If there’s anyone Hollywood has pegged as a good guy, it’s Sterling K. Brown.
The effusive actor has won history-making Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG awards for his portrayal of Randall Pearson on NBC’s This Is Us, delivering memorable, moving acceptance speeches every time he hits the podium. But this summer, following a winter in which he joined the Marvel universe in Black Panther and collected many of those aforementioned awards, he’s shaking things up playing a bank robber in Hotel Artemis.
Set in 2028 Los Angeles as riots rage across the city, Hotel Artemis follows an eclectic cadre of criminals (played by Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, and Brown) who come to the titular hotel seeking no-questions-asked medical treatment from the Nurse (Jodie Foster). Brown plays Waikiki, a shadowy bank robber fighting to keep his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) alive.
“When you play somebody like Randall Pearson the majority of the year, you got to do something to complement that,” the actor says of what attracted him to the role. “[Waikiki’s] got a purpose beyond just himself, so he’s a good bad guy. Which is always fun, to dance in the gray.”
Brown was eager for the chance to step outside the good-guy box of his This Is Us character. “I’m very careful for people not to think or confuse Sterling for Randall,” he says. “Randall is awesome. He’s one of the better human beings that I’ve had the opportunity to play. I love him, but I love humanity in all of its different shades, shapes, and sizes…. I’m interested in all human stories, and so you can’t be a good guy all the time and you can’t be a bad guy all the time.”
Playing a character who has a less black-and-white view of morality allowed him to grapple with his own life experiences and embrace the moments when he has fallen short. “I’ve made a very conscious effort to live life the best way I know how to, but to also be very forgiving of myself when I fall short of the mark because I recognize that all the parts of who I am will ultimately come into play with regards to playing a diverse array of characters,” he explains.
Brown also tells EW that the stacked cast, which he repeatedly refers to as “dope,” was another huge draw, particularly the presence of Oscar winner Jodie Foster. “It was one of Jodie’s first movies in several years,” he says. “You’re working with one of the icons of the game, so there was nothing but pluses all the way around for your boy.”
While Foster was “surprisingly easygoing” and always ready to answer Brown’s questions about her career and coming up in Hollywood, it was another costar who sealed the deal. Brown and Henry, who portrays Waikiki’s wounded brother, Honolulu, go way back. “Brian Henry and I have known each other for 10 years,” Brown says. “He’s one of my best friends.”
Brown is no stranger to exploring the intricacies of family and the attendant joys and heartbreaks (see: every episode of This Is Us), but his long friendship with Henry made his character’s devotion to his brother (at great personal cost) easy to tap into. “When you have an opportunity to play brothers with one of your best friends, the emotional connection is immediate within you,” he says. “It’s not something you have to look very hard for.”
With This Is Us and Black Panther, Brown has excelled on network television and in a big-budget tentpole movie. Hotel Artemis offers a slightly more offbeat journey, but there’s “something for everybody to see in this,” he stresses. “We have some violence, we have some intrigue, you have a very unique concept in terms of all these disparate personalities.”
Hotel Artemis hits theaters June 8, and Brown recommends it as “the perfect side dish” to summer blockbusters.