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Andre Braugher gets a break from playing the heavy

There are many levels of intensity to Andre Braugher. The versatile actor and current star of Men of a Certain Age has built a career on never settling too far into one character. Born to working-class parents on Chicago's west side, Braugher abandoned his original medical-career ambitions in college to attend New York's Juillard School of performing arts.

Braugher made an auspicious film debut in the 1989 feature Glory, in which he had the prominent role of Thomas Searles, a free and well-educated black man who joins the first black army regiment during the U.S. Civil War. His career moved to a higher plane with his full-time role on the acclaimed crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran from 1993 to 1998. Braugher earned glowing reviews and earned an Emmy for his portrayal of detective Frank Pembleton, master of the cross-examination.

After Homicide, Braugher became a hot Hollywood property, with supporting roles in films such as City of Angels and Duets. He was a medical genius in the short-lived Gideon's Crossing, and a cop in Hack. Years passed and he played a dour general in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and took on a recurring role on House, playing the psychiatrist who helps Dr. House shake his Vicodin addiction.

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Most recently, Braugher has been part of the TNT comedy-drama Men of a Certain Age, which airs in Canada on Super Channel. As the hard-luck Owen Thoreau Jr., he's saddled with a brittle wife and a father who is a famous former basketball star. I talked to him by phone from Los Angeles last week.

After years of heavy drama, is it a relief playing Owen on Men?

This role feels much more domestic and humane to me. Owen is really a mild-mannered family man. He's a little overworked, a little stressed. He's not as competent in his job as he'd like to be, but he's really persistent. And in this case, the stakes are pretty ordinary things; he's still a noble character.

Owen has woes at work and home, but is his biggest burden having a famous father?

Father figures are very demanding, to say the least. Of course, there are millions of men around the world who have complicated relationships with their fathers. At the bottom of it, there's a lot of love between these two men, but how they express it is not always simple.

Did you have any previous connection with cast mates Ray Romano and Scott Bakula before starting the series?

No, the first time we ever met was when we did rehearsals for the pilot. But we're all seasoned actors and we have plenty of personal information to bring to bear on these characters. We're all happily married. Ray and Scott have four kids each, and I have three. Consequently, we know these characters pretty well.

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You return to the New York stage next month in The Whipping Man. How important is stage experience to you?

It's an interesting story from a new playwright. There's a lot of things going for it. This is the first time I've done a modern play. I've always done Shakespeare and the classics. I did Henry V back in 1996, then Hamlet in 2008, and now this. I think it will help me grow as an artist.

Is there an open door for you to return to House?

That was planned as a one-time shot and it turned into more episodes. I couldn't tell you how House is going to relate to his psychiatrist in future shows; I don't expect Dr. Nolan to return, but you never know. The show is always morphing and growing. They've done a really good job of shaking House up, which is probably one reason the show is still on the air.

Back in 2000, your medical drama Gideon's Crossing was cancelled despite glowing reviews. Was it ahead of its time?

I don't know if it was ahead of its time, but no one was watching, I'll tell you that! That's the story of my career - the critically acclaimed flop [laughs] I couldn't tell you exactly why the show didn't find an audience. They were brilliant, compelling stories, but people weren't watching. But that's water under the bridge.

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Does Homicide stand out for you as a unique acting experience?

It was a lovely acting experience, and quite formative in terms of career-building. I loved the show while we were doing it and I felt we were doing some interesting and groundbreaking work, which I see echoed through TV and film today. But time has moved on. I remember that when we shot the Homicide pilot, my son was in a snuggly. Now he's off to college.

Men of a Certain Age The Whipping Man

When offered roles in Salt and other films, do you consciously seek out departure characters?

Usually it's just an attempt to find the next best job. What I'm basically looking for is a character with an interesting journey. Sometimes it's been fruitful, sometimes not. We're all just sort of winging it here.

Why did you switch from pre-med to acting in college?

Medicine wasn't a real interest to me. It was a product of what I was told to excel at. When I got to that point in college, it just wasn't the right thing for me. So after a lot of hand-wringing, and back and forth with my father, I changed my major.

Any regrets about making the switch?

Not really. Acting has been a real calling for me, as opposed to just another job. I've worked continuously from the time I got out of school, so I'm always grateful for that. I've been a very fortunate guy, no doubt about it.

Are people surprised to discover you're such a pleasant, laid-back guy in person?

Yeah, they are, but it's ridiculous. I'm just me.

This interview has been condensed and edited

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