Andre Braugher takes on goofball comedy for 'some fun'

Andre Braugher (right, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-actor Andy Samberg).
Andre Braugher (right, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-actor Andy Samberg).

The multiple Emmy-winning actor loves gritty drama but takes on goofball cop sitcom to have some fun

What is a Stanford-educated, Juilliard-trained, multiple Emmy- winning dramatic actor like Andre Braugher doing on the goofball cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

"Slumming it?" suggests the show's executive producer Dan Goor when Life! poses this question on a recent press visit to the set in Los Angeles.

He is joking, but he and co-creator Michael Schur have admitted they were not sure a performer of Braugher's pedigree - he also has an Obie Award for playing the lead in a 1996 New York production of Shakespeare's Henry V - would agree to play the police captain in their action comedy.

Sitting beside them, Braugher looks a trifle embarrassed.

But he wanted a change. "I needed to grow and take on new challenges in my career," says the 52-year-old, who won his first Emmy in 1998 for portraying a police officer on a rather more serious show, Homicide: Life On The Street, and a second Emmy in 2006 for the mini-series Thief.

"I love drama, I love rough and tumble stuff. I love the gritty, edgy, sort of swamps-of-Louisiana kind of stuff. But I also want to have some fun, you know what I mean?

"So I looked at my career and I've made some interesting choices and had some terrific successes. But spiritually, I needed a new challenge, I needed to laugh a little bit."

The half-hour sitcom - which pairs Braugher as no-nonsense police captain Ray Holt with former Saturday Night Live comedian Andy Samberg as juvenile young police detective Jake Peralta - has started amassing its own silverware.

It won Golden Globes for Best Television Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy (for Samberg) last year. Braugher also picked up an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Goor and Schur believe the show has grown in confidence since its debut in 2013 and is making even better use of Braugher's talents in the second season, which airs in Singapore on Diva (StarHub TV Channel 513, Singtel TV Channel 303).

Goor says: "I feel like we started to find our voice last season and so I don't think that there's been a massive recalculation of our voice or anything (in Season 2). But we have maybe more confidence and are able to take some slightly larger swings.

"In the fifth episode, The Mole, Andre has an incredible monologue and that was a full page, easily. I don't know that we would have had the confidence to do that in the first season, we might have felt like, oh, this is a long time to spend on this joke. But knowing that Andre would really pull it off, it was a pleasure to do it. We didn't cut a word of it."

Schur says a creative decision like that is "based almost entirely on the actors and Andre has been trained as a Shakespearean actor for many years".

While there have not been many American sitcoms set entirely in the police department, Schur says the show is "in essence a workplace comedy". Hence the frequent comparisons with Parks And Recreation, another acclaimed workplace sitcom he co-created.

As for the setting, Braugher says his extensive experience with playing police officers on TV dramas such as Homicide: Life On The Street (1993-1998) and Hack (2002-2004) has come in handy, even though this is a different genre.

"Part of it is just playing on the fact that I was on Homicide for seven years, which was in its time a ground-breaking police drama," says the actor, who is married to Ami Brabson, his on-screen wife from that show, and has three sons aged 10 to 22.

He says: "I think I understand the world and the mindset of the characters. I understand the workplace. So I feel like it's been easy to fit in.

"The learning curve at times has been steep in terms of comedy. But for me, as an actor, I felt that this would be a tremendous challenge."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs on Diva (StarHub TV Channel 513, Singtel TV Channel 303) every Tuesday, 7.55am and 8.55pm. Same day telecast as the United States.