Sterling K. Brown on his role in Netflix’s sci-fi thriller ‘Atlas’: ‘I wanted to do something my 8-year-old son could watch’

The Emmy-winning actor talks to theGrio about family, artificial intelligence and his "Clockwork Orange moment" on the set of his new Netflix film.

Sterling K. Brown attends the "ATLAS" Photo Call on May 04, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Sterling K. Brown is starring in a thrilling new sci-fi film set in space, and fans have his son to thank. 

The “This Is Us” actor, who earned his first Oscar nomination earlier this year, told theGrio in a recent interview that he was initially drawn to the film “Atlas” because of his 8-year-old son, Amaré. In the movie, Brown stars as Colonel Elias Banks, a brave ranger who joins data analyst Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) on a mission to defeat an AI robot who wants to destroy Earth. 

Banks is witty and charming, and the film is a fun, family-friendly watch that also asks existential questions about emerging technologies and the use of artificial intelligence.    

“I wanted to do something that my 8-year-old son could watch because he always complains about not being able to watch any of the stuff that I do,” the actor says when asked why he chose to star in “Atlas.” Brown also lists the film’s producer, Jeff Fierson, who is “a dear, dear friend” of Brown’s and his NYU classmate, as one of the reasons he accepted the role. 

During one particular scene in the film, the AI robot Harlan forces Brown’s eye open with an eye speculum. The actor says Fierson’s father, who is an ophthalmologist, fitted him for the device, which Brown notes was the “most uncomfortable thing” but also makes him the coolest dad to his sons. 

“That’s kind of like your ‘Clockwork Orange’ moment,” Brown says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Alright, other people have done it before me; I can do it.’ He put this thing in my eye, and 8, 12 seconds tops, I was like, ‘You gotta get this s–t out.’

“On the day of shooting, I spoke to the crew,” Brown continued. “[I said], ‘Listen, I need y’all to be at the top of your game, baby. Because I’m only gonna have this thing in my eye for about five minutes tops.’ To the crew’s credit, to the director’s credit, everybody was cool. It’s one of those shots that hopefully I’ll be able to show my kids and they’ll be like, ‘Yo, I can’t believe you did that joint.’ That was fun.” 

Brown’s character is a supporter of artificial intelligence in the film, encouraging Lopez’s Atlas to embrace AI and form a relationship with the computer programs designed to assist her. Brown says that, in addition to his kids’ approval, the movie’s “exploration of the theme of AI and what its role will play in society” interested him.

“Is [AI] something to be feared? Is it something to be embraced? I think it’s something that is very topical,” Brown says. “We get a chance to delve into it in a sort of fantastical way — with a little bit of removal, right? It’s an allegory for how we are going to deal with this thing that is going to be a part of our lives.” 

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Banks sees AI as a tool to help humans navigate life, but Brown is a little more cautious about artificial intelligence in real life.

“I think I’m still kind of on the fence, right?” Brown says. “I’m still trying to figure out is this a good thing? I think that’s the way most technological advances play out in the world. Social media is a great tool when used in its proper context. And then for a lot of children who have access to it, the comparison game is one that you never win.

“In terms of other things that we use with technological advances — cars are great, right? But there’s also, I think, a degree of sloth that convenience can bring with it,” Brown said. “So yeah, I think about the positives and the negatives.”

Atlas” will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, May 24. 

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