Sterling K. Brown Talks Oscar Buzz at 'Waves' Premiere in Atlanta

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“I really enjoy being a part of something that’s new and that I haven’t seen before and I’m happy that people are responding to it,” Brown told The Hollywood Reporter of his latest film.

A cocktail reception at STK Steakhouse kicked off the Atlanta premiere of WavesThe event embodied one of the first general audiences to experience the film. Featuring a stellar ensemble led by Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Taylor Russell (Escape Room), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Godfather of Harlem) Renée Elise Goldsberry (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), Alexa Demie (Euphoria) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Waves is a uniquely structured story of American life right now, tracing the different trajectories and coping strategies of two South Florida siblings searching for meaning and identity in the wake of trauma.

Amid the open bar reception, guests were served bite-size samplings of grilled prime New York steak, southern fried popcorn chicken, tuna tartare and bruschetta topped with whipped ricotta and tomatoes drizzled with balsamic reduction. 

As the reception came to a close, guests walked to the red carpet at SCADshow theater where stars from OWN’s Greenleaf, CW’s Dynasty and BET’s American Soul beamed with excitement about screening Waves.

Brely Evans, star of OWN’s Ambitions gushed with admiration. “I study Sterling K. Brown so I wouldn't have missed the opportunity to support anything he is doing No. 1, but the trailer pulled me in, too. I can't wait to see this African American story told! I love us and again I trust Sterling to get to the heart of the story.”

Set against the vibrant landscape of South Florida, Waves traces the epic emotional journey of a suburban African American family led by a well-intentioned but domineering father as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss. 

“This is an upper middle-class black family,” Brown explained to The Hollywood Reporter.“They’re not living high off the hog and they’re not struggling to survive. We don’t get a chance to see that story told very often. It’s kind of like a black family with some white people problems,” he laughed. 

“I really enjoy being a part of something that’s new and that I haven’t seen before and I’m happy that people are responding to it,” said Brown to THR when asked about Oscar buzz. 

Brown also touched on his upcoming film Frozen II, coming to theaters Nov. 22. “It’s pretty dope. It’s an action-adventure story with two wonderful heroines at the forefront. Thankfully this incarnation has a dash of color with ya boy,” boasted Brown. “Black folks are in fairy tales, too.”

Following the red carpet, an audience of 200 VIP guests entered the screening with high anticipation. While they watched intently, there were tears, laughs and even deep sighs at the emotional roller coaster the film takes you on. Tyler Williams (Harrison Jr.), a popular high school senior on the wrestling team is routinely pushed by his domineering father Ronald (Brown) to be better. His sister Emily (Russell), whose personality is quite the opposite of Tyler's — quiet, studious and levelheaded — finds solace in Luke (Hedges), an awkward but kindhearted classmate.

The screening was followed by a Q&A moderated by filmmaker and Liquid Soul CEO, Tirrell Whittley. “Trey, as the writer and director of the film, how did you connect to this black family?,” asked Whittley.

“The movie is deeply, deeply personal. It’s been brewing for a very long time,” said acclaimed writer and director Trey Edward Shults.  “I had to live a lot of life to get on the other side of some things. A lot of it is autobiographical to myself and my loved ones experiences. A big part of that is that I’m a white dude talking right now,” laughed Shults. Race and the reason this is a black family really is because of Kelvin, the man I’m sitting next to...my brother.” He continued, “I met him on my last movie and we wanted to work together again. When I started writing, we were texting about each other’s past...finding commonality. I sent him the first draft eight months before we started shooting and it just grew from there.”

“I’ve been blessed to come into the industry at a time when we want to tell stories about young black boys,” declared 25-year-old Harrison Jr., who’s having a breakout year. 

“Trey gave me my first lead role in a movie. I was so grateful that Trey was able to see past the color of my skin. “

Whittley posed a question to Brown about his character’s stern parenting and the importance of creating a safe place of communication within the family. “When you have young black boys, you have to work extra hard not to make decisions based in fear. You want to see them return home safely. You have to try to take a deep breath and make sure you don’t let fear govern everything you do.” 

Brown added, “I have an 8- and a 4-year-old. I’m teaching them now that they can tell me anything. It starts now. You can’t just magically at 16 ask them what’s going on in their life. You have to start fostering that relationship with them now because they’re going to emulate what you set as an example.”

Russell let us in on the mystique of her character. “Emily is kind of like the lost child. On one hand her parents think, ‘I don't have to pay as much attention to this child because she’s going to be OK.’ But because of that she kind of falls into the shadows a little bit.”

She added, “I love girls who are strong, but their strength is really quiet. I see so many girls like that in my life. With Emily, she doesn’t need to be loud. She can be in the background and be self-assured in so many ways, but still messy in figuring life out. I really liked all of that and wanted to make sure I kept it quiet and that I was really listening. Listening is a huge power tool that you have as a human being. Working with Sterling is a gift. You don’t get partners like that often where you’re like, 'Oh my gosh I’m a huge fan of you.' I just wanted to make him proud.” 

Brown added of Harrison and Russell: “What I love about both of these actors is that they were given these beautiful characters...incredibly complicated characters and I knew in watching their preparation that they weren’t going to squander this opportunity. I was flying back and forth from L.A. I was shooting This Is Us during the week, then shoot Waves on the weekend. I was constantly flying back and forth. I was tired and was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ But when you look in these young folks’ eyes I was like, ‘I have no other choice but to be present.'" 

Shults’ third feature is propelled by an exhilarating soundtrack, including songs by Frank Ocean and Radiohead and a mesmerizing score by the Academy Award-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network). 

“The music is everything that feels right and honest in Emily’s and Tyler’s world. Ultimately, I hope it’s bringing you closer to them. I wanted the music to drive the film and dictate the ebb and flow. When I was in high school, I was very music hungry. It wasn’t just about what was on the radio. I was searching online to see what was new within the past two years. 

Waves is produced by A24 and will be in theaters Nov. 15.