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Sterling K. Brown is no stranger to making folks cry. Whether in his Emmy-winning role as Randall Pearson in NBC’s This Is Us, delivering some of the most emotionally charged scenes as N’Jobu in the global phenomenon Black Panther, or portraying a father dealing with tragedy in Waves. Now, for a change of pace, Brown is channeling his comedic chops in the new mockumentary comedy Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
The film stars Brown and Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Support the Girls) as the leaders of a Southern Baptist megachurch that once served a congregation of tens of thousands. But after Brown’s Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs finds himself in the middle of a scandal, they resort to hiring a documentary crew to capture their attempt at a huge comeback. The film was written and directed by Adamma Ebo.
The chance to play a larger-than-life comedic role was a good change of pace for Brown, and a role closer to the characters from his favorite movies. For example…
I got a bromance with that movie real hard. Every time William Wallace yells out “Freedom!” it gets me in the feels. Mel may not always leave the best voicemails, and he has interesting things to say, but when it comes to directing a movie, that guy can move a camera. War on camera, whether it’s Apocalypto or Braveheart, Mel knows how to get that visceral action just like in the midst of it. And the film was about a country fighting for its freedom. Who can’t get behind that?
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It reminds me of one of my best friends whose name was Andrew, like Andy Dufresne. And Andrew passed away the year after I graduated from undergrad, and he was just this special guy the way Andy Dufresne was, so it has a very personal connection in that way.
The Matrix (1999)
The first Matrix is sci-fi I can watch over and over again. It just sort of blew my mind open in terms of, “What is real? What is the reality that we’re living in?” It seems so plausible to me that oftentimes I think I have deja vu and I’m like, “Oh s–t. I’m in the Matrix right now.”
Coming to America (1988)
This is probably my favorite. It’s the virtuoso that is Eddie Murphy. He can do anything. The barbershop scenes are magnificent. Also, “Sexual Chocolate” is just a delightful thing to say.
Out of Sight (1998)
Out of Sight is just the slickest, sexiest, funniest, just coolest damn movie out there. I love it.
Rafael Motamayor for Rotten Tomatoes: The movies you mention all have larger-than-life characters. Did you find a commonality between these characters and Lee-Curtis in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.?
Sterling K. Brown: I think anytime you play a pastor from a Black church, you’re playing somebody who’s larger-than-life. And so Lee-Curtis Childs has a big personality and has a theatricality that, if you don’t try to live into it, if you try to diminish it, you’re not really being honest to who that character is. He takes up a lot of space. So he’s supposed to take up a lot of space.
I think, also, just in terms of my own relationship with religion and spirituality, there’s been a very interesting evolution for me personally, in terms of moving from religious to spiritual, and recognizing that your own relationship with the divine, with nature, with that which is bigger than yourself, is a personal relationship, you know? So, it’s like, unlike Neo, where it’s either you’re in the matrix or you’re out of it, like you’re either in, the machinery is sort of hardwired, or it’s not. I feel like your individual relationship with God is something that no one can take away from you. And so it reminds me, as we look and critique the church and all the things that are good about it, that we can take a moment to recognize that there are some things that may need revisiting as well.
(Photo by Focus Features)
RT: Does working in a mockumentary film affect the way you approach your performance? Having the camera as a character, in a way?
Brown: Absolutely. Especially when you’re talking about somebody who loves the spotlight. So the camera actually makes him more of who he wants to be. He’s used to talking to 20,000 people at a time. So if there’s a camera there, he can just look at it, do his little thing, and feel like he’s on. Actually, he loves to be on, where his wife is like, “No, I kind of like to be just slightly off to the side, not front and center.” So she’s more wary of the camera, whereas Lee-Curtis is like, “Bring it on, baby. I’m here!”
RT: How was the process of transitioning away from heavy dramas to a comedy like this? Did that help your performance in any way?
Brown: It definitely was something that I thought about, people telling me that I make them cry all the time. So I’d love to give them a couple of laughs too. And comedy, you’re exercising a different muscle. There’s something about feeling things as deeply as possible in drama so that people can believe that you’re actually going through what you’re going through. Comedy is almost like math to a certain extent – if I say this line this way, or go up on this inflection, or move through this line quickly so I can get to the punch line. It’s about sort of coming up with the calculus of how best to make something land, and it’s fun. I enjoy playing in both arenas.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. opens in theaters and streams on Peacock on September 2, 2022.
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