Sterling K. Brown On ‘This Is Us’ Ending And Shifting The Narrative About Black Fatherhood
Courtesy of Cascade

Give Sterling K. Brown his flowers. All of them. If the Emmy and SAG Awards didn’t already prove that he can play any role and play it well, you should know that the star is such the consummate actor, he can make a simple ad encouraging you to preserve water and energy not only hilarious, but also enthralling at the same time. 

He did just that as the star was recently tapped by dishwashing detergent brand Cascade for the second installment of their “Do It Every Night” campaign. The aim is to air out a dirty secret — running your dishwasher every night, even the smallest of loads, manages to use up less water and energy than when you wash your dishes by hand. The more you know.

Brown manages to drive this point home well because of his own desire to help save water in his home state of California, amid the state’s drought issues, and because he appreciates saving money, too. 

“Living in California, we were dealing with cyclical droughts all the time. So, if you can save water, you should save water,” he tells ESSENCE. “It’s been educational being a part of the campaign because I thought that washing dishes by hand was actually going to be more efficient.”

According to ENERGY STAR, a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, dishwashers use less than four gallons of water per cycle when compared to washing dishes by hand, which can waste four gallons every two minutes. If you swapped out washing dishes by hand, even for just 10 minutes, for putting them in the dishwasher, Brown says, “you could save hundred gallons of water a week. Especially in California, why not save when the state is doing what it is to try to conserve water whenever it can? Also, you’re using half the energy that you use when you’re washing dishes by hand as well. If you do that over the course of a year, you can save about $130. So, I’m all about pinching pennies. You can save all three of those things: water, energy, and cash. It seems like a no-brainer to me.”

It’s something the actor is clearly passionate about, but it’s certainly not the only thing. In our conversation with Brown, we talked about a few other things that mean a lot to him. That includes the house chores he took on during the pandemic (he does not play about cluttered floors, people), his fantastic run on This Is Us as the series prepares for its sixth and final season, positive representations of Black fathers, and the times he helped his wife deliver their sons on their bedroom floor. Again, the more you know.

ESSENCE: I checked out the Cascade ad and it had me cackling. Laughing, as well as, blushing. How was it to shoot?

Sterling K. Brown: It was so much fun. When I first looked at the campaign and how they were putting it together, and combining something that was meaningful with something that was really, really humorous, I was like, “This is something I can stand behind.” Especially, because people know me to make them cry all the dang-on time on T.V. So why not give them something to laugh at too? It was a welcome departure from the routine.

I know, obviously, the dishwasher handles cleaning what ends up in the sink. What housework do you take on at the Brown resident? And, are there any chores people might be surprised you do, or maybe took on during the pandemic?

We do it all. My wife, and I do it all. I love vacuuming, and sweeping. I have a thing about clean floors. Also, I’m not the dude who throws his clothes on the ground. I was like, “There’s a hamper for a reason.” And, if either my wife, or either these two boys just drop clothes in the middle of the floor, I’m like, “Go put up your clothes. Put them somewhere where they belong because I’m not stepping through your stuff.” The floor is, sort of, the basis of everything else, and if the floor is dirty it drives me a little nuts. So, I’m very good. It doesn’t matter if it’s wood, if it’s tile, whatever it is. Brown will scrub. I will clean. If I drop food, I like to be able to pick it up, and put it in my mouth. That’s why it has to be clean.

[Laughs] Nice. Nice. In regards to work outside of the house, team Essence, we have to say, we’re heartbroken about This Is Us ending. How are you feeling?

It is a bittersweet thing. I only say that because it is my real belief that when one door closes another opens, right? God opens something else up for you. So, I’m always looking forward to what’s next. But, I got to tell you these past five years, and what will be the sixth year, have been some of the best years of my life. Not just because of the stories that we have been telling collectively, and putting out into the world, but the people that I’ve had a chance to tell these stories with. From our writers and producers, to the actors, to our crew. It has been the best family to be a part of. And, I hope that the work speaks for itself for a long time to come. It’s been a joy to do the show, to play this part, to be in this family.

But, you have plenty, I know, coming up in the works. One of those things that you have is a special you’re hosting for OWN, honoring Black fathers ahead of Father’s Day. Can you speak on the importance of positive representation to you, particularly, when it comes to the depiction of Black dads? I know that you have your production company as well, and having positive imagery put out there is also important in that aspect as well. But, when it comes to the way Black fathers are depicted, why is it important to you to, kind of, have your hand in that?

It’s hugely important, because we’re all aware of what the national narrative can be with regards to Black fatherhood, and absenteeism, and what have you. The men who are part of my life, my friends that I went to school with, who I’ve grown up with, are exceptional Black men. Exceptional fathers. I would love that to be a part of the national narrative as well. So, anything that I can do to help shift that narrative to the excellence that Black fatherhood is, that’s been a part of my life. You’ve got to show people everything that’s out there because if they just look for the same old same, you’ll find what you’re looking for. What I’m looking for is the incredible Black men who show up, who show out for their families, for their children, who help shape the young minds of tomorrow. Oprah asked me to be a part of it, and I was like… Well, I guess when Oprah asks me, you kind of have to say yes, but it was an easy yes to say yes to. This is what I know. This is my dad. These are my uncles. These are my friends. This is my brother. I’m happy to celebrate the wonderful fraternity that I’ve been a part of for the past 10 years, which is Black fathers.

Oh, I love that. And, you’re also an amazing dad as well. You’ve played one, you’ve played a number of them on screen. As a father in real life, you’re clearly passionate about that role. You helped to usher your sons into the world, like actually physically, at home.

I did.

Can you kind of talk about how that came to be, and how it helped to create the bond that you have with your children? Because, a lot of men will just be like, “Let’s go to the hospital. Birth at home seems really complicated.” But you seemed like the perfect supportive partner. Let me rub your back. Let me help you. Let me support you in this.

Yeah. No, thank you. I really appreciate you bringing this up because my wife… It was very important to her to have a natural childbirth. I said, “I support whatever it is that you want to do.” We were going to go to a birthing center, and it was going to be this whole thing. But, fertile Myrtle, also known as, Ryan Michelle Bathe, decided, “You know, my body is ready to put this baby out now.” And, it was about three hours and 23 minutes of labor between her first contraction and my first baby boy coming out into the world. What was special about it — It was crazy because it was just the two of us in the house, in our bedroom, by ourselves talking to paramedics on one phone, and talking to a midwife on another phone. But, when the baby came out… When Andrew was born, I was able to catch him, and put him on Ryan’s chest so that they could start bonding with one another.

And, when the paramedics came, and checked us out, and the midwife finally got there. The most beautiful thing for me was… Ryan was talking to the midwife laying on one half the bed, and Andrew was taking his first nap on my chest, and I was laying in bed while he took his first nap. Dads don’t normally get a chance to have that experience. When you’re in the hospital, they whisk the baby away, and they do all these different things, which is important. Every birth story is a perfect birth story. I’m not telling anybody what path it is that they should take, but it was such a beautiful moment for me to be an active participant in the arrival of my child. And, in both of my children. I would not exchange it for anything.

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