Andre Braugher Could Do Anything

Andre Braugher Could Do Anything
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Given how brutal the entertainment industry can be, I’ve often wondered how writers stick it out in Hollywood. But then, some scribes have had the great fortune to write words that Andre Braugher would deliver on television and in films. I’ve got to believe there’s no greater joy.

Braugher, who died at 61 on Monday—far, far too soon—committed. The rock-solid dedication he brought to every performance radiated off him. In productions as varied as Glory, Primal Fear, Thief, House, and Homicide: Life on the Street, he could convey a character’s reactions and emotions in a single unflinching gaze. As Tom Fontana, who worked with him on Homicide, said in a Braugher profile almost a decade ago, “We’d write these incredibly glorious speeches for him, and then you would see him just look at someone, and we’d sometimes go: ‘Drop the monologue. He’s already sold it.’’’

When Braugher’s characters did speak, you listened. It was impossible not to. Braugher was charismatic and commanding—hence the frequency with which he played authority figures—but he did not coast on his undeniable presence. The Homicide cast was stacked with an array of talented actors, but Braugher, who played the intense Det. Frank Pembleton, stood out. The writers very quickly realized that when they put Pembleton in “the box,” where he used his ferocious intelligence and wily persistence to interrogate a suspect, the results were always spectacular.

Braugher regularly summoned the rare skill that elevates a good performance into something approaching a miracle: He made the words and the moment feel new.

In so many different kinds of projects—from Kojak to *BoJack Horseman—*he took viewers on a journey with each scene. Braugher was not really a fan of improvisation, and he studied scripts intently. But in front of a camera, when he spoke and moved and reacted, it felt spontaneous. I never quite knew what his characters were going to do next, because he never phoned it in. He was completely prepared, yet nothing was rote. When Braugher was on the screen, anything felt possible—and plausible. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

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That ability to commit and yet remain unpredictable was why he was so great in comedies: He knew enough to never reach for a laugh. He played Captain Raymond Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine as the serious, dedicated professional he was, making the character’s intensity a source of humor without damaging the man’s innate dignity. Braugher let the laughs come to him, and they unfailingly did, given that his arsenal also included masterfully deadpan facial expressions, razor-sharp sarcasm, and a willingness to commit 110% to goofiness when the moment called for it. (One word: “BONE!?”)

This Captain Holt monologue from the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode “The Mole” unites so much of what made Braugher compelling. At the bar after work, when he’s at a personal low point, colleagues ask him if everything’s okay.

“Nothing’s okay,” he replies. “Wuntch, circling me like a shark frenzied by chum. The task force turning into a career-threatening quagmire. An Internal Affairs investigation casting doubt upon my integrity. And you ask, is everything okay? I am buffeted by the winds of my foe’s enmity and cast about by the towering waves of cruel fate. Yet I, a captain, am no longer able to command my vessel, my precinct, from my customary helm, my office. And you ask, is everything okay? I’ve worked the better part of my years on earth overcoming every prejudice and fighting for the position I hold, and now I feel it being ripped from my grasp, and with it the very essence of what defines me as a man. And you ask, is everything okay?”

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