In his role as Christopher Darden, Sterling K. Brown has been one of the unexpected delights of FX’s captivating hit The People v. O.J. Simpson. Previously, the St. Louis native and Stanford alum, who shaved his head to portray Marcia Clark’s partner in prosecution, was best-known as Roland Burton on Army Wives, Det. Cal Beecher on Person of Interest and Officer Dade on Third Watch.
After The People v. O.J. Simpson, you can expect to see a lot more of the married father of two: In addition to appearing in Tina Fey’s new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, he’ll be reprising his starring role in Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2014 off-Broadway Civil War-era play, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), for its Los Angeles run. He’s also awaiting news on a pilot pickup and will be featured in M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller Split, set for release in 2017. Brown dished to The Root about what attracted him to Darden, Darden’s “black” roots and his relationship with Johnnie Cochran.
The Root: What attracted you to the Darden role?
Sterling K. Brown: I always thought that he was such a fascinating character. I remember the grief that he received from black America at that time in terms of being called an Uncle Tom, a sellout, and the death threats that he received, and it was all because he was just trying to do his job. The evidence led him to believe that O.J. Simpson was guilty of a double homicide, and he was caught in this very strange rock and a hard place where he was a black man prosecuting another black man, and the optics were that of, you know, crabs in the barrel—why is he trying to bring this brother down?
This man, O.J. Simpson, at the time, was a representation of the American dream for black America. He had risen from San Francisco, from poverty, and become a Heisman Trophy winner, a rushing leader in the NFL, and crossed over to mainstream success, Naked Gun movies, Hertz rent-a-car advertisements, etc. And then you have Darden trying to prosecute him, trying to put him in jail; people didn’t like that. They were very displeased with the idea that a black man could do that to another black man at the highest level.
So, trying to try to bring some kind of humanity to that journey, to emphasize in this particular instance it wasn’t a Black Lives Matter; it was an All Lives Matter thing, particularly for Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Those people who had died didn’t have anybody to speak for them, and that’s what Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden tried to do. So to navigate him trying to do his job in the midst of how he was viewed and seen by his community was a very, very fascinating journey.
TR: Initially, you tried reaching out to Darden. Why was that important to you?
SKB: You read Jeffrey Toobin’s book [The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson] and it tells you what Toobin thought of Darden, and at the time, I didn’t have access to Darden’s book, In Contempt. So it was important to me to hear what his take was on the whole thing. What one person says about you can be completely different than what you say about yourself. So to get both of those perspectives was really, really important. I think I was able to get it, in part, from his book, In Contempt, but there is still a part of me that holds out hope that one day we will get a chance to sit down and talk about his experience in terms of my portrayal.
TR: Doesn’t Darden have Bay Area roots?
SKB: Oh yes, he’s from Richmond, Calif. [He and O.J.] are both from around the same parts. I didn’t know Darden was from Richmond … [initially]. When I found out, I was like, “Yo, he’s from, like, the blackest place in Northern California there is, right?” For people to have called him a sellout and an Uncle Tom, I’m like, “Man, they really don’t know about this dude.” So it was interesting just knowing the geography of the land, and knowing that both of those guys are from that place, and yet they wound up on opposite sides of this trial.