Interview: Andre Braugher - Starring in 'Men of a Certain Age' Premiering Tonight
Andre Braugher stars in "Men Of A Certain Age" which premieres on TNT at 10pm tonight. Photo: Art Streiber
Multi-Emmy-award winner Andre Braugher is a cast member of multi-Emmy-award winner Ray Romano's new comedy on TNT, "Men of a Certain Age" which premieres tonight at 10pm. So how did one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our generation get involved with a TV comedy? Perhaps because this isn't any ordinary comedy - this is Ray Romano unfettered by the 3-cameras-and-a-studio-audience format. This is also Ray Romano putting together realistic storylines without getting subjected to network-managed focus groups and who-knows-how-many layers of management. The result is an excellent show (we've seen 4 episodes), of what the LA Times is calling a dramedy, with honest-to-life characters, great dialogue, and situations that range from the very funny to the poignant. The critics who have already published their "Top Ten TV Shows of 2009" without including "Men of a Certain Age" have been more than premature.Last Thursday we had a chance to sit down and talk with Andre Braugher about what brought him to "Men of a Certain Age", his role of Owen, and some of the other roles in his incredible career on stage and screen.
LAist: Tell us how you got involved with "Men of a Certain Age"?
Andre Braugher: Ray Romano was the main draw. In spring of last year my manager asked me if I would be interested in having a meeting with Ray Romano and [executive producer] Mike Royce and I jumped at the opportunity because I'm a big fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond", Ray is so gifted at observational comedy, it's a show we Tivod and watched, it's a show that's so true to life. ["Everybody Loves Raymond" has] had Patricia Heaton who is so fantastic, Brad Garrett, and all these people, and I thought, "Why not me?" you know what I'm saying? And Ray and Mike were talking about doing a comedy, I have no idea what it is, but I figured that if you want to be good, you should learn from the best.
I was in rehearsals for Hamlet, so I had flown out for this meeting with them, and we talked about the material and I read the pilot script which was all very interesting to me. But they were hesitant about me, if I was the guy for the job, because in their minds it was a comedy and they thought I might be something other [than that]. But here's what Ray said after we were done shooting all nine episodes, "We didn't know if you were the right one and we mulled it over a long time but now I'm so glad that you were the one [we picked] for the show".
This was very heartening for me because in the [completed] episodes I had tried to do my very best to get to the heart of what these guys were trying to do. I was very pleased to be part of this thing, these guys took a chance on me and that's not common in this business because people typically go with known commodities. But I responded when he said this to me, it was such a gracious thing to say, because the fact of the matter is that he is a very good evaluator of talent - if you go back to "Everybody Loves Raymond", he didn't go with household names there either and he took a chance and within that show those actors proved they were great performers.
LAist: "Men of a Certain Age" isn't a punchline-driven show. Your character, Owen, seems to be an anchor of stability, a moral center in the show, and has a gravity to his presence but still manages to say some of the funniest lines. In comedy, whom have you admired and enjoyed past or present?
Andre Braugher: Oh the really old guys: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Flip Wilson, those are the kind of guys that I like. I like the old clean comics - that's kind of my thing. I have an incredible appreciation for [contemporary] comics but I tend to be a really old-fashioned guy. I draw most of my role models from when I was a young man in the '70s and who I could see at that time - I go back to that time in my life for those kind of role models.
LAist: For the character of Owen, did you look at other performances by other actors or a previous role of yours for inspiration?
Andre Braugher: No, I think that would have gotten into my head. I can be susceptible to other performances getting into my head. When I was doing Henry the Fifth, this was thirteen years ago, I had watched the Olivier and watched the Branagh performances and I had their interpretations in my head and I couldn't stand it because I wanted to do something of my own. I finally got them out but the lesson I learned was to not go looking for performances by others as role models.
LAist: In the show, Owen, despite being the moral center, finds that he has to adjust his own judgements and behavior, the world isn't so black and white.
Andre Braugher: My character has to carry a lot of water for Joe [Ray Romano's character], because he thinks he knows how Joe feels, how he has been wronged, the dynamics of Joe's failed marriage. He wants someone to say, "you're right, this is the way it is" but in fact he's dealing with shades of gray and this is frustrating for him. It's funny to be the moral center, which he is, but in a way he's one step behind.
LAist: The black-and-white worldview reminded me a bit of your character Frank Pembleton from "Homicide: Life on the Street", who was forced, on occasion, to reassess his assumptions. As a product of Jesuit education, do you think that some of the rules and regulations that were drilled into you are something that you draw upon when preparing these roles?
Andre Braugher: I seem to be credible in portraying these moral characters, but I'm not sure that's me. I think that the education has a very clear moral center and while I think that, perhaps, some of this has rubbed off on the playing, but I don't want to suggest that I have that, you know what I mean?
LAist: As a fellow product of Jesuit education, I know that the four or five years that you are subjected to it, there is an ad nauseum repetition of that moral doctrine. You can hear the words and know them by heart, but it doesn't necessarily mean that your are "one of God's soldiers". You have to intelligently process that - but Owen, and many of your other characters have this high level of morality.
Andre Braugher: [Laughs] You're taking me back! I think there's a spiritual journey in every character, and that makes me think of Henry the Fifth, and I don't mean to go back to Shakespeare, I read the play, started the rehearsals, and I really didn't like this guy, this character. I sat down with my director, Dough Hughes, and we sat down for an hour and a half, to discuss this character, in order to discover the spiritual journey of Henry the Fifth through the course of Shakespeare's play.
And what It opened for me, is this whole world in which my characters, and how perfectly Catholic, are in search of redemption. I think this is an element in all of [my] characters: it's in Duets, it's in Glory, but it's a theme. It's unseen, but this spiritual world informs and it animates the performance, and I think about that arc and not just the story arc.
When I think about the spiritual development of the character, it enhances my portrayal - I try to put that in wherever I can: it's true of City of Angels, and I think it's become an integral part of my work. Not that I'm prosthelytizing, it's just that I discovered this dimension in all of my characters and it has really made a difference for me, to explore these characters to a greater depth.
LAist: It's so refreshing to have these very real characters in "Men of a Certain Age" when compared to many of the cardboard cutouts we do get in other shows, that might be really funny [initially], but how much is the audience really going to invest in them?
Andre Braugher: One of the great things about this show is that Mike and Ray have really sat down and thought very deeply about these characters and taken the time to really craft these stories. These guys developed 10 stories [the initial season] that were tight - consequently, every time we picked up a script we didn't spend time trying to correct glaring flaws: "Are we credible doing this? What kind of backflips do we have to do to make this work?"
It's a testament to their work ethic, they are so good at what they do, they run a tight ship. So we didn't have to ask fundamental questions of the script, we tried to rise to the level of the script and that's much more enjoyable.
"Men of a Certain Age" premieres tonight at 10pm on TNT.