Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With . . . Andre Braugher
November 26, 2012 5:00 AM
Andre Braugher, right, won his first Emmy in 1998 for his role as Detective Pembleton on "Homicide: Life on the Street." James Earl Jones was a guest star on the series.
By Patricia Sheridan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He went to Stanford University and studied to be a doctor, but Andre Braugher changed his plans and went into acting after honing his skills at Juilliard. He became familiar to television audiences on "Homicide: Life on the Streets," then starred with Ray Romano in TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" among other TV and film roles. He is married to actress Ami Brabson, and they have three sons. He can be seen on ABC's "Last Resort" playing Capt. Marcus Chaplin, commander of a rogue ballistic missile submarine. The show airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. Although the series has been canceled, the network will air its remaining episodes.
I read that you were going to be a doctor and couldn't help wondering how your mother must have felt when you told her you were going to be an actor instead.
[Laughing.] My mother has always been very supportive. Her philosophy has always been whatever you choose it doesn't matter to me. Just be the best. She's always been totally into excellence, but I will say my father was a little disturbed, you know what I mean?
When I told him I wanted to be an actor, he told me he was concerned. He asked, "Who's doing what you want to do?" This is pre Denzel Washington. The only person to point to was Sidney Poitier, who was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, and James Earl Jones, so it was a pretty thin crew. You know what fathers are like, understandably concerned. I am very much like him. To accomplish it I had to go to the Juilliard School and really learn how to act as opposed to just being charming and enthusiastic. I had to really learn my craft. So that's when he fell in line, and I gained more assurance.
Is there anything about your career that puts you off?
You mean like the eternal struggle for work? [Laughing.] Yeah, that's pretty much the thing. Rejection is omnipresent, you know. So if you are lucky, every 10th project will be one that you book, but there is a lot of rejection that goes into it. That's the trickiest thing about the whole profession -- working hard, being prepared and emotionally involved with both your character and your career and your artistic sensibilities and trying to tell that story and finding the opportunities.
You've been lucky in that regard, going from project to project.
I have been fortunate. I don't chalk this up to any superior aspect of Andre Braugher other than the fact that I've been fortunate. I was cast in "Homicide" back in 1992-93, whenever we did the pilot. That proved to be an event that launched an entire career, as well as doing "Glory" with [director] Ed Zwick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
Do any of the characters you've played resonate with you more than others?
They're all good characters. The criteria always is that they be human beings. Oftentimes in my career -- and I've had a long career, a 30-year career -- those roles for African-Americans have been thin and two-dimensional, like cartoons. They've been propaganda against the black man, and so I haven't played those roles. That's limited my opportunities. But when I do find something I can be involved with, I am pretty wholehearted about my commitment to it. ... I look back at my career and say, "Hey, you know, I like these guys, I like these characters."
Do you find the character you play now on "Last Resort" a good guy, or has his decision to not follow orders gone to his head?
No, this is not about "I know better." This is about what's necessary to save and protect the lives of the men and women on the boat [submarine]. When you do something like this, people automatically jump to "Oh, he's crazy," but really this is the calculation necessary to protect these men and women so that our lives won't be wasted under the sea.
We have the attention of the world, and we have enough breathing room perhaps to survive for a couple of episodes and to clear our names and figure out what's at the bottom of this before a world war picks up speed.
I imagine for this role you have been on a real submarine. Was it claustrophobic?
I have. I am 6 feet, and there are other 6-foot sailors so I don't feel myself out of proportion in terms of height or girth or anything. Submarines are tight.There's just no doubt about it. The submarine we have is a little bit wider -- We have to get a camera crew in here, and we have to move around.
Most of the information on a submarine is classified. No one can talk about it, including our technical advisers. Our set designer has done a really great job, and we are working on our lingo and codes [laughing]. It's never going to come up to snuff because all that stuff is classified. I mean, the closest anyone got was "Crimson Tide." That's what makes the movie quite compelling. Their submarine work was superb because they had access briefly and got to understand how a submarine actually works as opposed to making up stuff.
So do you remember getting your first paid acting job?
Yeah, my first paid acting job was working for the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival in "Antony and Cleopatra," where I played Marcus Agrippa and Annette Bening played Charmian and Tony Mendela played Antony.
Are your children aware of what you do?
They don't really know what I do. The youngest ones don't watch it. My wife is an actress, and so we sit around the table talking about acting all the time. What we really talk about is the psychology of behavior -- you know, what's true and what's not true. What's going on in people's minds, how do you get there, what's that like? We're not goofing on popular culture. We are talking about the makeup of people and what makes them tick.
When I'm home, I am just me. There is no fabulousness connected to it at all. So they really don't know any glamour aspect connected with the business. They see it from the inside. When I'm working on a show, they understand it's a 12- to 16-hour gig in far-flung locations. They are very artistic in terms of music and dancing and all these other different things, so I support that. But I don't want them to go into acting because if you don't love it, you are not going to be great at it.