Below is the transcript of my chat with Sterling K. Brown at the Television Critics Association’s 2020 Winter Press Tour. Stay tuned to get Sterling’s take on This is Us’ Randall Pearson’s core motivations, the need for parents to listen to their children, and his new production company, Indian Meadows. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
EK: I love how Randall is such a multifaceted character in This Is Us. I think on paper, it’s really easy to see someone who is traditionally successful, with a beautiful family, home, and career. But when you think about how Randall became an adoptive father, bought an apartment building, and started a new career as a politician, [you can see that] his definition of success is not conventional. Where do you think Randall’s ability to defy expectations comes from?
SKB: I think a lot of it is rooted, interestingly, in Randall’s insecurity—he’s constantly in search of where he belongs, where he fits in. He was adopted, and he realizes what a tremendous contribution to his life his birth parents gave him, so he feels the need to pay it forward by introducing Deja into his life. But also, buying that building is a way to connect with his father. And running for city council in Philadelphia, in the 12th district, was a way in which Randall thought he could be of particular service to the black community… He realized that finances were not the end-all; it didn’t give him the level of satisfaction and fulfillment that he wanted out of life. He wants to be of service, right? And he’s looking to see how he can be best at service to all the different people in his life.
EK: In Waves, you play a very different kind of father than you do in This Is Us. The story is about [a high schooler named] Tyler, but I think your character Ronald’s own inability to see what Tyler is going through becomes its own tragedy.
EK: If Ronald were your friend, and he came to you for advice on how to bridge the gap between him and his son, what would you say?
SKB: I would say that you have to listen to your children. While you may have wisdom to share with them, they have their own unique brand of wisdom that you can learn from. I read a book by Dr. Shefali Tsabary called The Conscious Parent, and it talks about the need for discipline in children—but you need to make sure that the discipline is not about your ego or about you forcing your rules, and really think about whether it is for the benefit of that child. It’s not about creating someone in your image; you want your children to become the best version of who they are. So being able to authentically listen to what’s going on in their lives will give them the ease to know that when things are difficult, they can share anything without fear of repercussions. I’m very cognizant of the fact that I want to create an environment for my children where they can talk to their dad about whatever and know that they’re going to be loved, regardless of what they’ve done.
EK: You’ve launched a production company called Indian Meadows. It is devoted to diversity, and I’m so happy to hear that.
SKB: Thank you.
EK: I am a member of Generation Z, and I think we’re really pushing the boundaries of what it means to have a different identity or be politically engaged. I was wondering what you guys were planning to do to represent younger people and create a space for younger filmmakers.
SKB: I gotta tell you; it’s not something that has been at the forefront of my brain, because I’ve been thinking so much about the black community, different communities of color, different marginalized groups. But speaking directly to young people is something that’s really important… I haven’t really taken it into consideration in the way that I should, so I appreciate you bringing it to me.
Sterling K. Brown’s film Waves is now in theaters, and season 5 of This Is Us returns to NBC on January 14, 2020.
Watch the full interview here.