When moralizing, Joe Mannix used a combination of right uppercuts with body punches. The 1960s TV detective seemed to care only about his TV secretary, Peggy Fair. Peggy was smart, pretty, black and under-used on the show. A shy, bookish and overweight kid named Andre Braugher watched her on Saturday nights at 10 at his home in Chicago.
Andre would become the only actor in his family. His father was a heavy equipment operator for the state of Illinois, and his mother was a postal worker. Andre was the baby in the family of four kids. He found a boy his own age on television. Corey Baker was on every Tuesday night on NBC. Corey was Julia's boy, and "Julia" was the first comedy series to star a black female, Diahann Carroll.
In 1970, Mr. Braugher saw James Earl Jones -- bald, black and with the voice of Vader -- star in "The Great White Hope." My god. Mr. Jones became heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. What a role, what a role model. Yet, Mr. Braugher had no immediate plans to step on stage and express himself. It's a safer and tidier world inside books and inside libraries. At Stanford University (after attending Catholic prep school), Mr. Braugher was playing the role of a mechanical engineering major.
"I was spending too many hours in the library," he says. "I didn't know how to dance, and I had never dated."
A college friend urged him to audition as Claudius in "Hamlet." With no acting experience, the mechanical engineer got the part. And after each performance, people applauded. "Wow, this ain't bad," he thought. Actors speak of their motivations, and Mr. Braugher's original motivation was to get a date. Then he caught the acting bug and realized what it could do for him.
"I could get out and get in the middle of life," he says. "I don't want to spend all my time on the sidelines, watching people play this game called life."
The Juilliard School in New York City auditions roughly 800 people a year for the drama school, which emphasizes classical training. Only 22 of them gain admission. In 1984, Mr. Braugher came to Juilliard. Passion, meet technique.
"I think he was highly individual in the way he attacked his work. There was a lot of stuff he wanted to get out, especially a lot of anger," says John Stix, Mr. Braugher's first-year acting teacher and a former artistic director at Center Stage. "Andre has a grasp of the world and a maturity that goes well beyond any cultural boundaries.
"His dream was to be outstanding."
At Juilliard, Mr. Braugher learned to dance. At Juilliard, Mr. Braugher starred in "Othello" ("It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul") and in "Hamlet" ("He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again"). He "got" Shakespeare and has never let go. He impressed his teachers with his technique, and challenged them with his opinions.
"Andre does not suffer anything easily; he questioned everything," said Juilliard director Michael Kahn. Mr. Kahn later produced "Othello" at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington and his Iago was Andre Braugher, who remains devoted to the play: "Othello was the model of the broken-hearted guy."
Mr. Braugher quotes the Bard at work. "Constantly. Without fail," Clark Johnson says. "I had to smack him one time with the back of my hand. He thanked me for that."
Mr. Braugher quotes the Bard at home. He was leaving for work the other day and quoting from Shakespeare's "King Richard II." Andre began, "We are amazed . . ." His 3-year-old picked up the line on cue, ". . . and thus long have we stood . . ."
". . .to watch the fearful bending of thy knee," Mr. Braugher finished.
After Juilliard, Mr. Braugher made the transition from theater to film when he played Thomas Searles in the 1989 film "Glory" -- the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black fighting regiment in the East during the Civil War. He earned dazzling reviews and proudly sat by his phone in Los Angeles for three months. "They" were going to call -- it was just a matter of time.
The phone was mute.
"I'm never going to put my life on hold like that again," he says.
He auditioned in 1992 for the role of Detective Frank Pembleton, having fallen for the script mainly because he couldn't tell whether the guy was supposed to be white or black. He was interesting and challenging and intense. Frank was a man. "And I can do a man."
He gets advance tapes of "Homicide" and watches each performance, dissecting his role. "Did they use the earnest take or the cynical one?" Mr. Braugher spots glitches in his acting that are lost on the rest of us.
"He can be a pain, but the truth is, nine times out of 10, the thing bothering him is wanting to make the work better," says Mr. Fontana. "And nine times out of 10, he is right. I always listen when Andre speaks to me."