25 in 2009: Rob Brown

Born: 03/11/84 In: New York, NY Is: Actor

Nine years of experience, seven films in the can and a David Simon HBO series on the way -- and it's all thanks to a phone bill. Flash back to Rob Brown at 15: "I had a cell bill of, like, three hundred dollars, and I got a flier in the mail that they were looking for a kid who could play basketball and star in a movie. So I looked at that and was, like, 'All right, I'll pay this bill.' I figured you go, be an extra, three or four days of work, and that's that." That, as it turned out, wasn't that. The director was Gus Van Sant, the star was Sean Connery and the movie was Finding Forrester -- the one in which Brown racked up his first screen appearance and his first starring role. He drew critical praise -- and a few awards -- for his portrayal of an academically gifted inner-city student admitted to a largely white prep school as much for his basketball prowess as his high test scores. "I was kind of overwhelmed," Brown admits over shumai near his apartment in Boerum Hill (Brown is Harlem-born, Brooklyn-raised and, despite the call of L.A., Brooklyn-based). Then, with his usual calm: "I just went with it."

Since then, the roles have kept coming. Brown made a name for himself on the fields of the silver screen -- first on the basketball court in Forrester and Coach Carter, then on the football field as legendary Heisman winner Ernie Davis in The Express. Those skills aren't just part of the act. He took his high school football team to tenth in the nation -- no small feat for a team out of Brooklyn -- and went on to play for Amherst, where he graduated from last May. But with his new projects, he's expanding the range. He's got the characteristically good young-actor bona fides on his résumé -- the popcorn hit (Take the Lead), the respected indie (Kimberly Peirce's Iraq drama Stop-Loss), the requisite festival fare currently on the shelf -- but he's about to add one that anyone in Hollywood would give their eyeteeth for: a role in the new series from The Wire scribe David Simon, Treme.

Treme takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans, a city struggling to reconstruct itself in the wake of the storm. Brown plays Delmond Lambreaux, a trumpeter based on local jazz and nouveau swing great Donald Harrison. Plots and storylines are still in the offing, but the gist is simple. "Everybody's trying to pick up the pieces," Brown says. "People are trying to rebuild -- families find family members, police trying to figure out their stuff, people rebuilding their homes." The cast -- including Wire vets Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters -- got a firsthand view when they shot the pilot on-site. "It's the type of city where the outlook is, 'What can go wrong will go wrong, so act appropriately when shit goes down,'" says Brown. "So there's a storm? Let's barbecue some food, sing some songs, play some music." And catching the tone of things as they are is Simon's forte. "He picks up people's dialogue," Brown continues. "Working with him, you're like, oh-h, that's why The Wire is so real. For the people in New Orleans [the show is] kind of an about-time thing -- hopefully we can be ambassadors for New Orleans in a good light, and one that they respect."

And so is Rob Brown, who's managed to fit quite a lot into his 25 years. But he shakes off too much fuss over the numbers. "I feel good, man -- I feel spry. I don't feel old. When my boy turned twenty-five, I was like, 'You a grown-ass man now!'" He laughs. "But you kinda are! You rent a car, and they don't trip over it. Then when I turned twenty-five, I was like, 'I can rent a car without the extra fees.' Ye-e-ah!"
Matthew Schneier

Wears: a shirt by Fremont, vest by Moods of Norway, pants by Michael Bastian, boots and bowtie by Band of Outsiders

< BACK TO "25 in 2009"

Subscribe to Get More