“Endowed with remarkable gravitas”: the unparalleled talent of Andre Braugher on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Andre Braugher, who has died age 61, was a man blessed with incredible gravitas. Born in Chicago’s West Side to a blue collar family, his early talent was promising enough to earn him a scholarship to study theatre at Stamford, after which he trained at Juilliard.
Even though he acted in Shakespeare plays on stage and received an Obie award for his portrayal of Henry V in the mid-90s, Braugher soon discovered that his true calling was on screen, utilizing his powerful charisma to embody authoritative figures. He made his onscreen debut as a detective in five Kojak television films, establishing a trend that would continue throughout his entire career.
Braugher was known for his roles as characters with military or law enforcement titles, such as Detective Winston Blake on Kojak, Corporal Thomas Searles in Glory, General George W Mancheck, Captain Marcus Chaplin, and Sergeant Carlos Diaz. He also portrayed doctors and district attorneys in various roles. In the 2010 film Salt, he played the role of the secretary of defense alongside Angelina Jolie.
It was a successful rhythm for him. Homicide: Life on the Street was a unique series that revolutionized television; a raw and ambitious police drama that helped set the standard for the golden age of TV. As Detective Frank Pembleton – the intense core of the show – Braugher had a prominent role throughout. The show gave the actor challenging and substantial storylines during its duration. He was involved in cover-ups, suffered a stroke, and struggled with his faith. For his performance, Braugher received numerous awards, including an Emmy, Satellite award, two NAACP awards, and two Television Critics Association awards.
This role was a turning point in their career, one that could potentially hinder future opportunities. However, the fact that Andre Braugher isn’t immediately associated with his character Frank Pembleton is due to a unique blend of circumstances.
In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Braugher played Captain Raymond Holt, a character that allowed him to step outside his usual roles while still being in his comfort zone. The show, created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, is a comedy about a group of police officers and has a consistently silly tone. It was originally meant as a platform for Andy Samberg, known for his comedic stupidity, and often featured scenes where a police line-up turns into a musical performance by the Backstreet Boys. However, without a believable figure of authority, the show could risk becoming too absurd and losing its grounding.
Braugher was the commanding figure of authority. In the beginning episodes, he appeared sparingly, mostly as a stern barrier against Samberg’s constant childish antics. However, what made Brooklyn Nine-Nine truly enjoyable was witnessing the writers’ gradual realization of the gem they had in their midst. With Braugher, they had an actor who could deliver any dialogue – no matter how absurd – with the weight and seriousness of a critically-acclaimed drama. The gravitas he had established throughout his career was now directed towards deadpan comedic delivery, and it was a delight to watch.
It’s hard to think of any other sitcom in history that has had a character like Holt. Perhaps, in his fussy sophistication, he strayed close to Frasier; or in his lack of emotional response, Ron Swanson. But Frasier was a show about the first world problems of a wealthy neurotic, and Parks and Recreation was too eager to show Swanson’s caring side. Holt, meanwhile, felt as if he had been airdropped into this wildness from a completely different show. The fact that the character was a black, gay authority figure also helped Holt to stand out.
As time passed, the show became more laid back and allowed Braugher to showcase his comedic skills. In the second season, Holt surprised viewers by suddenly shouting “Hot damn!” with such fervor that it is still shared online in Gif format multiple times a week.
If you pay close attention to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you will see the turning point where it became predominantly focused on Raymond Holt, thanks to Braugher’s outstanding performance. The show also delved into Holt’s personal and professional challenges. This was a noteworthy accomplishment considering the impressive comedic talent on the show.
It is undeniable that Andre Braugher’s passing at age 61 was too soon. However, his portrayal of a police officer on screen will continue to serve as a benchmark for other actors in both comedic and dramatic roles for years to come. His legacy is truly remarkable.