Andre Braugher, the distinguished actor best known for playing buttoned-up, hyper-competent characters like detective Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street, isn’t sure where he’ll be in five years. But for now, he can’t think of any reason to leave South Orange.
Positive vibes have been following the square-jawed star and his wife, Homicide costar Ami Brabson, around the village since they arrived with their three sons in 1998. “A couple days after we moved in, Ami and I went to the Emmys and I won best leading actor for Homicide,” says Braugher, 56. “That fall,” he recalls, “was a whirlwind.” He later won another Emmy in 2006 for his role in Thief, an FX miniseries.
Braugher, a Chicago native, and Brabson came to New Jersey for its picket fences and tree forts. “After living in Harlem and Park Slope and Baltimore, we realized we liked this whole backyard thing,” he says. Thanks to his success, however, he’s not always around to enjoy backyard life. He spends roughly half of every month in Los Angeles shooting Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the sitcom on which he plays dour police captain Raymond Holt. He also spends time adding to his substantial film credits, which include Glory, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Gambler.
Even when Braugher does get to spend time in South Orange, he’s not necessarily snoozing in his hammock. Now that the couple’s older sons Michael and Isaiah are in their 20s and out of the house, and the youngest, John Wesley, is away at boarding school, Braugher has taken on work in town. From January 24-February 3, he will star in Tell Them I’m Still Young, a world-premiere drama at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. The play, written by New Yorker Julia Doolittle, tells the story of a couple—Allen, a professor and Kay, a poet—whose marriage starts to crumble when their only child is killed in a car crash. Tony Award-winning stage and TV actress Michele Pawk costars as Kay.
Braugher signed on after being invited to a reading of the play by a director friend, Kel Haney. “I was taken by the maturity of the writing,” says Braugher in praise of Doolittle. “She’s young, but I found her depiction of these two characters, loosely based on her parents, to be very compelling.” Allen, his character, “is someone I’m really responding to. This is a compassionate, intelligent, sweet man, and a loving one. He’s different than the tour-de-force, tough-guy roles I often play.”
After the show’s nine performances in South Orange, Braugher hopes he can find a home for the play in Manhattan, as producer. If he can’t secure a commercial theater to work with, he’ll partner with a nonprofit. “It depends on how much interest I can generate,” he says.
SOPAC won’t feel unfamiliar to Braugher. He and Babson are regulars at the venue. “We’ve seen the Average White Band there and Madeleine Peyroux,” he says. Acting before a live audience again, though, will take some getting used to.
“It’s been awhile,” says Braugher, whose last stage role was in 2011 in The Whipping Man at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Before that, he was a regular player in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series.
“The last six years, I’ve just been busy with television,” says Braugher. “This, now, is exciting. I’m hungry for the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd.”
Braugher’s appetite is not limited to acting. He is susceptible to wanderlust, which is why he is not prepared to say whether he’s planted permanent roots in New Jersey. In 2008, he embarked on a cross-country bicycle trip. “I started in New Jersey and intended to make it to Santa Monica, but I only got as far as Kansas,” he says. The experience moved him nonetheless. “The Plains states are some of the most incredible country. The majesty of that area really impresses you, and you meet some of the nicest people. People who are outside of the thrust of urban life.”
That said, he continues to be drawn to the culture of big cities, especially New York and Los Angeles. And that’s one of the reasons New Jersey suits him. “I’ve been doing my commute so long, I’m comfortable with it,” he says. “And I get on my bike in Jersey, too, when the weather’s nice. It can be shockingly beautiful.”Click here to leave a comment