Interview By: Michael Dance
To many people, Andre Braugher is a vaguely familiar actor, a face from movies like Frequency or City of Angels or Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
To those who know his TV work, he’s a legend: for six years in the mid-90s he starred as Detective Frank Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Street. The show struggled in the ratings but survived as long as it did thanks to critical acclaim and numerous awards. Later shows Braugher has done, such as Gideon’s Crossing and Thief, have seen familiar levels of acclaim but haven’t lasted nearly as long.
“You can rest assured that I will invariably choose a critically acclaimed failure as my next project,” Braugher says, cracking up. “I just try to move on and hopefully take some lessons with meâ€¦ I’m always just looking for the most interesting project.”
In the meantime, his role in this Thanksgiving’s The Mist may not be written in the history books, but the film is a ripping good suspense yarn. Based on a Stephen King novella, it tells the story of a strange mist that descends over a New England town and traps dozens of people inside a supermarket. Nobody knows how far the mist has spread â€“ maybe the whole world? â€“ and strange things might be hiding within it, too.
“He’s a jerk, and he’s a realist, and he’s gone,” Braugher says of his character Brent, the next door neighbor of David Draper (Thomas Jane), the hero of the story. “Sane men in an insane world are just going to get their heads chopped off, that’s the way it is.” (Don’t worry, that’s a turn of phrase, not a spoiler.) “Everything we know to be true is now over by the mist. Brent just can’t accept that. There’s got to be some escape. There’s got to be some
In the film, Brent seems almost absurdly in denial about the situation, but then again, he doesn’t know he’s in a horror movie. Braugher expertly deconstructs his character’s very human psychology. “He’s just desperate to understand what’s going on. He is an outsider, and he is a Type A personality. But there comes a point, when we’re in this crazy situation, where my next door neighbor and the assistant supervisor and two drunks show up and tell me they saw [something] out by the loading dockâ€¦and I’m supposed to believe that? That’s where Brent thinks the madness is taking hold of people: I don’t know what’s going on, but I know there’s nothing in the mist that’s snatching people out of here.
“My mind gravitates toward the picture of the world I have. I use the true things that I know about people: that David Draper is my neighbor. That he was kind to me today but we’ve been in a property dispute and at each other’s throats. And that these two guys, who are townies, resent me. So I use the things that are actually true in this world to paint a picture that makes sense.”
Like Braugher does with Brent, King and director Frank Darabont have fully fleshed out each character with an attention to humanity that elevates it above standard horror fare. In fact, the story eventually becomes more Lord of the Flies than about what’s in the mist.
“That’s what the mist does to us: it invites us into madness, and we’re forced to choose what kind of human beings we need to be,” Braugher says. “And unfortunately, human beings are not consistent or logical and sane and loving and wonderful, like we like to think of ourselves. We’re really kind of bloodthirsty killers.”
Because of Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a fire-and-brimstone townsperson who starts preaching that the mist signals the End
He also sees Mrs. Carmody as a jab at extreme fundamentalism, not religion in general. “I am [a religious person], but it’s not like â€“ you know, I’m not going to react to everything. It’s not as though I’m going to defend Mrs. Carmody. …She’s just kind of this unstable town lady, kind of a pain in the ass, and now she’s our Old Testament prophet. This is the kind of world that makes sense to her.”
What attracted Braugher to the role was simple: the strength of the material as a well-done story. “That’s a Stephen King thing,” he says. “Stephen King seems superficially to belong to the horror genre, but he’s really a novelist who has a lot of insight into the human heart, into the human spirit. He’s very clear-eyed about what it is that people do under great duress â€“ they typically perform very poorly.”
What Braugher wasn’t looking for was a horror-movie-of-the-week gorefest. “It’s an intense ride, there’s no doubt about it. Frank has really put us in the center of that fear and that panic in the supermarket. But this film is unique. He started from a wonderful novel, and most horror films don’t have this kind of basis. Most aren’t based on Stephen King’s works. They’re all about, you know, diabolical killers, and how fiendish is this trap, you know what I mean? Blah blah blah, who am I
The attention to the characters and steady build-up of suspense in The Mist reminded him of one of his favorites. “One of the earliest credible films I saw was The Exorcist,” he says. “The Exorcist is a really, really scary film, and until late in the film, you don’t get all that floating, those effects â€“ it’s a mother and a daughter living in a townhouse in Georgetown, and slowly, slowly, little things begin to happen. You’re living in their shoes, seeing things through their eyes, and it’s much more frightening to be that person in that situation than looking on: oh, that guy’s diabolical and he’s wearing a hockey mask and he’s got a knife! You know what I’m saying?”
Braugher has gotten to the point where a steady stream of work allows him to do what he wants â€“ next up is Passengers with Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson. “It’s one of those mystery movies, I can’t talk about it too much. It has a hook, a twist, of some kind, and the more I say the more I’ll reveal. And Andromeda Strain, a miniseries, is coming out on A&E in February.”
He doesn’t even live in L.A., instead opting for suburban New Jersey. “I just don’t want to raise my children out there,” he says. “I don’t want to live out there. I just don’t want to live in a town where the business is everything, you know what I’m saying? I like bumping elbows with people, I like being east of the Mississippi. It’s just my thing.”
And for an actor best known for his gripping TV work, he doesn’t watch much. “No. I got three boys. You know what it’s like? There’s only so many hours in a day, and I choose to spend it with
At the same time, he’s happy to say that he still enjoys his work, even in simpler roles like his army general in Rise of the Silver Surfer. “It’s all acting, it’s all fun,” he says with the smile of a contented man. “This is joyful to me. This is how I exercise my emotions. I’m on an incredible rollercoaster with all these characters, and that’s good, because I get to exercise the kind of emotions I usually don’t get a chance to tap. It takes me on an adventure, but it’s a hell of a lot safer than actually being on that adventure. I don’t want the feds after me, you know what I’m saying?”