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Hollywood being what it is, “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown has spent years deflecting roles to yet again play “a Black guy in a white family who’s finding his way in.”

Brown said no because he’s adamant about not getting pigeonholed, as he demonstrated this year by shifting to “Biosphere,” a post-apocalyptic two-hander with Mark Duplass, and then “American Fiction,” which is simultaneously a family drama, a meta-literary satire and a commentary on race in America today.

“I wouldn’t want to do three movies in a row with the same kind of role,” he says. “The industry wants to say what a Sterling K. Brown type is but when they think they’ve got it locked down I like to mess with that.”

In “American Fiction,” Jeffrey Wright plays Monk, a repressed writer and professor who must knock down his own walls to rejoin the living; Brown is his brother, Cliff, who has already done just that — after years of marriage, Cliff has come out as gay and is reveling in sex, drugs and living large.

Brown was drawn to the role by writer-director Cord Jefferson’s script and burgeoning reputation, and by the chance to act with Wright — but mostly by the chance to break the mold yet again.

“You’re always happy somebody’s offering you something that they haven’t seen you do before,” he says.

Brown’s point of entry for Cliff was “being someone who did not always feel fully embraced or understood by his family, feeling I can’t be myself and must temper who I am in order for full acceptance.”

Brown’s performance is, unsurprisingly, nuanced (he added a slight Boston accent even though Cliff has lived out West for decades to show he is still tied to the family more than Monk, who wiped his accent clean), but he’s also not afraid to go bold with Cliff. “He is trying to express himself authentically for the first time ever and it’s a little messy,” Brown says.

There’s a moment where Cliff kisses his new lover while talking to his brother, and Brown says Jefferson told him he didn’t want it to be too gratuitous. Brown, however, didn’t want to hold back. “This is a man who has been contained for years, so if the kiss is too chaste, then the idea of what he’s there to do as he’s snorting cocaine feels off-character. Cliff is about to have sex. It’s not gratuitous for him to be forward in that moment.”

Brown will continue seeking new ways to diversify his portfolio. He’d love a romantic comedy but only if he can be with a Black woman. He wants to do a “sophisticated horror film, one with good jump scares but that also leaves you thinking. So Jordan [Peele], if you want to make something…” he says, adding that he’d happily be the villain, since he wants to play a layered bad guy — not like the “cartoony” one he did in “The Predator” but “a bad guy that you like who breaks your heart.”

Ultimately, he says, he’ll take on any role that challenges him and perceptions of him. “I don’t always know the exact thing, but when you think about what people have not seen me in I’m trying to dive into that pool,” he says. “Hopefully I’ve done enough that people say, ‘Brown is a decent actor; maybe he would love to do something different.’ There’s a little bit of fear that comes along with it — and when there’s a little bit of fear, you’re in the right place.”



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