Interview: Neil Brown Jr.

From the interview archives.

From Battle LA, Suits, Straight Outta Compton and Insecure, Neil Brown JR. has been in a wide variety of films and series, we can’t even choose a favourite. VULKAN caught up with Neil to talk about his upcoming role in LAbyrinth, his love of music, and what his preparation was like for the new series SEAL Team where he portrays a U.S Navy Seal. 

You have so many projects on the go I almost don’t know where to start! What attracted you to the SEAL Team series? 

Well, first off, I had always wanted to portray a Navy SEAL since I started acting. Secondly, if it ever happened I wanted to do it right. I read the script, penned by Ben Cavell, whose show Justified I was already a big fan of and fell in love immediately. Once I saw who else was involved: Sarah Timberman, Ed Redlich and Chris Chulack, I knew that they were going to do it right and that I had to be a part of it if they would have me.

You play Ray, who is the longest-tenured operator on the team. How did you prepare for this role?  

In many ways I have been training for a role like this my whole life. I have been fortunate to be raised by a Marine and have so much of my family in the military. I’ve always had a decent sense of what they go through albeit not at this level.  Personally I did a lot of physical training, weights, running, hiking, swimming, and boxing. Hit the gun range, did lots of CQB (close quarter battle) and movement training with our Military advisors. I also read every good book on these operators I could get my hands on and constantly picked the brains of our Navy SEAL and DELTA operators about how to walk, talk, and perform as an authentic SEAL within DEVGRU.  

Why did Ray get involved with the military? 

Like most of these men, he has an innate sense of duty but he is also a problem solver who hates bullies. He has the ability and the fortitude to protect and it’s his mission to do so. As for the exact reasons, that’s a story point that I can’t give away.  You have to watch every week!

What’s his backstory?  

This is also a part of the show that bares great importance that I cannot reveal right now.  Don’t want to ruin the ensuing surprise but it’s really good!

Did you have to undergo any special training for this role? I know you do martial arts, but I imagine SEAL training is pretty heavy-duty stuff.  

We are so fortunate to have some of the best military advisors anywhere, Mark Semos, Tyler Grey, Daniel Briggs, and Mark Owen, SEALs and DELTA . They are ingrained in the show from top to bottom and they have taken us through the works and are constantly there, tweaking our every move until it becomes second nature to us. What these guys go through is nothing short of superhuman in my eyes and I’m just thankful they are there to show us the way. 

What’s the most interesting thing you learned about SEAL operatives during filming? 

That contrary to popular belief, including my own, they are in fact, very much human.

A lot of your fans are familiar with you from Straight Outta Compton and soon they’ll be able to see you in LAByrinth , which tells the story of the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Safe to say you’re a music fan? Do you recall where you were when you found out about their deaths and how you felt in that moment?  

I am very much a music fan. I have a huge eclectic catalog. Biggie was my favorite though. I had just got out of a sparring session that day like most my days at that time in my life and I was just shocked and saddened cause it seemed so senseless. For Pac, I just knew he was going to pull through and when he didn’t, I couldn’t believe it. My homie took that one hard though cause we were in his car in front of Universal Studios and he pulled over and kept yelling ’They got my boy man, they got Pac”. It’s crazy how you listen to music or watch a show and have this deep, personal connection with someone you’ve never met. It’s why I’m grateful for every single fan. That energy is so very raw and precious.

Why do you think Tupac and Notorious resonated so much with their fans and continue to do so today? 

Cause they clearly had there hands on the heartbeat of America at the time and was conscious of it. Look at where we are today and go back and listen to their music. They were telling the future and people knew it. They felt it.

Whose albums are you hooked on right now? 

Anderson .Paak, Jay-Z, Machine Gun Kelly, Imagine Dragons, and this real one named Marlon Craft.

How was working with Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker and what is one thing that you admire about both? 

Amazing, both are such pros and have given so much to the art. It was a dream to work with either of them and I was able to do it in one movie! It was such a privilege and honor. Their attention to detail is something I admire about them both.

After your research of the role, do you think Rafael murdered Notorious B.I.G? 

I believe the movie is accurate and you will have to watch and see. 

Season 2 of Insecure just aired and fans are already calling for more Chad airtime in Season 3. Why do you think fans connect so strongly to your character on this series? 

Man, because Chad is that brutally honest friend, living his best life, who will call you on crap but still back you up 100 percent. He doesn’t hold back on the immense amount of “petty” he can unleash as well. We all need a Chad in our life.

What is the best piece of advice you would offer someone struggling with his or her relationship today? 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time. Love is hard work, compromise, forgiveness, sacrifice and a whole lot of laughs in between. If you can laugh, you can make it.

In an age where we constantly seem to know where our friends and loved ones are via social media and technology, how important do you think it is to take time apart from each other to do your own thing, disconnect from their Facebook and Instagram or what have you? 

Absolutely! I do it for 6 months at a time sometimes. It’s hard with my work requiring such a social media presence. But if I want to keep in touch with people, I’ll call them on the phone, or go see them. The social media can be a job unto itself. 

I found it interesting to learn that you sort of fell into acting when you were seen by a producer looking for a kid for a martial arts role on the series WMAC masters. How different do you think your life might be today if that producer hadn’t walked into that dojo that day? Do you think you would have still pursued acting at some point? 

I would honestly probably be in the military right now. God had a plan though and things happened the way they were suppose to. I didn’t know this was my passion until I had the opportunity to do it. My parents said they always saw this in me, but where I’m from, even the idea of being an actor was so far fetched. Nobody I ever knew thought of it. So glad my steps were ordered and I took that leap of faith. A 23 year leap, ha!

What is the highest praise you have ever received from a peer, and on that same note, what has been the best piece of critical advice received that has it stuck with you? 

When my good friend, Richard Schiff took me golfing, saying, “After that work you put it, I’m taking you to the range.”  The best advice?  Be present not perfect and tell the damn story, less is more.

What kind of role would you like to experiment with that you haven’t yet had the opportunity? 

Still want to play a superhero.

Anything else coming up we should keep an eye on?

Season 3 of Insecure should be a blast! Thanks so very much for allowing me to be a part of this. I had fun and met some great people along the way! 

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