There is not just one single actor in the diverse and uniquely talented ensemble from This Is Us whom you could justifiably refer to as “the star” of the show. Each member of the cast (which includes Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, and Chrissy Metz, to name a few) brings something of a different quality, but of equal power, to the story. Yet, I think few would argue against the claim that two-time Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown has been making a pretty good case to call him the real standout player of the series.
The 44-year-old actor, born in St. Louis, Missouri, became a household name after he was cast in the hit NBC drama chronicling the struggles of a unique American family told over the course of decades through a non-linear timeline. His fame and prominence as one of the most respected and sought after performers of his time only increased as Sterling K. Brown started to make an even greater splash on the big screen. While the majority of his cinematic roles have often been supporting characters, in many cases, he still ends up being the more memorable onscreen presence, if not the bigger audience draw as well.
It seems to be as good a time as ever right now to shed light on some of his most notable scene-stealing roles in blockbuster movies and widely acclaimed TV shows, as well as other greatest hits from his past you may have forgotten about or even some more recent surprise appearances you never knew about. The following 12 films and series showcase the best that Sterling K. Brown has offered, starting with the one that made him a star.
This Is Us (Randall Pearson)
An Emmy and a Golden Globe, among several other accolades, have been awarded to Sterling K. Brown for his performance as the adopted son and brother of the Pearson Family, who took in him after he was discovered abandoned by his drug addict biological father shortly after birth. That should be enough to tell you that Randall Pearson’s personal story is one of the more heartbreaking arcs on This Is Us (which is chock full of those already), but is also an inspiring tale of ambition and perseverance brought to perfection by Brown’s keen understanding of his character’s complex nature.
Black Panther (N’Jobu)
In a way, Sterling K. Brown plays the opposite of his This Is Us role in Black Panther, although equally tearjerking, as a Wakanda native whose betrayal of King T’Chaka makes his American-born son Erik Killmonger (played as an adult by Michael B. Jordan) an orphan hellbent on revenge. His time on screen in the Academy Award-winning MCU installment is brief (in the cold open, a revealing flashback, and a dream sequence), but like the memory of N’Jobu in his son’s mind, the performance continues to haunt us today.
Army Wives (Roland Burton)
The haunting memories of war and the challenges of being romantically connected to a person in the service were the central themes of this Lifetime original series which was also one of Sterling K. Brown’s first starring roes on a hit TV drama. His character, psychiatrist Roland Burton, is married to U.S. Military colonel Joan (Wendy Davis) - making him the one “Army husband” among the titular group of ladies in Army Wives - and actually a few fascinating indirect similarities to Randall Pearson on This Is Us, from being an adoptive father to enduring a few flaws that have threatened his marriage to his wife.
The Predator (Will Traeger)
No character in Sterling K. Brown’s repertoire is quite like government agent Will Traeger, not just by his more antagonistic nature in director Shane Black’s 2018 continuation of the sci-fi action franchise, but also for how brilliantly he chews the scenery. While I was, personally, quite disappointed by the story of The Predator overall, I can at least say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Brown putting 100% into a role that could have been another bland human villain in a bland alien movie if it were anybody else.
Supernatural (Gordon Walker)
The actor also managed to be a memorable human villain on Supernatural as vampire hunter Gordon Walker, who believes Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) to be one of his fanged prey in his first appearance on Season 2 of the long-running fantasy adventure series from The WB and, later, The CW. Sterling K. Brown would return for three episodes the following season, in which his character (in a wicked case of dramatic irony) became a bloodsucker himself and was later beheaded by Sam.
Frozen II (Destin Mattias)
More family-friendly excitement occurs in the 2019 sequel to Frozen, which also stars Sterling K. Brown in the much more honorable role of Prince Agnarr’s former guard and, later, a trusted general appointed by Queen Anna. Destin Mattis is the kind of warrior whose devotion to the land Arendelle has led him to make some major sacrifices, such as 34-year sentence to the Enchanted Forest, which is reason enough to see why Brown was chosen for this role in Frozen II, which the actor the actor has said he was especially proud to voice as a person of color in this animated fairy tale world.
Waves (Ronald Williams)
In the same year as Frozen II, Sterling K. Brown played another character majorly defined devotion, but sometimes to his own detriment, in writer and director Trey Edward Shults’ stunning follow-up to his devastating apocalyptic 2017 thriller It Comes at Night. Waves is an equally devastating family drama that is best left unspoiled for the unfamiliar viewer, but one thing any critic would have no trouble revealing is that Brown’s performance as flawed family man Ronald Williams is guaranteed to leave you in awe.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Reggie)
Despite all of his critical praise, Sterling K. Brown did not receive much awards recognition for his role in 2019’s Waves, but did for his recurring spot on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that same year. He was given his sixth Emmy nomination for playing Reggie - the extremely protective, no-nonsense manager of singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), who asks comedian Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) to tour with him as his opening act in the third season of the Amazon original period dramedy.
The Rhythm Section (Marc Serra)
Music has nothing to do with Sterling K. Brown’s character in The Rhythm Section, despite what the title of this 2020 action thriller based on author Mark Burnell’s novel may allude to. He plays Marc Serra - a former CIA operative whom Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) consults in hopes to identify the terrorist who caused her family’s demise in an orchestrated plane crash three years earlier. That is as much as I am willing to reveal, but I will say that his role gets much juicier as the story progresses.
American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson (Christopher Darden)
I mentioned earlier that Sterling K. Brown has won two Emmy awards in his career and the first of which he earned from his role in the 2016 premiere season of FX’s fact-based anthology series, American Crime Story. It may have been the powerful scene in which Brown as a fed-up Christopher Darden, a prosecuting attorney in the infamous O.J. Simpson case, calls the trial “a circus” that earned him the win.
Marshall (Joseph Spell)
A year later, Sterling K. Brown would see what life was like in court from the perspective of the defendant (a wrongfully accused one, however) in Marshall as unjustly tried rape suspect Joseph Spell - one of the more notable clients of NAACP attorney (and, eventually, the first black man to be appointed as a Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall. Brown stands out quite exquisitely in the biographical legal drama opposite his future Black Panther co-star, the late Chadwick Boseman, in the title role.
The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience (Sia)
Probably my personal favorite performance by Sterling K. Brown is really nothing like the strong, dramatic supporting roles he is best known for, but one brief appearance in the unlikeliest of places that took me, and surely plenty of others who have seen, completely by surprise. Sia sings on the chorus of “Oakland Nights” from The Lonely Island’s The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, which is inspired by the bromance between MLB all-stars Mark McGwire and Jose Conseco in the late 1980s. However, instead of appearing in the visual album released exclusively on Netflix herself, Brown (officially credited as the “Chandelier” songstress) steps in to uproariously lip-sync and dance to her part about "silk robes and kimonos."
What do you think? Did Sterling K. Brown’s cameo as Sia make The Lonely Island’s tribute to the former Oakland A’s players for you, or do you feel he deserved a better, bigger part in the Netflix original special? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the multi-award-winning actor and This Is Us star, as well as even more retrospectives on the your favorite actors and actresses’ most prestigious onscreen efforts, here on CinemaBlend.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.