The films that made Sterling K. Brown fall in love with cinema range from the mafioso drama considered by many to be one of the greatest movies ever made, to a 13th-century historical war epic, to a mind-bending neo-noir sci-fi flick. These movies were what Brown was watching while falling in love with acting at Stanford (he would later get his Master of Fine Arts degree from NYU), and which came to represent the variety that he wanted in his own career.
"It starts with the script for me, and then, you hope the creative team around it lives up to the level of writing that you were drawn into," explains the actor. "But variety is a big thing for me — especially after six years of one thing that I loved, being able to show different colors is always something really exciting."
In 2020, Brown made Emmys history for his range: With The Marvelous Mrs. Masel and This Is Us, he become the first actor to earn nominations as a series regular on both a comedy and drama in the same year.
On the big screen, Brown's work includes both the period legal drama Marshall — in which he played the defendant represented by the late Chadwick Boseman's Thurgood Marshall — and the Oscar-winning superhero movie, Black Panther. His latest role is in the megachurch satire Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. co-starring Regina Hall, in which the actor takes on his most over-the-top comedic character yet as the lascivious Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs.
Below, Brown shares with A.frame the five films that have had the biggest impact on him.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
I'll start with The Godfather Saga, because it's hard to pick between I and II. I watched Godfather for the first time in college — this was at Stanford University — and the next day, I wore a pinstripe suit with a hat all day. And people would ask me, 'Why are you wearing a suit?' And I would say, 'Never ask me about my business,' and just keep it moving.
There's just something that was transportive, and the character work was stupid. I mean, it was just stupid. Pacino is a killer. Brando. Duvall. It's ridiculous. There's this air of sophistication and glamor to I, and then, it gets just gully in II, you know what I'm saying? You see Michael have this turn where he takes out his own brother. 'I was the older brother. It should have been me!' Love it. Love it!
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh | Written by: Scott Frank
I cried when I finished watching it. Now, it's not a tear-jerker. I cried because I was like, 'This movie achieved everything that it intended to achieve.' Out of Sight is one of my favorite movies, to the point where I read the novel afterwards and I said, 'This movie is better than this book.' And that don't happen a lot.
It's sexy, right? Without being over-the-top. It has the best sex scene I think I've ever seen on-screen. Cutting back and forth between Clooney and J.Lo at the hotel bar and their flirtation, and then, the hotel room and them undressing. It was just so sexy and seamless. I think it's the birth of Clooney as a bona fide movie star, but the ensemble — Steve Zahn, Don [Cheadle]. I love that movie. I saw it senior year of college, and I was like, 'Yo. This is the medium. Like, this s—t is awesome.'
Directed by: John Landis | Written by: David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein
There's so many Murphy gems that you could pick from — Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop — but Coming to America is that virtuoso performance, where, as an actor, you feel for Prince Hakeem and his plight to find a partner and a desire to break away from the paradigm of what he was inculcated with and find his own way. But then, the barbershop? And 'Sexual Chocolate'? There's very few things that I quote more pop culturally than I do that movie. I constantly refer to Coming to America.
Directed by: Mel Gibson | Written by: Randall Wallace
It's a quintessential dude pick from my era, but any and every time William Wallace yells, 'Freedom!' at the end of that movie, like a baby, the tears just flow out of me. You can say what you want to about Mel outside in the world, but, as a director, he's awesome, whether you talking about The Passion, or Apocalypto, or Braveheart. He has a way of making war so incredibly visceral. I think he captures that in a really profound way.
And it's a gorgeous love story. It's love for your country. It's fighting for independence. It's him trying to find his wife at the beginning, and then, allowing himself to find love again at the end. It's like Hamilton. If you stand for nothing, man, what do you fall for? You saw somebody willing to stand for something, to galvanize a people. And you saw the fear of the establishment — that there's power in this man, because he has the ears and the hearts of the people.
Written and Directed by: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
I think The Matrix is the most revolutionary movie in terms of the sci-fi genre, and it really makes you contemplate existence, and what is happening in the world. It's one of the few movies you walked out of and were like, 'Is this s—t all fake? Are we plugged into this joint right now?'