© 2024
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Andre Braugher, star of 'Homicide' and 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today we remember actor Andre Braugher. He died last week of lung cancer at the age of 61. He's best known for his work on the TV series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Homicide: Life On The Street" and for the films "Glory" And "She Said." We'll hear two interviews with him - one that I did with him in 1995 and another that our TV critic David Bianculli recorded with him in 2006. We'll start with David's appreciation of Andre Braugher.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: When Andre Braugher first came to television in 1989 after studying at Juilliard and playing Shakespeare In The Park, his arrival, like his performance, was nothing special. He played a second banana to Telly Savalas in a series of "Kojak" TV movie revivals, but that same year, he also was featured in a movie on the big screen - "Glory," a drama about the first regiment of Black soldiers to fight in the Civil War, and Braugher was amazing. And after a few years and some other TV and movie roles, Braugher landed the role that made him a star, won him his first Emmy and gave him the platform and artistic collaborators to craft one of the finest dramatic series roles in the history of television. The role was Frank Pembleton, a Baltimore homicide detective famous in his own precinct for his skilled methods of interrogation.

The TV series, which ran from 1993 to 1999, was NBC's "Homicide: Life On The Street," based on a nonfiction book by David Simon who learned enough about making TV on "Homicide" once he started writing scripts to turn around and create HBO's "The Wire," another of TV's all-time best drama series. Among those running the ship at "Homicide" were film director Barry Levinson and "St. Elsewhere" writer-producer Tom Fontana, and everyone involved knew how invaluable Andre Braugher was from the very start and wrote for him accordingly. As detective Frank Pembleton, Braugher was riveting thanks to his way with a phrase and his almost musical delivery. One of his first "Homicide" appearances illustrates this perfectly. Pembleton is reluctantly introducing a newly hired detective, Tim Bayliss, to the daily routine. They're looking through one-way glass and observing a suspect in the interrogation room known as the box. Pembleton takes the opportunity to treat Bayliss, played by Kyle Secor, like the untrained rookie he is, while at the same time establishing his own authority and superiority.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET")

ANDRE BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) What do you observe about the suspect, detective?

KYLE SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Let's see - approximately five-ten, 150. He's got scratches on his left...

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) No, no, no, no, no. The suspect is asleep.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Oh, yeah. He's been in the room for four hours.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Rule No. 4 - a guilty man left in the box alone falls asleep.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Oh. Are there any other rules?

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Yeah - uncooperative, too cooperative, talks too much, talks too little, blinks, stares, gets his story straight, messes his story up. There are no other rules. It's an expression.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Yeah. I'm hearing. So you going to interrogate him?

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Interrogate him?

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Yeah, yeah. I'm just saying that, you know, not a partner thing, but when you interrogate him, I'd like to sit in.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Then what you will be privileged to witness will not be an interrogation but an act of salesmanship. As silver-tongued and thieving as ever, moved used cars, Florida swampland or Bibles. But what I am selling is a long prison term to a client who has no genuine use for the product.

BIANCULLI: A few more episodes into that first season of "Homicide," Pembleton and Bayliss, as tentative partners, stepped into that box to interrogate a murder suspect for an intense session that lasted the entire hour of TV. That Peabody-winning episode, written by Fontana, was called "Three Men And Adena" and remains one of the finest hours of episodic television ever produced, with writing, acting and directing second to none. And that was just for starters. "Homicide" kept going for six more seasons, doing remarkable work the whole way. And Braugher, whose seemingly indomitable character of Frank Pembleton was afflicted with a severe and debilitating stroke, was the best actor on television during his "Homicide" years.

The fact that "Homicide: Life On The Street" is not available on any streaming site at the moment is as much a crime as anything it's detectives investigated. The cast over the years included Ned Beatty, Melissa Leo, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer. Much of Andre Braugher's TV work after "Homicide" also can be considered as hard to find as it is excellent. He won another Emmy as star of FX's "Thief" miniseries in 2006, but few people watched it. Or, for that matter, his outstanding work on the comedy drama "Men Of A Certain Age" or the streaming drama "The Good Fight." But he did get both attention and acclaim for shifting to all out comedy in 2013 by playing an openly gay police captain in the Andy Samberg sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Once again, he found himself inside the box grilling a suspect, but this time it was with Samberg by his side and this time Andre Braugher was having fun, especially with his own former TV persona as a tough guy interrogator.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BROOKLYN NINE-NINE")

ANDY SAMBERG: (As Jake Peralta) OK. We have a few more questions for you, Doctor.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) Doctor. It's funny when people call dentists Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We are doctors. We do four years of medical school.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) Thought it was called dental school.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) But we learned about the entire body.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) Yeah, but if you had cancer, you wouldn't call a dentist.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know, it's actually harder to get into dental school than medical school.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) Well, because there are fewer dental schools 'cause most people want to become actual doctors.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That's ridiculous. It's not like we're college professors calling ourselves doctors.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) It's not the same thing, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Well, sure it is.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) When someone has a heart attack on a plane, do they yell out, yo, does anybody here have an art history Ph.D.?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) A Ph.D. is a doctorate. It's literally describing a doctor.

SAMBERG: (As Jake Peralta) Maybe let's refocus.

BRAUGHER: (As Raymond Holt) No. The problem here is that medical practitioners have co-opted the word doctor.

SAMBERG: (As Jake Peralta) OK Captain.

BIANCULLI: As Captain Raymond Holt on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Andre Braugher delighted audiences for eight seasons and was nominated for four more Emmy Awards, this time as supporting actor in a comedy. And at the time of his death last week from lung cancer at age 61, Andre Braugher had completed filming four episodes in what sounds like yet another career-redefining role. He was starring as the chief White House usher in "The Residence," a new Shonda Rhimes series for Netflix. We can only hope that if and when that series sees the light of day, that the episode starring Andre Braugher will be available as well as extras on a DVD or streaming site. And while we're waiting for that, could some streaming service please, please rerelease "Homicide: Life On The Street"? The memory and legacy of Andre Braugher deserves it, and so do all fans of truly outstanding television.

GROSS: David Bianculli is professor of television studies at Rowan University. We're remembering actor Andre Braugher, who died last week at the age of 61. Later on today's show, we'll hear an interview that David recorded with Braugher. But first, an interview that I did with him in 1995 while he was starring as Detective Frank Pembleton in "Homicide." Braugher had done a fair amount of Shakespeare prior to his TV work. I asked him about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: The way that a Shakespearean character uses English is different than a way - the way a contemporary detective speaks. What can you learn from Shakespeare that you can apply to contemporary film and television in terms of speech - intonation...

BRAUGHER: Oh, all of that work came to me from the Juilliard School - communicating, breaking up the sentences into understandable parts and putting them back together again, the pure technique of speaking in order to be understood through complex thoughts. Shakespeare, of course - his thoughts are quite long and quite expressive and quite complex, and the actor is forced to think through the line from beginning to end. And - as opposed to modern speech - modern, I guess you could call it that - it's not broken down into short fragments, but rather longer and more subtle thoughts. So consequently, when I go over to "Homicide," when I get a long sentence, I break it down into its component parts, and I use the entire sentence, you know.

GROSS: Is there any way I could get you to take a line from Shakespeare, or to take a long sentence from "Homicide," and show us how you break it down and how you actually analyze that line before delivering it?

BRAUGHER: Wow. I don't have a script in front of me. Let me think. So we're looking for a van that - I can't remember the line. We're looking for a van that does not exist, which carried kidnappers who never lived, which did not abscond with U.S. congressmen and then didn't drop them off here. So the line - I think I got the line.

GROSS: This is from last week's episode.

BRAUGHER: Is that last week's episode? Right.

GROSS: Yes.

BRAUGHER: Last week's episode - so we're looking for a van which does not exist, which carried kidnappers who never lived, which did not abscond with a U.S. congressman and then didn't drop them off here? I guess, is what the other character responds. Now, that's a (laughter) - that's a long and complicated thought, which you typically don't get. Typically it's like, where is this guy, or, these kidnappers don't exist, or some smaller thought. And I relish the idea of taking a long thought, breaking it down to its component parts, putting it back together again, and being able to deliver it in one breath from beginning to end, and have it end up sounding like a question that I actually asked and have made my own, rather than sounding like a newspaper clipping or something to that effect.

GROSS: You said before you loved Shakespeare even when you were young. What did you find when you were young in Shakespeare? A lot of young people don't - just don't like Shakespeare because it's such a different period and because the language can be very difficult to understand compared to contemporary writing.

BRAUGHER: This is my impression, that if your vocabulary is limited, then your thoughts are limited. And I'm not a man who wants to be limited. And I found something really, really beautiful in Shakespeare, something very spiritual and lovely in Shakespeare. And I'm not willing to give it up.

I'd like to feel the kinds of feelings that Laertes feels upon hearing about the death of his sister, or when he sees his sister mad with flowers in her hair and talking outrageous gibberish and acting - her behavior, acting with an incredible kind of sexual license that he's never seen her act with. He says simply, oh, God, do you see this? Now, a lot of people would say, what's wrong with her? Let's get her to a doctor. They try to solve the problem. They do a lot of different things, but Laertes is a very spiritual man, and he looks up, and he says, oh, God, do you see this? It's a crime against nature in a certain way, you know? And his strange love for his sister is expressed in this way.

It can't be beat. It can't be beat by cop shows, and it can't be beat by the most interesting kind of television drama. Shakespeare lives, and his characters express the deepest parts of themselves. Pembleton doesn't express the deepest part of himself, you know? There are so many chameleon-like layers and aspects to Pemberton's behavior and his speech and his relationships with everyone else, but in Shakespeare, I find the opportunity to really glimpse the most elemental and human part of a person.

GROSS: That's actor Andre Braugher from our interview recorded in 1995. We'll hear more of that interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYNN F. KOWAL'S "HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET - THEME SONG")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering actor Andre Braugher. He died last week at age 61. Let's get back to my 1995 interview with him, recorded while he was starring in the TV series "Homicide: Life On The Street."

Let's get to your formative years. I read that your grandmother taught you how to read before you even started school. What do you remember about that?

BRAUGHER: About my grandma? Well, she...

GROSS: About her teaching you to read.

BRAUGHER: Well, she read from the Bible, you know. She was a very, very religious woman, the sweetest woman I've ever known. And yeah, she would read to me from the Bible, and I'd look it up, and I'd keep reading with her. So when I got to first grade with the see Dick run and see Jane run stuff, I knew it already, you know? And I remember being, I guess, in third grade at a school called Spencer, which is over in my old neighborhood in Austin, and I could read so well that the teacher no longer called on me.

So I remember going home one day, and I told my father - I said, Daddy, they won't let me read. And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, when we sit in the circle, and everybody else reads, I raised my hand and the teacher doesn't call on me. And, you know, I never saw that school ever again. The next day I was in St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic school, right around the corner.

I didn't clean out my locker. I didn't clean up my desk. I didn't take my pencils away. My father figured way back then - it must have been 1969 - that education is life, you know? And without an education, you really can't make anything of your life. So I remember - the most impressive thing about my father is he decided in that instant that his son was not going to be in a school where they did not let him read. And I was moved the very next day.

GROSS: When your parents decided that you're going to go to Catholic school right away, did you thrive there? Did you like it? Were there things that you didn't like about the discipline or the uniform you had to wear?

BRAUGHER: (Laughter) The uniform - the blue pants and - oh, my goodness. Things that I didn't like about the Catholic school - no, I actually loved it. You know, it was a very challenging environment. And I thrived in that kind of environment. I thrived with that kind of discipline not because I believe that rules were made to be broken, but I enjoy structure in my lines. That same sort of discipline makes me sit at home and really break down a script into all its intimate characteristics so that I can do the best kind of work when I get to the sets. I love to rehearse. "Homicide" is not a show in which we get rehearsal before we begin to film. But in all the best work that I've seen myself do on television - and I see a lot of flaws in my own work - the best part of my work has always involved rehearsal. I remember back in 1992 when we did "Three Men And Adena" with Moses Gunn and Kyle Secor and myself in the box...

GROSS: This was the interrogation episode.

BRAUGHER: The interrogation episode. We rehearsed every day two hours before we started shooting.

GROSS: That was a great episode.

BRAUGHER: It - well, the work - the homework we did in rehearsal showed up on screen.

GROSS: Now, what kind of homework did you do?

BRAUGHER: We would actually run through the lines, and we made choices right then and there. We rehearsed like - as if we were doing a play. We found the best choice, not the first choice. We found the best choice. And I love to work that way.

GROSS: When you were young, was it easy for you to find friends who were as serious about education and about other aspects of life as you were?

BRAUGHER: Oh, yeah, sure. You could find the athletes and the jokers and the scamps and the rascals. You could find every - you know, everybody anywhere you'd look for them. You know, I've been gifted by God to be able to take tests well. Who knows what I know. But if you put - you know, if you give me a No. 2 pencil with multiple choices, I can just run roughshod over that test and make very, very high scores. And school has always been rather easy for me. Grad school was the hardest challenge I've ever had in my life because it's not about tests. It's about what kind of person you are. I went to Juilliard School as a very naive young man, full of myself, and I was exposed to - I was a member of a class with 22 fine actors. And I had to look down inside myself and find out what kind of person I was. I lost my mind several times at the Juilliard School. I was reduced to tears on many occasion, and I fought back to be this kind of man.

GROSS: When you were reduced to tears, was that during a rehearsal or, you know, in class, in front of other people?

BRAUGHER: No. I remember my - a woman who I love and respect today, Liz Smith, my voice teacher. We were doing some poems by Dylan Thomas. I was doing Dylan Thomas - "And Death Shall Have No Dominion." And I had worked so hard to improve my speech and my posture and my voice and the tonal production and all these different things. And I did that poem, and I thought I'd done quite well. And she looked at me, and she looked at me for a long time - about 15, 20 seconds after I'd done it. So I was saying, well, does she like it? Does she not like it? And she says, it was very well-spoken, and your voice is improving tremendously. But it's rather boring, isn't it? And she looked around the room and she looked for the assent of my classmates. She said it's very, very boring. I didn't see any of Andre Braugher in that. She called me An-dray (ph), as a matter of fact - An-dray Braugher. I didn't see any of An-dray in that. And so I want you to do it again.

Well, I was humiliated by that. I had tried my hardest, and I'd done my best to master the technical aspects of acting. And she was asking for me. She was asking for me to show myself, to show what kind of person I was and how I interpreted things. And she was asking me, do you know anything about being a human being? And I was reduced to tears by that because I now knew that instead of faking my way through acting, you know, by perfecting the technical aspects of this profession, this craft, I would have to put something of Andre Braugher in this, you know?

GROSS: So where did you take it after that? Were you able to do it right afterwards, or were you really humiliated by the whole thing?

BRAUGHER: I was humiliated by the whole thing, you know? And through my tears, I redid the speech again. And then she said - and of course, everything went awry, you know? Everything was bad. And she said at the end of that - she said, now that was interesting, you know? And I could have taken the wrong lesson from what she was trying to tell me and created a very showy aspect of my personality or a fake humanism. But I think she wanted to see Andre Braugher because that's really the only reason that we work in this profession. What she was suggesting is that there's a very human part to me and that I must show it in order to earn my keep in this craft, in this profession, that there's no point - there's nothing really wonderful about Andre Braugher who has mastered the technique yet refuses to show himself.

GROSS: Andre Braugher, thank you so much for talking with us.

BRAUGHER: Sure. My pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: My interview with Andre Braugher was recorded in 1995. He died last week at the age of 61. Braugher returned to FRESH AIR in 2006 for an interview with our TV critic David Bianculli. We'll hear that conversation after a break. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will remember some of the jazz musicians who died this year. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SAXOPHONE QUARTET'S "COME SUNDAY")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today we're remembering actor Andre Braugher, who died of lung cancer last week at age 61. He's best known for his portrayals of police in two opposite genres. In the comedy series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which lampooned cop shows and also starred Andy Samberg, Braugher played a police captain. The series ran from 2013 to 2021. He won an Emmy for his portrayal of a police detective in the drama series "Homicide: Life On The Street," which ran from 1993 to '99 and was based on a nonfiction book by David Simon, who also created the TV series "The Wire." Our TV critic David Bianculli spoke with Braugher in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BIANCULLI: I have some "Homicide" questions. Well...

BRAUGHER: (Laughter) OK.

BIANCULLI: Well, one is - because I remember going down to visit the set at one point, and I was amazed at the method of filming, which was to make you poor actors run through the entire scene from beginning to end with a single camera shooting it from wherever it was pointing and then stopping and doing it again a second or a third time. And I guess emotionally it must be more exciting because rather than just doing pick-ups and close-ups, you're getting to the truth of the scene each time. But I also thought, man, that's heavy lifting. What was that like?

BRAUGHER: It was fun. It was fun from - I mean, it was fun.

BIANCULLI: (Laughter).

BRAUGHER: And I really, really enjoyed my time down there in Baltimore. I felt more like I was on stage than any other piece that I've ever been involved with. When we first started, of course, everything that we were doing, we were pushing the envelope in terms of how we were using the camera and the kinds of stories that we were telling. But subsequently, I mean, over the next couple of years, so many people adopted those same techniques that it's now become quite commonplace. But when we first started, we were - it was unheard of to have a 16-millimeter camera sitting on Jean de Segonzac's shoulder and running through the entire scene from beginning to end. And Tom Fontana wrote long scenes.

The one that I think back in particular from our first season was the - Episode 6, where Bayliss, Pembleton and the arabber are in the box, basically, for 44 minutes - Moses Gunn and Kyle Secor and myself sitting in a box for 44 minutes. And we would do huge scenes, page after page of dialogue, and then we'd stop and we'd do it from another angle. But in essence, we were doing a play. We were doing a drama in which it was just as dangerous as if it were - in a certain way, as if we were on stage. And it was happening right there before our very eyes.

And we got a lot of very interesting, spontaneous, human emotion by filming it that way. And I loved it. I absolutely adored it. Now, my subsequent shows have been different from that, but my love of the filmmaking on "Homicide" has never changed. I'm thrilled with it.

BIANCULLI: Well, I can tell you that I share your being thrilled with that particular episode, which was called "Three Men And Adena."

BRAUGHER: Right.

BIANCULLI: And Fontana wrote it. And I have always held it up as one of the best hours of dramatic television I've ever seen written and performed. And it is the other clip that I brought in to play today, a piece from this, because I thought, you know, essentially it boils down to your character of Frank Pembleton and Kyle Secor's character of Tim Bayliss as two detectives who have 12 hours to try to flip a prime suspect, played by Moses Gunn as the arabber. And so the scene that I want to play is at the very beginning, where basically, at this early point in the interrogation, Pembleton is acting very friendly and very loose and very curious and polite. And it's Tim Bayliss who's acting impatient and trying to push in and to ask questions about the young girl, Adena Watson, who was killed. So you ready to hear a little bit of this one?

BRAUGHER: Yes.

BIANCULLI: OK. So here we go with "Homicide: Life On The Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET")

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) For the record, your name is Risley Tucker.

MOSES GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Yeah.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) You live at 2003 Greenmount.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Yeah.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) How long have you lived at the present address?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) All my life.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Really? No one in the neighborhood calls you Risley; do they? No one calls you Mr. Tucker.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) No.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) They all call you the arabber.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Yeah.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) You know, that term arabber has caused a lot of trouble around here. Two detectives with two other detectives got into this big argument because one says arabber and the other says a-rab (ph). Both grew up in Baltimore, but they have different expressions for...

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Mm-hmm (ph).

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) I never heard of either, not being a native. But it has nothing to do with being an Arab, right? I mean, you don't look Arabic or Arabian.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) No.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) So what does it mean?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) We go from neighborhood to neighborhood selling fruits and vegetables from a cart, a horse-drawn cart. We're like nomads.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) How long have you worked as an arabber?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) All my life.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) How long did you know Adena Watson? You remember the first time that you met her?

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Can I - I'm sorry. This arabber thing - this fascinates me. Moving about the city, selling fruits and vegetables - I'm used to going to a supermarket, a Food Town or something, you know? Are your prices cheaper?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) No.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Then what's the advantage of buying from you? I mean, other than the obvious one - you come to people's front door. People don't have to get in their car and drive 10 blocks.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Fresher produce.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Why does that change things?

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) What did you think about Adena? I mean, Frank and I here - we didn't really know her that well. What would you say about her personality? Was she feisty, outgoing, energetic?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Yeah.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) So she worked for you how long, doing what?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Taking care of Magdalene (ph).

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Magdalene?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) My horse - cleaning out Magdalene's coat with a curry comb, untangling the mane and the tail.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) That sounds like a great job for a girl. Why'd she stop working for you?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Horse died.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) There's any other reason?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) My barn burned down.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) That's the only other reason?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) I stopped being an arabber.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Any other reason?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) There was no more job.

SECOR: (As Tim Bayliss) Adena's mother didn't make her stop working for you. Isn't it true that Mrs. Watson was afraid for her daughter because you were getting a little too friendly with her?

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Is being an arabber a good job? I mean, are you respected in the community?

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) Most people think of us as vagrants. But since the economy gone sour, you see a lot of people selling on the street.

BRAUGHER: (As Frank Pembleton) Your whole family are arabbers.

GUNN: (As Risley Tucker) All the way back...

BIANCULLI: You know, we had a sort of an argument beforehand about where to cut off this clip. And we couldn't...

BRAUGHER: It never stopped.

BIANCULLI: We couldn't cut off the clip. It was just too good. It's not only great television, but it's great radio. What are your memories of filming that episode?

BRAUGHER: Well, we had - I don't know - 14 pages a day to do. So, my most visceral memory was we would leave the set, and I would go home, and I would sit down, and I'd learn 14 pages of dialogue a day. But I do have to say, Moses Gunn really turned in a very sweet performance in my mind because it's never definitive whether or not that he had anything to do with Adena Watson's murder. But at the very end of the show, he says, you know, why should I be proud? Why should - you know, he's crying, he's weeping. He says, why should I be proud? Why should I be happy when I'm forced to admit that the greatest love of my life was an 11-year-old girl?

And nothing is definitive by saying that she's the great love of his life. But what I began to realize is that, once again, the great pathos of this episode comes from the fact that we begin to really actually realize that Risley Tucker loved this girl. And we're talking fictionally, of course, because in real life we have no evidence to that effect. But this is part of Tom Fontana's genius - is that we are never quite certain as to what it is that we have on our hands because evidence may point in one way, and our feelings about the arabber may point in a certain direction. But Tom's genius is that he's written a man who's fully dimensional. So consequently, there is a tremendous amount of heartbreak and sadness on his part because Adena is no longer alive.

But what I also think is interesting about what Tom did in this episode is that I came in firmly convinced that the arabber was not the man - as a prime suspect, that this was absolutely boneheaded and that the rookie had gone out on a limb. And by the end, Pembleton feels quite certain that the arabber is the man, and Bayliss is not so certain at all, you know, based upon the same interview and the same information that we gained. So I really enjoyed working on this piece with Tom.

Tom has written some dynamite episodes over the years, as has Jim Yoshimura. Jim and Tom worked very closely together during those years. And I have to say, they really turned in some spectacular episodes. Tom wrote the episode where Pembleton has a stroke. He wrote it over the weekend. He called me up and he said - because I had said to him, basically, I think we've played all the stories with this Pembleton character, and maybe it's time for me to move on. And he says, well, no, I don't think so. He says, let me put my thinking cap on. So he came back and he said - he called me on the phone. Maybe it was Thursday he called me on the phone. He says, you know, Andre, I think I'd like to give your character a stroke.

BIANCULLI: (Laughter).

BRAUGHER: And I said, that sounds really interesting. My only condition is that I not immediately recover and have a spunky therapist that I grow to love...

BIANCULLI: (Laughter).

BRAUGHER: ...And all of the cliches that come with rehabilitation. And for me, the aftermath of the stroke, it was not so much about the rehabilitation but how fundamentally changed all of the - all of our relationships were by the fact of Pembleton's stroke. So his marriage is falling apart because he is absolutely obsessive about getting back on the force, because he considers what he does to be vastly more important than holding his wife's hand or raising his daughter or anything. He actually rather would be standing over a dead body, cracking jokes with his pals in the middle of the night.

So his marriage suffers terribly by the fact that he'll do anything to get back on the force, including not taking his medication so that he can pass the gun test. And whereas he was once the grizzled veteran and Bayliss was the rookie, the power has changed absolutely in the relationship. And in a certain way, we flipped places. So at one time Pembleton was first among equals, and now he's a much more humble man.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview our TV critic David Bianculli recorded with Andre Braugher in 2006. We'll hear more of it after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MOUNTAIN GOATS SONG, "PEACOCKS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our remembrance of Andre Braugher, who died last week at age 61. He's best known for his role as a police captain in the comedy series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and his role as a police detective in the drama series "Homicide." Let's get back to the interview our TV critic David Bianculli recorded with Braugher in 2006.

BIANCULLI: You had a long career in television, even predating "Homicide." And if I have your early career right, where you came to acting fairly late at Stanford - I don't know if you finished all of your degrees and were out of Juilliard before you began acting professionally or if you were juggling the two. But...

BRAUGHER: I came to acting - I guess I was 20 years old. Somewhere in my sophomore year, I changed my major at Stanford University. So I graduated with a B.A. in drama in '84 and graduated from Juilliard four years later in '88. And then my first movie experience was "Glory" in 1989. We came out the Christmas of '89. And I did a little bit of television and a lot of stage before, you know, those - that movie broke, which began to create a reputation, I think, as a moral force, a moral reputation as an actor. And I've done a variety of feature films, but television has always been my mainstay. And I enjoy television, so it works out.

BIANCULLI: Well, let's talk about two of those very early things. I mean, with "Glory," you were right there with Denzel Washington, who was just off of - or still in "St. Elsewhere," and Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick - and a very ambitious movie. And then the first thing I saw you on, on television, was on the remake of "Kojak" with Telly Savalas. You know, and...

BRAUGHER: (Laughter).

BIANCULLI: I'm sorry. I've been a TV critic for a long time.

BRAUGHER: Wow.

BIANCULLI: And I don't know if you're exhausted from answering "Kojak" questions, but I have one for you.

BRAUGHER: (Laughter) OK.

BIANCULLI: You're doing "Glory."

BRAUGHER: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: You know, you're out of Juilliard, you're out of Stanford, and you're doing "Kojak." What was that like?

BRAUGHER: It was a tremendous opportunity, and I think I was wise to be involved with it. It was one of my first experiences with television. We were doing two-hour movies of the week, and I said to myself, you know, this is, I think, the right thing to do. It was one of the golden opportunities - oddly enough, it was one of the golden opportunities that I was wise enough to actually go ahead and pick up. And so I look back and say, yeah, that turned out good. So I guess we did five or six of those little television movies. But I really enjoyed it, and it really introduced me to the craft of television acting. Acting is acting wherever you go, but there's certain things that you need to know about the pace of television work. And so I was happy to be a part of that.

BIANCULLI: When you talk about acting on television and learning how to act on television, what did you learn from "Kojak," from those early TV movies that you needed to learn to be a better TV actor?

BRAUGHER: That the terrific pace of television demanded a tremendous amount of preparation in - before I even stepped foot on the set. So I knew from that moment that I needed to be superbly well-prepared if I was going to be able to be a success at this. The pace that we used on "Kojak" was so accelerated that if it was good for the camera, it was good. So on many occasions, everything was one take, maybe two. So in that way, it resembled almost watching, you know, daytime drama. It was very camera-oriented. And I knew that in order to be successful at that, I would have to be very well-prepared so that the necessity of creating for myself a compelling and specific backstory as well as knowing my lines in intimate detail and all of their import meant that - if I discovered anything on set, that I had a foundation for to deal with it. And that served me well in television. The pace has always been accelerated.

For example, when we did - when we came down to Shreveport to do the remaining five episodes of "Thief" this season, we had five days of rehearsal. Well, five days of rehearsal is an incredible luxury on television. And I made the most of that by making sure in a certain way, while we were in rehearsal, to find out what was at the bottom of these scenes to the best of my abilities so that when the time came on set, I had already dealt with and discarded all of the choices that I felt were wrong, you know, so that the stuff that I was doing on set was much more of what I thought was the essence of Nick's character. I left a lot of bad choices in the rehearsal room, and for me, that was essential to reaching the next step with this character.

BIANCULLI: Well, your performances on television have been so much fun for me to watch over the years. So thanks so much. Thanks for being here on FRESH AIR, Andre.

BRAUGHER: My pleasure.

GROSS: Andre Braugher speaking with our TV critic David Bianculli in 2006. Braugher died last week at age 61 of lung cancer. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has an appreciation of jazz musicians who died this year after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKER T. AND THE M.G.'S' "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.