Awards Daily talks to Andre Braugher about his Emmy submitted episode “Ransom” and what it was like getting into a two-minute fist fight as a 58-year-old.
One of the biggest surprises the 2020 Emmy season was the return of Andre Braugher in the Supporting Actor Comedy category for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Not that it wasn’t deserved—just that he hasn’t been nominated in the category since 2016.
Perhaps during quarantine, Emmy voters sought the comfort of sitcom TV, and there’s nothing more comforting and hilarious than Braugher’s Emmy submission “Ransom,” which involves Holt’s big fluffy boy Cheddar being dog-napped. Braugher delivers each line pertaining to Cheddar with genuine seriousness and urgency, never breaking character in his tone or demeanor. It’s a genius comedic performance, something one might not have expected if you only know the actor from his dramatic roles—although after seven seasons on Brooklyn and four Emmy nominations, he’s certainly carved a place in comedy with this character.
I talked to Braugher about how playing Holt has made him grow as an actor, what it was like playing off of Jake (Andy Samberg) in a role reversal in “Ransom,” and how the show hopes to address police matters in future episodes.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. What was it like finding out? Were you surprised?
Andre Braugher: I was surprised. I found out in a very conventional way; my publicist texted me. I wasn’t following it because I didn’t expect to be nominated. It was three or four years ago the last time I was nominated, and typically once you fall out of those nominations, you don’t come back in, because they’re discovering different shows and different actors and honoring them. So I didn’t expect to be nominated. It came as a surprise to me, yes.
AD: Well, it’s so deserved. At the beginning of the season, Holt is demoted. How does losing that power affect him and shake up the dynamic on the show? Did that affect your performance?
AB: It changed my performance in a subtle way. As a patrol officer, I got to speak my mind and raz my superiors and gripe and complain, like the patrol officers do. But generally, it was really a question of Holt being humbled in a certain way, learning lessons about the community he lived and worked in and about working with and honoring people, cooperating in a way that simply different. His position is different. So I think he learned something from the detectives, and I think the detectives learned something from him because of this reversal.
AD: I can see why the “Ransom” episode was your Emmy submission. It’s so funny, and it has a role reversal with Jake and Kevin, but comedically, with Holt and Jake, where Holt gets to be a little goofier and Jake gets to be the comedic “straight man” so to speak. What was it like getting to be a bit goofier and to do that role reversal?
AB: I really enjoyed it. I think generally the scripts are really holding up and Dan Goor [showrunner] has done a really good job in terms of crafting the story lines and developing the characters, allowing us to continue to grow as characters from season to season. I’m having a great time on the show in general, but I really loved that episode, just for its wildness. It’s not often that a 58-year-old man gets into a two-minute fist fight at the end of an episode. Maybe they do, I’m not sure what 58-year-old men do generally. For me, it was just a helluva lot of fun. My involvement in the show has been really energizing in a way. It’s been energizing for my career, but it’s also been energizing artistically because sitcoms are entirely a departure from what I’ve done for most of my career. It’s been eye-opening and I’ve learned a lot from my fellow comedians.
AD: You kill me with the “Someone took our fluffy boy.” What I love about this performance in this episode is that Holt’s reaction to the dog-napping is so serious, the same as if someone were murdered. Are you an animal lover and did you channel any of that into your performance?
AB: I am a pet lover. We’ve had a lot of dogs and cats over the years, mostly rescues. We just adopted a kitten from a nearby animal shelter. We’re going to go back and get her a companion tomorrow. We were really staunch dog lovers, but now we’re turning into a cat family. We’re gonna have two cats. That ought to be interesting.
AD: That’s great. (Laughs) I wanted to ask you about that action sequence in that episode. What was that like?
AB: I’ve done a lot of those kinds of fights over the course of my career, so I’m familiar with what’s demanded. I understand the nomenclature. I understand how to communicate with my partners, so in that way it wasn’t hard. Our stunt coordinator [Norman Howell, two-time Emmy winner for Stunt Coordination and a 2020 nominee as well], he had some really terrific guys working with us. So we went into the room, maybe a two-and-half hour session, we went through the entire fight, he made sure I was comfortable with the moves. Then at a certain point, like a dance routine, I simply videotaped the entire fight with the doubles, and then I go home and memorize it. Part of what makes the fight work is that the more pieces you get that are seamless, the better. So it was really a matter of studying the choreography of the fight, from the video tape, and I felt like it went swimmingly. It was long. At a certain point, I thought we were going to wrap, and then they told me they were going to green-screen me traveling on top of the car. This was like 2 o’clock in the morning. And I was like, “What?” There’s a whole screaming section with me riding on top of the car.
AD: Yes! That was so crazy.
AB: That was 4:30 in the morning. But they got a lot of pieces, and our director was meticulous about it. I think it turned out very well. I enjoyed the episode. And I’m hoping others do, too.
AD: I also like the “Ding Dong” episode, which is kind of sad since Madeline Wuntch (Kyra Sedgwick) dies. I love when Holt refers to he and Madeline as “star-crossed haters.” Do you think he’ll secretly miss sparring with her? Is there some love there?
AB: I think so. When I go back to the backstory, back to the first season. There was a flirtation. We happened to be two quirky, brilliant detectives whose fingers touched magically one afternoon, and then she came on to me, but I’m a gay man, so it turned everything. She in some way felt spurned or something to that effect. These are two detectives who once had a fling or were just that close to intimacy and it soured on them. So they’re like peas in a pod. Neither one of them wants to admit their affection for each other, but they live to thwart each other. As Holt says in that episode, her plotting and the nature of their relationship made him a better detective, police officer, and man. She kept him on his toes and forced him to really think about the future, to be proactive, to plan and react. I think ultimately he’s grateful for that.
AD: Brooklyn Nine-Nine is so light-hearted and different from a lot of what we see on the news related to cops. What do you think of the calls on social media for shows about cops to be reconsidered?
AB: People are going to reconsider these shows based on their own feelings and knowledge of what’s happening with the police. Everyone can make up their own mind about whether they want to be associated with that. What Brooklyn Nine-Nine is attempting to do, I believe, is really to remain a dynamite comedy, but to also try to hold a mirror up to life and acknowledge the truth of what policing is like in the United States. Anyone who’s connected in any way to New York understands the wrong-headedness and brutality and corruption of the intent of the law and lack of civilian restraint on the police force, the power of the police union in setting policy, the budget of police departments being outsized, compared to the needs of the citizens in town. People are going to look at this and they understand and they know.
Consequently, the idea that any of the conventions that existed before the summer of 2020 are going to simply remain, I think people in their own way are going to demand different storytelling about police shows, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine is committed to doing that. Why can’t cops be fired? How is it ennobling for cops to break the law in pursuit of some higher good? It needs to be challenged, and I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is gonna try to do that, acknowledging first of all that it is a comedy and second of all that we’re talking to an audience that’s looking for change and looking for new and different stories. We’re not an SVU or Chicago PD kind of criminal intent show. We’re a comedy that’s gonna dare to acknowledge what everybody knows and take it from there. I won’t say the comedy is revolutionary, but I will say it’s brave as heck to simply acknowledge things that everybody knows to be true.
Watch Season 7 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on NBC.