopping.” Now it’s just about maintenance.
GC: So what’s your biggest fitness tip?
SkB: Make it fun! My go-to is basketball. I love the game and the camaraderie. You can work out till the cows come home, but if you put trash in your body, you’re never going to see the results. I drink a butt-load of water. People ask me as Randall how all the tears come. Well, I drink a ton of water, and it’s just trying to get out of whatever orifice it possibly can!
GC: I know you’re a fan of that book Healthy at 100.
SkB: That was a huge influence. I often think about how the life span of the African-American male is the shortest of any group [in the United States]. My father passed away at 45, my uncle at 61, another uncle at 56, and my grandfather didn’t make it to 65. I do not desire to be a statistic. I love life and want to live the fullest one possible. I want to be vital in my twilight years, not just hanging on.
GC: You’ve been married to your college sweetheart [actress Ryan Michelle Bathe] for 12 years. What’s your secret to a lasting marriage?
SkB: Oh, boy, well, communication is first and foremost. Also, my wife is one of the funniest people I know. We enjoy laughing at each other, with each other, and with our children. Even in intimacy, when you’re being all hot and sexy, something can happen that’s absolutely delightful, and there’s no shame in just cracking each other up while you’re in each other’s arms. It’s the best.
GC: How has being a father changed you?
SkB: It changes everything. It’s so cliché, but you don’t know what love is until you have a child. Being a father makes you grounded. When other things in the world aren’t going the way you want them to, you have to learn to shake that off for your kids. You have to take yourself out of yourself.
GC: You’ve been shooting a lot of films lately. How do you go from something like Predator to Waves?
SkB: In this business you want to make sure you try not to repeat yourself. I’m the drama guy, but I was happy to do Brooklyn Nine-Nine and host Saturday Night Live. With Black Panther I got lots of social-media comments like, “What is Randall doing betraying Wakanda?” [Laughs] It cracks me up. But it’s so awesome when you get to surprise people.
GC: What is it about This Is Us that resonates with people?
SkB: It brings people together. Whether you’re from a red or blue state, whether you’re gay or straight, and no matter your nationality or ethnicity, everybody has the same sort of relationships to their family.
GC: You’ve talked about how playing Randall, who is “purposefully black,” as you put it, is different from playing a character who’s a result of color-blind casting.
SkB: I have benefited greatly over the course of my career from being the, uh, black guy. Often characters are written as white by default and then producers or whoever will say, “OK, well, which character could we go ethnic with?” Then you’re plugged into a role — which is a good role, but it wasn’t necessarily written with what you bring to the table in mind. So once you find a role that’s created with intention — for me it would be Randall, and Darden too, as these parts were written for African-American men — you get a chance to bring all of who you are to these characters. Color blindness has its place, and it’s opened up multiple doors. But being recognized and appreciated for your difference, that is what we’re all striving for.
GC: Have you learned anything personally by playing Randall?
SkB: What I learned from him is how wonderfully arresting goodness is. Rarely are you in the presence of someone who is always trying to be the best version of himself. Sometimes that paralyzes him, and he has to learn how to be forgiving. Also, a couple of times my wife has seen me being a couch potato, watching basketball while the kids need to get dressed or something, and she’s running around. I’ll say, “I’ve got to see this game,” and she’ll respond, “I need you to think of what Randall would do right now and do that.” And I’ll promptly turn off the television, get up, and get to it. It’s like, “Oh, snap! She really got me!”
GC: You’ve been getting a lot of recognition. How does it feel to go onstage and accept an award after all these years in the business?
SkB: It’s fucking insane. You don’t believe it’s happening until the time you walk offstage. But it’s sort of like a welcome-to-the-club moment, a validation. The perception of who you are in the industry shifts dramatically. You go from a place of having to constantly prove yourself as being worthy to other people looking at you like, “What can we give you to do that is worthy of your talent?” And that shift is so humongous. It takes all the pressure off. People are looking to impress me now, and I’m like, “God, this is crazy.” Three years ago I was looking to get a guest spot. So that’s been the biggest and most welcome thing. The level of opportunity that is now present is extraordinary.
GC: What’s next for you?
SkB: Well, I have aspirations for directing or producing. I’d like to help bring other people’s stories to life — diverse stories with people of color in the forefront rather than the periphery. Representation is everything. When you live a long time without seeing yourself onscreen, you can actually start to think that you don’t exist. Being in a position to possibly reverse that is very exciting.
GC: That idea dovetails with your commencement speech at your alma mater, Stanford, that “we are all meant to shine.”
SkB: Yes! That is a quote from [author] Marianne Williamson. If we all collectively recognize that we inherently have something to share, then that’s the sweet spot. Right on. Shine the light.
Photography: Robbie Fimmano. Styling: Sean Knight. Set design: Ali Gallagher. Grooming: Kathy Santiago. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions.
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 12