‘Honk for Jesus’ Star Sterling K. Brown on Why He Doesn’t Miss ‘This Is Us’ Right Now

·9 min read

The Emmy-winning actor's dance card is full with four upcoming movies and a Hulu limited series!

After six seasons, This Is Us aired its series finale last May wrapping up the story of the Pearson family, so with fall TV season now back in production, series star Sterling K. Brown, who played Randall Pearson, has had to move on, and he has done so with alacrity.

While he won’t be returning to the set of This is Us, he is currently in production on the Hulu limited series Washington Brown, which is he is also producing, and he has four upcoming movies— Biosphere with Mark Duplass, Atlas with Jennifer Lopez, an untitled action-comedy with Randall Park for Amazon Studios, and Coyote Blue, also at Amazon Studios.

But opening in theaters on Friday, Brown has a starring role in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul, which is also streaming on Peacock. Needless to say, the Emmy-winning actor hasn’t had a lot of time to think about what he’s missing.

“You know what?” he tells Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “I think if I weren’t busy then I probably would feel that hole. But with doing the promotion for Honk for Jesus and a few other things in the pipeline as well, I’m still at work. Do I miss my family? Yes, I miss my family. But, thankfully, the universe has provided me with a welcome distraction as I move forward to the next phase of my career.”

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is a satirical comedy starring Regina Hall as Trinitie Childs, the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, who together with her husband Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown), once served a congregation in the tens of thousands. But after a scandal forces their church to temporarily close, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis are working to make the biggest comeback that commodified religion has ever seen.

“Regina and I are deeply spiritual people, who have a deep, abiding faith in God, who have grown up in the church, so we’re not outsiders trying to ridicule or tear down,” Brown says of his decision to take on the role. “We are insiders who are saying there’s a mirror that we can hold up in this particular film that says here are some possibilities and areas in which we can do better. I think any institution can always do better and is worthy of introspection.”

That said, Brown is pretty certain he may have some ‘splainin’ to do to his mother when she sees it.

“Listen, I’m prepared fully for a myriad of responses to the film,” he continued. “My mother, in particular. Once Aralean Brown checks it out, I’m prepared for a myriad of responses. I’m sure she’ll have questions about why I made this choice.”

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Brown talked more about Honk For Jesus during our conversation and also shared something he is a part of that is personal to him, his partnership with Survivorship Today, an initiative that aims to share stories of people who have been affected by cancer.

You’ve said that you are someone who has a deep affinity for the church. With that affinity, why did you want to take on this story about the abuse of power within religious institutions?

I think when you come from a place of deep affinity, you can also come from a place of critique and see ways in which the church can evolve and improve. I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive, love and a desire to be better. I think that’s how I feel about the church, and I think that’s what drew me to the film that Adamma Ebo wrote.

Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs is described as being larger than life. Have you met anybody like him?

Sure. I’m an actor, so by virtue of the profession you meet quite a few people who are larger than life. I’ve also been to many churches in my life and have encountered many different pastors, some more grounded than others but some who just have a flare for the dramatic. I can understand if you are preaching to 20,000 people a week or whatnot that there’s a natural flamboyance that comes along with just the space. Yeah, I know a few people who I was able to draw from personal experience.

In this, Lee-Curtis’s wife is an essential part of it because it’s Trinitie’s decision to stay with her husband that even drives the possibility of rebuilding the church.

Trinitie is the focus of the movie and why she makes the decisions that she does to stay with her husband, to stay with the church, etcetera, etcetera. Watching her have to navigate and deal with Lee-Curtis’ larger-than-life persona is one of the things that she’s constantly trying to keep in check. We’ve invited this documentary film crew to chart the ascendance back to prominence that Lee-Curtis hopes will happen. She recognizes from the beginning that they’re not there to tell the story that Lee-Curtis wants, they’re there to tell the story that they want to tell. Those two things may not be the same thing.

What makes Regina such a great partner in this?

Regina’s a wonderful scene partner. She’s a wonderful human being. She delivers a dynamite performance in this film. In the five weeks that we got a chance to shoot together, we became really, really, really good friends.

You surely made us cry a lot in This Is Us. But this is more of a comedy. Even though the subject matter wouldn’t at first seem funny, how does the comedy work for the subject in your mind?

I think the spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. We don’t want to preach to people, we want to give them something that’s entertaining. I think there’s something inherently funny about the Black church. There are larger-than-life personalities that are found there. Anyone who has spent any amount of time, hopefully, will recognize just a natural theatricality that is the church itself. I think that lends itself towards comedy.

Then I think that the comedy allows it to sort of Trojan horse some other things that we’d like to explore in terms of acceptance, in terms of prosperity preaching, in terms of what does it mean to be a Christian, and what parts of yourself sometimes do you have to not acknowledge in order to be accepted by the greater Christian community. We attempt to do quite a few things simultaneously and I will leave it up to the viewers to decide whether or not we achieved it or we didn’t.

It’s great that you have a woman director on it.

Woman director, women producers, I think that has a lot to do with following Trinitie’s journey and having an understanding for her. I’ve noticed, it’s interesting, that women in particular, who decided to stay with husbands who have been unfaithful, it’s easy for some reason for society to vilify the woman. I’m very thankful that it was in a woman’s hands, as well.

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One of the things you’re doing with your time is your partnership with Survivorship Today. Your connection is personal, based on the death of your Uncle Sonny. Of all the cancer organizations that are out there what was it about Survivorship Today that made you wanted to lend your talents to it?

It’s the format. You can go to SurvivorshipToday.com to check out the series of conversations that I have with these cancer survivors, long-term survivors, and the power of the testimony that they shared with me. First and foremost, it’s for people who are living long-term with cancer. I think they would get the most out of it. For those around them who are their caretakers, understanding what other individuals have gone through will help them best be of support for them. But, also, it’s for anyone who is feeling isolated and alone and wondering what the point of things is.

For me, I think I get more out of it than what I put into it because I am inspired by this can-do attitude that all of these survivors have, that this too shall pass. There is this ray of gratitude, of hope, of just belief that something better is on the horizon. I feel like it’s tantamount, absolutely necessary for someone to make it as long as they have living with cancer.

In short, it’s inspiration. I was just saying that all the folks that Bristol-Myers Squibb have brought together for this program have been incredibly inspirational. I dare you to listen to their testimony and not feel inspired.

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When you’re doing these interviews, because you’re going out and talking to people, what hope does this give you?

There is sort of an endurance. First of all, it gives me a dash of perspective. Listen, everybody has real problems, right? I don’t mean to diminish anybody else’s problems. But once you talk to people who have been living long-term with cancer, it sort of helps you put your problems in their proper perspective. So that’s first and foremost.

As the world two and a half years ago had to deal with everything shutting down and being isolated at home, then there’s a whole group of people who were being isolated at home who were living with cancer. So, it makes you say, “Okay, be thankful for what you have.”

The message that I receive time and time again from these survivors is to be thankful for what you have. In the midst of having cancer, whether they have family there with them, if it’s in remission or what have you, there is an attitude of gratitude from the people who have lived long-term with their cancer that’s like, “Oh, man, if they can have that attitude while living with this disease, what’s my excuse?”

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul opens in theaters and begins streaming on Peacock on Sept. 2.

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