The following article appeared in the May 8, 2006 issue of Jet Magazine
Now he's a bad guy, but he's still good
By Greg Braxton
Times Staff Writer
Life after so much death — the untimely kind — has been a mixed blessing for Andre Braugher.
The veteran actor earned a permanent place on the honor roll of iconic TV detectives with his portrayal of the intense, no-nonsense Frank Pembleton on the groundbreaking series "Homicide: Life on the Street." That role on the gritty drama, which ran from 1993 to 1999, earned him rave reviews and an Emmy Award for lead actor in a drama.
He left the show to pursue other roles, earning praise for his work in "Frequency" and the Showtime movies "Soldier's Girl" and "10,000 Black Men Named George." But those parts did not match the effect he had with Pembleton. Two TV series featuring Braugher — "Gideon's Crossing," in which he played a doctor, and "Hack," in which he played a supporting role — failed to connect with viewers.
But critics and industry insiders are seeing a lot of promise in Braugher's latest project. Ironically, the role could be called the "anti-Pembleton." His new character is on the wrong side of the law.
Braugher is at the center of "Thief," FX's new drama, premiering tonight at 10, in which he plays a professional thief who is suddenly thrust into a critical crossroads in his line of work and his family life. The series premieres in the time slot vacated temporarily by "The Shield," another FX show in which the lines between good and evil are perpetually blurred. "Thief," which films in Shreveport, La., mixes the currently popular genre of the colorful criminal with escalating family tensions.
On a brief promotional tour last week in Los Angeles, Braugher took delight in discussing his "Thief" character, Nick Atwater, calling him one of the most challenging yet enjoyable of his career. He said there are two differing aspects of Atwater — he's an accomplished liar who can flash a variety of personalities at any given moment, yet he is also a man of honor.
"This is by far the most intense work I've done on a regular basis," said Braugher, sitting in the lobby of a Century City hotel just hours before FX held a gala premiere of "Thief" at the Pacific Design Center. "It's demanded more of my resources than anything has before. It's not so much a crime drama as a character study of a man becoming authentic to himself."
And though Nick Atwater and Frank Pembleton are on opposite sides of the law, Braugher said the two are linked by their dedication to their craft: "Nick is the flip side of Frank, but they are part of the same coin."
The two are also bonded by their opposite situations. Pembleton established himself early in the run of "Homicide" as a cocky lone wolf who shunned his colleagues while using his considerable gifts as a tricky manipulative interrogator to break down murder suspects. Atwater, on the other hand, is surrounded by people — he has a crew of specialists assisting him with heists and a family that includes a loving wife (Dina Meyer) and a stepdaughter (Mae Whitman) who resents him.
Before the pilot has concluded, Atwater's world has turned upside down, his relationships with his crew and his stepdaughter are crumbling, and he winds up alone, washing off his pool deck with a garden hose, a symbolic counterpoint to the growing messiness of his world.
Braugher approached the role seriously, reading technical books on safecracking and lock picking as well as talking to technical advisors.
Braugher, a family man who lives with his wife and three kids in New Jersey, said he only takes on projects that he feels have merit or topical significance. He prefers to stay far from the glitz and superficiality of the Hollywood scene.
He added that despite his character's moral shortcoming, he liked Atwater's richness, noting that the role required him to communicate a range of emotions without dialogue: "I liked the spareness of expression."
Norman Morrill, who created "Thief" and serves as an executive producer, said the series follows an immoral man making his living illegally who is forced to make moral decisions. He also wanted to explore the delusion of men who, because nobody is getting hurt, believe they are playing by the rules. Morrill based the series on a group of thieves that worked out of Montreal during the 1970s.
And although he was not visualizing Braugher when writing the pilot, Morrill said the actor is the perfect fit for the lead role.
"When I heard he had read the script and was interested, I thought, 'Where do I sign?' " Morrill said. "TV has missed Andre. He has that 'it' factor that is so compellingly honest. He has the ability to show all these emotional colors, and anything I throw at him he can handle."
Braugher's focus has brought him fans among producers and actors who have worked with him. Malik Yoba, one of his "Thief" costars, said, "He may come off as a serious person, very intense, but he really is a fun-loving guy."
Paul Attanasio, who created "Homicide," added: "Andre is the best actor I've ever worked with in terms of breaking down a text. He's highly intelligent. He has these reservoirs of deep emotions and can make some real jumps. He's really more of a film actor. People look for coziness with their TV stars. There's nothing cozy about Andre. And yet it works."
Braugher said he could take on more projects if he wished. "But I have to be real jazzed about something. I really have to connect with it on a personal level; it has to mean something."
He chuckled: "Sometimes I'm at war with my accountant about this."
At times, Morrill said, it takes a little more effort to work with an actor so dedicated to his craft. "Andre does not suffer fools. If I come up with something that he doesn't understand or that he thinks doesn't hold true, I will hear about it. But that's fine because everyone has their process. He is never less than respectful, is on time, brings his A game and is generous. I have yet to find a fault with the guy."
Even though Braugher has been showered with accolades through the years, there have been bumps in his career. Some critics were lukewarm about his last starring TV vehicle in 2000, ABC's short-lived "Gideon's Crossing," which featured Braugher as an unorthodox doctor whose exploration of the world of cutting-edge medicine connects him to the humanity of his patients, the younger doctors he's teaching and himself. He received an Emmy nomination for the role, but some critics found his character to be too saintly.
Attanasio, who developed "Gideon's Crossing," said of the series: "After Frank Pembleton, we gave Andre a character that was a pillar of humanity. But we were accused of being too preachy. We were trying to do something meaningful, and it was probably a mistake."
As for Braugher, he still has strong feelings about that drama and believes the network did not support it enough. "We were trying something novel. We really went out on a limb, and we got lost."
He feels more secure about "Thief," which will have a six-episode run. He doesn't have other projects on the horizon, but that's all right with him. There's a lot of work to be done around the house, he said.
"It's important for me to be there for my sons," he said, adding with a big laugh, "I have to work on that algebra!"
The following article appeared in the March 27, 2006 issue of TV Guide Magazine
Braugher Steals Your Attention on 'Thief'
By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - It's not hard to see why Andre Braugher was drawn to the new FX series "Thief."
Braugher is an actor with powerful presence and impressive range, as "Homicide: Life on the Street" established years ago. On that acclaimed 1990s drama he played Frank Pembleton, who was a cocky, calculating police detective, then the victim of a stroke struggling to regain basic functions.
Now on "Thief" (which premieres 10 p.m. EST Tuesday), Braugher gets to show his stuff as Nick Atwater, criminal and family man.
On the job, Nick is a coolly methodical pro who masterminds high-risk, high-yield heists across the country.
Meanwhile, he maintains a separate domestic life in New Orleans with the wife he adores and a 14-year-old stepdaughter he tolerates.
Then, all too soon, Nick's carefully managed world is upended.
From that moment, it's any viewer's guess where the story will go. And Braugher is pleased to take viewers there.
Nick _ under siege, in mourning, protective of his family yet defiant as he pulls together one more heist _ is a full-bodied role that was guaranteed to get Braugher pumped.
"I liked the man," says Braugher flat-out when asked why he signed to do the series. "Nick doesn't stick guns in people's faces, he doesn't violate their privacy or their safety. He steals from insurance companies and banks, which can afford it. At least, these are the rationalizations that allow him to do what he does. He's a better man than he might be. But he is a beast.
"I also liked the fact that his worlds are in collision: the straight life and his other existence as a thief. He has a fantasy that it's possible to live them both. But you can't have your cake and eat it, too.
"I wanted to be a part of all that," Braugher says, "because so often TV dramas are formulaic _ and this one is as wacky and dangerous as life itself."
Not to be confused with "Heist," NBC's rip-roaring new L.A.-based drama, "Thief" takes a cue from its balmy, brooding New Orleans locale. (The pilot was shot there in summer 2004. Then, with the season's five additional episodes scheduled to start production last September, just days after Katrina struck, Shreveport became New Orleans' stand-in.)
Costarring with Braugher are Malik Yoba, Yancey Arias and Clifton Collins, Jr., as members of Nick's crew. Mae Whitman plays his stepdaughter, Tammi, whose conflict with Nick may or may not be explained by the fact that he is a black man wed to her white mother.
Whatever, Nick and Tammi are clearly at odds.
"We got nothing in common _ except one thing, your mom," Nick tells her, mincing no words. "What do we do?"
Soon, circumstances force an answer upon them.
"The series seems to me a character piece set in a crime world, rather than a crime drama," says Braugher. "The greatest arc isn't necessarily the heist that we're gonna pull off" _ a $40 million job aboard a jetliner _ "but what's going to happen with Nick and Tammi. How is their relationship going to be resolved?"
Off-camera, Braugher, 43, is a family man for real. He has been married for nearly 20 years to Ami Brabson, whom he met while they were studying drama at Juilliard and he now describes as "the best thing to happen to me _ period." The parents of three boys ages 13, 8 and 3, they call home a New Jersey town far removed from show-biz hustle bustle.
From there, Braugher was able to easily commute to his most recent series, "Hack" (CBS' 2002-04 police drama shot in Philadelphia), and, somewhat more exhaustingly, to Los Angeles each week to star in ABC's medical drama "Gideon's Crossing" during the 2000-01 season.
"I think I'd work a little more if I lived in L.A.," says Braugher with a grin, "but my boss says we live in Jersey, so that's just the way it is." This is not the only time he affectionately speaks of Brabson as the boss.
In person, Braugher comes across not unlike he does on-screen. Though his manner is down-to-earth, he has that same commanding voice, the multipurpose smile (it can signal many moods, not just amusement), and a frost of gray hair (the sort of shaved-clean head he sported some years ago has become a cliche for a black man, Braugher says).
And during this recent interview in Manhattan, he dwells on his two passions: his family and his work.
What fuels that love for acting?
"It's an emotional release," he explains _ an outlet that might otherwise lie beyond his reach. "Men are not usually forthcoming in the expression of their emotions."
Growing up in a rough Chicago neighborhood, he was blessed with loving and demanding parents. "But I was socialized in a certain way. Even as a kid there's no real suitable outlet for emotions that don't fall within a certain small range: anger, lust, ridicule _ Army emotions, I call them."
Then, at Stanford University as an engineering major, he helped out a friend by filling a vacant role in a campus play. He liked it _ a lot. He had found a new major, and an unexpected calling.
"As an actor, I'm allowed _ encouraged! _ to explore emotions that have been basically unacceptable in my life. I have a huge well of emotional stuff, and once I give myself permission as an actor, it all comes to the surface. But I'll be damned if I can give myself permission to bring it out as a man.
"As a father," Braugher goes on, looping back to one passion from the other, "I've tried to encourage my children to have a broader and deeper emotional life than I've had. I want my sons to be able to express their feelings about things," he says with feeling he seems fully able to express.
Additional information about Andre Braugher
Andre Braugher@Internet Movie Database
Andre Braugher Fan Site
Andre Braugher Interview