Andre Braugher: Actor of a certain age finds fulfillment on TNT's Men of a Certain Age.
After more than few years in the TV critic game, I can tell when love for a show arises not just because of its quality, but because it seems to be telling your story.
I see it in some of my friends and colleagues when they lap up episode of FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or HBO's Entourage. It's not just that those shows are funny or well-crafted; it's that they create a world so close to your own circumstances that it feels like they're stealing plotlines from your Facebook page.
And so it goes, for me, with TNT's Men of a Certain Age.
Centered on three guys who are pals nearing 50 in very different ways, Age deftly dercibes the commonality of aging in today's society -- still feeling like knuckleheaded kid, wondering how much you've achieved, growing tired of past faults while remaining unsure how to move past them -- while outlining three very distict characters.
And no one has made more of his unusual situation than Andre Braugher. on the surface, he wouldn't seem the best choice for put-upon car dealership heir Owen thoerau Jr.; known for playing authoritative "hyper-competent" characters, Braugher is an actor's actor who earned his rep chewing scenery on NBC's Homicide series.
Still, he brings a prickly grace to Owen, who begins Age's second season trying to flex his muscles as the new boss at the car delaership, only to find his supposedly retired father still stepping in to handle things. Fretting over sales tallies and vendor contracts is al ong way from chasing serial killer in Baltimore -- but it's a lot closer to most viewers' experiences.
As Men of a Certain Age returns for its second season at 10 tonight, here's a sample from my recent conversation with the guy who snagged an Emmy nomination last year when creator and star Ray Romano didn't.
Deggans: We’ve kinda seen Owen kinda come into his own a little bit, step up. How does the character evolve over this next season?
B: Well, it’s part of an ongoing maturation process, you know, because as Owen changes and grows, so do all his relationships. So I think we see a deeper and fuller relationship with his wife, an evolution of a relationship with his dad, you know, in terms of taking over the dealership and really exercising some responsibility for the first time. And his relationship with Terry changes ‘cause now he’s Terry’s boss so I think this is really a season of change for Owen and one of the things that I like about what Ray and Mike have developed here is that nothing goes quite right, you know, like life. So consequently you see these characters constantly sort of scrambling to make things right, you know. And that’s really appealing to me.
Exactly. watching him take his nemesis Marcus back on staff, for example, was heartbreaking. But on another level, you understand why he’s doing it ; you get so frustrated sometimes with Owen even though you realize why he’s making these choices.
B: Right. Well, he’s trying to do the right thing. You know what I’m saying? And so, part of it is, it’s on-the-job training, you know, and being the boss demands a different attitude about things. I no longer, in essence, have the leisure to be … to hold a personal grudge, you know what I mean? Business demands something different, so that’s part of the maturation. I think in another time, Owen might have been foolish about it, you know what I mean? But I think now he understands and he’s willing to do things necessary, you know, do the best he can. And the beauty of this season is that there’s two steps forward and one step back, and I think that’s a good thing.
We’re so used to seeing you play characters who are so confident and self-assured and decisive, so when we see Owen finally make a decision, it’s almost like a release. It’s like we get a glimpse of the Andre Braugher we’re used to seeing. And I wonder if you accepted this role because this character’s a little different than the kind of guy we’re used to seeing.
B: It is a little different, and that’s why the attraction to the role, you know what I mean? You can only do that for so long without really burning out but the other part about it is that, you know, Owen has a lot more dimensions than the other characters. He has a rich kind of stew of relationships that are really appealing, you know. He’s a father and a husband and a son and a co-worker and a boss and a friend, you know, and it’s really kind of wonderful, you know, to be involved in these relationships because all too often, these authoritative characters that I played, they’re like ready-made atoms, you know? They don’t have a lot of context so, consequently, they aren’t as satisfying as I think is a role like this because this is all context. I mean, you see him in the middle of his life and that’s something I think that a lot of people can, for lack of a better word, relate to because we’re all … have these people that we love that drive us crazy. And balancing that is really what life is all about.
Click below for rest of interview:
It's true: watching a Superman tackle problems isn’t interesting because he’s Superman. He’s gonna find a solution. But watching an average guy tackle a super-human problem, that’s really interesting.
B: Oh, it is. I mean, one of the things that I always like to do is make sure that I’m struggling for a solution in real time and that may sound funny but, you know, I try not to know more than necessary to tell the story. So, you know, I just try to struggle for the solution in real time, you know, right before very eyes rather than knowing too much. You know what I’m saying? And so, yeah, I mean, there’s something attractive about hyper-competent characters but then, you know what I mean, at a certain point, you just become assured that they’re gonna have a solution and it becomes a bore. You know what I mean. So that struggle for the solution, you know, is what’s most interesting.
You know, I’m African American and I love seeing a black family structure that’s so complete – you know, wife, kids, dad, all of it, but also kind of in a multiracial context ‘cause your friends aren’t black. And I wonder if there’s an element of that that also appeals to you.
B: It does appeal to me. I mean, TV’s definitely been divided and segmented into separate worlds. You know, you have your white shows, you have your black shows, a lot of different things but, you know, life is a little more radical than TV, and so I’m trying to, to the best of my ability, I mean, it’s really a decision that Mike and Ray made but, to the best of my ability, to create the radical kind of world in which our stereotypes are not embodied in the casting, you know, or the quality of the relationships and stuff. You know what I mean. And so, it’s interesting to me, you know. I got a hot wife and I love her, you know what I mean? And I’m not … I don’t have a roving eye and all these other different things, and that’s quite satisfying because it’s not an often-told story. You know what I’m saying?
So often we see these shows and they’re about young men. No. 1, they’re just kinda discovering life. And they don't have real friendships, where talk goes beyond dating and work, to really kind of dealing with life.
It mirrors what happens in the course of life. I mean, when you’re young you don’t have a lot of problems. You know what I’m saying? I mean, what – you make rent? You know what I’m saying. I mean, that’s as hard as it gets. But to have kids … I mean, you know, as far as I can see, having kids really transforms you from a boy to the man because you’re finally responsible for something. But the other thing about it is, as you grow older you have real things to deal with. You know what I mean. So, when you watch shows about young men, they deal with young men’s things, but the older you get, the more you have to set aside that stuff and actually deal with things. That’s what happens when you go from being the son to the father. You know, the father is constantly watching out, is looking down the road because he’s responsible, whereas the sons – either the good son or the bad son, the prodigal son or the loyal son – they pursue life in a different way. But the father is always watching.
Was it important to have chemistry between the three of you or is it like Olivier says, "it’s acting."
B: Well, we are acting but this show was cast very, very sane. I mean, Ray’s a father and husband, Scott’s a father and a husband, and I’m a father and a husband, and we’re veterans, you know. We don’t have anything to prove. You know what I’m saying. So we come down here, we do the best job we can to tell the story, and we’ve got good … we’ve got darn good playwrights and we like telling the story, so consequently I would have to say things go very smoothly because all the elements are in place.
Let’s talk about Ray for a second. I’ve always felt people kinda underestimated him as an actor and this show seems to give him a little more room for kinda show what he can do in that sphere, and I wonder what you think about that and if you could talk a little bit about watching him.
B: Well, I love it. I mean, I’m really harkening back to not so much these new episodes but back to last year. You know, he’s written a character with a gambling problem who has a real problem and here’s the thing. You know, it’s not like … 'oh, I lost $20,000 in Vegas. What a wild weekend.' He’s lost one relationship. Last year we saw him lose another relationship that was important to him. He’s constantly, in essence, putting his life on the roulette table, you know what I mean? And that has real consequences, and so you look up and here’s a character who I think is realistically and I think humanely in the grip of a gambling obsession and … a gambling addiction … and it has real costs. And you don’t find a lot of writers brave enough to deal with it and continue to deal with it, you know what I mean? Oftentimes, especially in a comedy, you know, this is exactly the point at which when things get a little … a little, you know, too heavy and people start getting nervous, and the situation turns … reveals a darker side, that’s the point at which there’s a funny line, because people get a little too nervous. But, you know, this is a show that starts uncomfortable, you know, and gets in uncomfortable territory and then continues to explore it, you know what I mean. And that way, I think, Ray and Mike together are kinda revealing the humanness of these characters.
And now there’s a sense that he’s thinking about selling the business, going the PGA tour, which seems like a gamble of the same proportions.
B: It is a gamble, you know, but part of it is … and I think … you know, it’s been revealed in the character … he’s always searching for that thrill, and so you see … I mean, you see this guy who you like and who you can relate to and you feel as though is very credible, but he’s got a little something going on. And Ray and Mike don’t shy away from writing the downside of this character’s thing. You know what I mean. The same’s true with me with an eating disorder … not me, but Owen’s character with his eating obsession or disorder, whatever you want to call it, you know. Same thing with Terry and not being able to commit. You know what I mean. There’s stuff going on. I mean, these guys are wonderful in their own right but like everybody, they’ve got a little something going on that can make you nervous.
Right. Well, I’m just glad to see a character who’s as big as I am on television, so thank you for that.
B: Oh sure, my pleasure.
D: So you got the Emmy nomination, right? And Ray didn’t. Did that cause any, you know … did that cause a rift? Did you get to remind him of that? (laughter)
B: No, it caused no rift. We all take our shot and none of us are in control of the voting, so, you know, I go, I sit down, you know what I mean. If I win, (laughs) it’s okay. If I don’t, it’s okay, too, you know.
I remember back, Andre, when you left Homicide and it seemed at that point you were kind of starting on a journey as an actor, charting your own course. And now that you’re where you are now, do you feel like you’ve kinda evolved in the same way that we’ve kinda seen Owen has evolved?
B: I have. I’ve taken on different challenges, you know, but the business is very tricky. I’m not the guy who has the casting decisions, so oftentimes I might take the best job that I can find, you know. And I’ve been unemployed quite often ... and sometimes voluntarily ‘cause I’m looking for a role that I can really sink my teeth into and that I can be proud of. You know what I mean. And that’s really the criteria, you know, that I play a dimensional man and that’s not always available. You know what I’m saying? So, you know, I’ve been unemployed and I’ll be unemployed again but, you know, I have enjoyed doing it my way.