Rob Brown on Race, Policing, and NBC’s ‘Blindspot’
If you’ve been following the NBC action thriller Blindspot, then you’ve no doubt noticed FBI Agent Edgar Reade. You might have even gone so far as to begin pouring through your mental rolodex recalling where you’ve seen this tall, dark glass of ebony smoothness before. If you came up with HBO’s Tremé, and the films The Express and Coach Carter among your recollections, you’re right. He’s actor Rob Brown, the Brooklyn native who stumbled into a successful acting career after trying out to be an extra in the Sean Connery film Finding Forrester back in 2000, and ended up landing a leading role.
These days, Brown pulls his weight on Blindspot as the FBI attempts to unravel one of the most unique mysteries in TV land. The mission? To find out the identity of the unidentified woman who turned up in Time Square with a body full of tattoos.
Up until last week’s episode Reade could be described as the voice of reason amongst his fellow agents. But when the seemingly nice and levelheaded agent gets revenge for something that happened in his childhood, that description seems to be fleeting. Thankfully in season two of the NBC thriller, the storylines are delving deeper into who the cast members are.
Recently, JET spoke with Brown about his role in Blindspot, but the conversation quickly turned much deeper than the surface “describe your role” banter. What was revealed is what happens when a young Black man, who’s grown up in an America where there has always been a contentious relationship between the community and law enforcement, now plays a cop on TV. Our chat was at once revealing and refreshing. Read on.
JET: You play Agent Edgar Reade, who you’ve said is essentially the voice of reason for the team so to speak.
Rob Brown: I like to think so. At this point I feel comfortable saying so. Although this season Reade is otherwise occupied and a little distracted, thus far he’s the official voice of reason.
JET: And so he’s going to take a bit of a turn? Can you give us a hint as to what that is?
RB: At the conclusion of the first season there were a lot of questions that arose in Reade’s personal life and they stayed with him because he has no closure about it. Someone who is near and dear to him, a mentor he finds out wasn’t the guy he thought he was. That coupled with his boss’ death shook everybody but it shook Reade and he wants answers and is only coming across more questions. Reade’s usually in control and this season he’s a little inconsistent and a little out of control.
JET: You had a romance last season with Sarah. Are we going to see you in any romantic scenes this time?
RB: I hope so [laughs]. I like as much information as possible but I think it’s necessary for us to be in the moment as we shoot these episodes as much as possible. And it’s a lot. So we can’t keep a lot of episodes in our head anyway. But the writers give us enough that we’re able to do our job effectively without knowing too much.
JET: As far as real world issues, there’s two that come to mind. In episode three you were racing against time against NYC bombings and it just so happened that we had just experienced an NYC bombing. Was that surreal? Were you in the city when that happened?
RB: Here’s the thing, which is telling, because obviously I thought about it because I was in Brooklyn at the time, so I realize it’s a ripped from the headlines type of show. But that episode was written way long before that event. However, it still is a sign of the times.
JET: The other real world issue that you’re kind of forced to address in this role is that this is your first role in the field of law enforcement, and I’m wondering if your perception has changed about law enforcement, especially given the climate of our country. Do you have a new perception or understanding of it now?
RB: I’ve always had a healthy understanding of police since I was like 10, and basically rolling around trying not to get popped, in addition to dumb things that happen in the street as a result of growing up in Brooklyn, and as a function of just being a Black male in America. I’m a 6-foot-one, dark skinned male in America, so I get pulled over. I’ve had my issues in the past with police. If you Google my name there’s an incident that comes up that I can’t really talk about anymore. But I understand that side of it.
I’ve always had a healthy understanding of the other side of it, where police may be mistreated, or underpaid or over worked. And in this instance, as I’m playing law enforcement, I think we’re doing a good job in being fair to both sides, which is important. Has it offered any more insight? A little bit, especially when you hear guys talking about “eliminating the threat.” If you look at things from their standpoint it’s difficult to blame somebody for wanting to go home to their family if there is a perceived threat and sometimes there is and that’s real. That does offer a little bit of perspective, hearing that side of it. But I drove earlier to drop my dog off to get groomed. I was a little late, and I did have to think–as I always do when I’m driving–where are the cops?
JET: It’s always in the back of your mind?
RB: Yeah. Regardless of if I’m playing law enforcement or not. And again I think I’ve always had a healthy, fair assessment of the police and it sucks, but it is what it is right now and it has to get better. You can find fault everywhere. I’m not acting like everything’s gravy between the police and the Black community, just to be blunt about it. It’s spoken about everywhere. Some people are ignoring it for some strange reason, which is always fun. Or trying to deflect, or talk past the issue, which is also fantastic. What we try to do is hope to educate those people and try to get them to empathize with you, not just sympathize, but empathize. That’s what’s difficult.
I almost wish people would go through it or see it just to experience it …we’re not lying. I think people outside of the community have to say stuff and that would accelerate things. I’m a straight Black male, right? Despite that, I can recognize that a gay white female shouldn’t be oppressed and I can talk about that. So that’s what I’m missing when I look at it in terms of police and just shooting Black men. It would be great if people outside of the community would voice their opinion as much on this issue as they do about other issues for other groups.
JET: Lightening the mood a bit …you said if you were doing cosplay you’d be a T100 from the Terminator film. If somebody was doing cosplay as Edgar Reade what would they need?
RB: It depends on where he’s at. The three-piece-suit was standard. We’ve gone away from that because things are a little different. He’s trying to find his way. Reade is a little more relaxed. His tie isn’t as nice as it was last year. Just little subtle things like that, and he hasn’t been drinking his tea – he’s a little out of sorts. But when Read’s right, I think a three piece suit, wireless ear-com, currently an Apple watch. That’s all I can say for now, things are changing.
JET: Halloween is coming up. Do you have a costume?
RB: I guess I’m looking forward to it if for no other reason then I get to dress my dog. I’m going to dress up with him. I’m thinking of being Robin and he’ll be Batman or we’ll both just be Ninja Turtles.
Blindspot airs Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC.