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Sophina Brown

Swimming With The Shark

by Deborah Wagner

You may not know Sophina Brown by name.  Chances are you will recognize her face though, now that she has a lead role as the L.A. prosecuting attorney who has become the ďvoice of reasonĒ on the popular CBS drama Shark opposite James Woods.

This extremely talented actress received a BFA in Theatrical Performance from the University of Michigan.  Since graduation she has built an extensive rťsumť that includes guest appearances in dozens of television shows, dramatic and musical theater on and off Broadway and a supporting role on the silver screen. 

As passionate about acting as her character, Raina Troy, is about the letter of the law, Brown had wanted to be an actress for as long as she can remember.  Now, she has set her sites on perfecting her craft, enjoying her starring role on Shark and working towards her dream of giving back to the acting community. 

You have already built an impressive body of guest starring roles on series Ė including Without a Trace, NUMB3RS and Hack.  With Shark now heading into its second season, are you enjoying your first lead role on a prime time drama? 

Yes, itís a much different ball game though. I get to live with this character week after week and find out different nuances and character flaws and learn how she will react to different situations.  The writing is just so wonderful for her, too, so itís great. 

What is it like working with so many fine actors Ė including the James Woods Ė who is considered to be one of the greats? 

Well, it just makes you bring your ďAĒ game every single day. I feel that especially [with] JamesÖ he raises the bar.  So itís been a learning experience for me, but also there has been a lot of growth in my work.  Thereís been a lot of professional growth as well as personal growth.  Building and maintaining relationships on and off the set has been great. 

Was it at all intimidating when your first started working with him? 

Oh yeah...   Absolutely!  I meanÖ heís iconic.  The thing about James is he brings such a theatrical energy to the set.  Heís just across the board a fine actor in every single medium.  So every single take is different and you never know what heís going to do because heís so unpredictable.

It must be interesting to work like thatÖ 

Yeah, it is great but at first you wonder if you are going to be able to keep up with him.  You donít want to be the weak link.  That was definitely going through my head on the first few weeks on the job. 

Do you feel you can keep up with him now? 

Well now itís like his un-predictability is predictable so itís much easier. (laughs) 

A lot of fine movie actors like James, Holly Hunter and Glenn Close are making the jump to series TV.  Why do you think a show like Shark would be so intriguing to them? 

When you are doing a movie it has a beginning, middle and an end.  Itís kind of a nice neat package and itís great Ė itís artistic and itís creative.  But, when you take on something as challenging as a series, itís like you have this huge arc to the character.  Week after week you just never know where the character is going to go.  You get to play more because itís always going to be a different, unique situation and you get to figure out how the character is going to respond.  I feel that itís just artistically gratifying to know that you can just go all over the map you never know whatís coming at you.  That has to be appealing to someone like James Ė who is used to working on a film for maybe three months tops and then itís over. 

Your character is very idealistic and passionate about the letter of the law while Shark is more of a win at any cost and push the envelope kind of lawyer.  How do you think your characters compliment each other and make for an interesting drama? 

Well, because there is conflict there.  I feel like whenever thereís opposition, thatís when you get drama.  So, we kind of go head to head and a lot of the times we have a different agenda.  And the really interesting part about playing this character with James is when our agenda matches.  You know, how that changes our relationship and seeing how we have to team up.  I mean our characters kind of went through a morphing.  We were so at each otherís throats at the beginning of the first season.  Then there was an episode where we were both taken hostage and around that time you saw the edges soften a little bit.  We kind of latched on to a camaraderie having just gone through a difficult situation together and the characters [became] closer.  In the second season, you are going to see that they are not quite as far on opposite ends of the spectrum anymore.  Thereís going to be a new character thatís going to present some challenges for him. 

Do you think that Raina more than the other lawyers on the show was put in place in the first season to try and keep Stark in line when others couldnít? 

I definitely think they wrote her that way Ė as the thorn in his side. 

Do you have a favorite episode or story line from season one where you really felt you were really able to flex your acting muscles and show what Raina is all about?

I really liked working on the hostage episodeThat is one of my favorites because we were in that courtroom day after day after day.  That was one of the only episodes that we actually shot in sequence.  So, it was really nice to work like that because so many times itís kind of disjointed and you donít really know how itís going to fit together.  Youíre doing the end at the beginning.  That was an episode where we really went scene by scene and the emotional development was so fulfilling to work like that.  I always enjoy episodes when you really see the other side of Raina, especially with the Isaac character, her love interest.  I like when you can see that more feminine, more vulnerable side where her guard comes down and sheís not so tough.  She has this guarded demeanor about her so I love when you see those little cracks in the steel. 

Do you know of any new and exciting story lines being written for Raina in the second season? 

I do...  The second episode of the season is not going to be as procedural in its format because itís a very personal episode.  Iíll say that.  And in the first 30 second of the show you are going to see her in a very different light. 

Are there any fantasy episodes that you as an actress would like the writers to write for Raina? 

I would actually love to see her just fail.  I mean just completely drop the ball and not have things tied up in neat packages.  I just want to see her struggle and get her hands dirty.  She is so by the book and she has this sense of integrity and she is so passionate about justice.  I kind of want to see what would happen if Raina makes a really bad decision and has to deal with the consequences. 

Do you have any say with the writers about what lies ahead for Raina? 

No.  I trust my writers so much and they write for her so well that Iím always really excited to read the next script and see what sheís going to do.   Itís always great.   I think they would definitely be open to have a conversation about future episodes, but they already have so many scripts written.  But I think they would be open to that. 

Spike Lee directed the pilot episode.  What was it like working with him? 

Oh, heís just a genius and watching him workÖ well he was another person that at first I was very fearful, but that only lasted about 30 minutes.  Then I was like, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have to take advantage of this.  I was just like forget it, Iím not going to let this paralyze me.  Then I just became very open and said ďHey Spike, whatís up?Ē and gave him a hug.  Then it was so much fun working with him.  He just has this method to his madness and you never knew what he was going to do.  It was a very exciting time in my life. 

While you have mostly done drama on TV, you did appear in several episodes of the Chapelle Show as well as appearing on Strangers with Candy and Committed.  Do you enjoy comedy and do you feel itís easier or harder to do than drama?

I do enjoy comedy but I donít know that I would consider either easier or harder.  That is actually what I do most often.  Itís something I grew up doing and it comes more naturally to me.  I very goofy.  Iím so not Raina.  I mean really, if there is a cord to trip over, or a door to run intoÖ well then Iíve done it.  Iím just a mess.  (laughs)  I feel that physical comedy is just a natural for me.  But I am so enjoying this really.Ö Really, really enjoying it. 

You had a supporting rule in the movie Because I Said So.  How is movie making different from doing TV? 

Oh, itís SLOW!  I wasnít used to that.  I mean, even in theater where my roots are, while itís not as fast as television, you have deadlines and in a rehearsal you may work on one complete act but when I was on the movie set it was like, ďOkay you guys, weíre going to be here for fifteen hours and we are going to shoot a page and a half.Ē  That baffled me.  I would think; how is this moving so slowly?  Definitely I had to learn to bring a book to read. 

As you just mentioned, you are no stranger to theater doing stints in the Broadway cast of The Lion King as well as Jesus Christ Superstar and Fame.  Do you have a musical or dance background and is that something you would like to do more of eventually? 

You know, I was never trained for musical theater.  Itís something I just kind of stumbled into and I have been very fortunate to do it.  My first job was in musical theater.  So, itís one of those things that when Iím not doing it I think, wow, I would just love to do a musical.  Then when Iím in the middle of it; What was I thinking?  This is so hard.  (laughs)  I did one this past summer on my hiatus and it was just so much singing.  I was overwhelmed at first because Iíve never had to sing this many songs, back to back and she never left the stage.  Then when I was in the middle of the run, I thought wow, I actually did it.  I met this challenge and it ended up being one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.  It was the highlight of my hiatus.  It was a musical called No Strings and Diahann Carroll originated the role on Broadway in 1952 and she actually came to opening night.  No one told me. 

You were probably better off not knowing she was there! 

Exactly!  I said Ďthank you for not telling me!í  But I saw her, she came to see me after the show.  It was just amazing and my first response was I started crying.  I mean sheís legendary!  And she gave me her blessing and I was so happy.  She was lovely. 

I believe that you just moved to LA from New York when you got the role in Shark?  Was it a big adjustment getting used to the LA lifestyle? 

No.  Well, it was an adjustment but it was a welcome adjustment because I am originally from Michigan and New York is great and I loved my time there but itís really a hustle.  Even going to the grocery store, I would have to go on two trains just to get there.  Because of where I grew up, I love jumping in my car and taking a drive.  I really love taking road trips and I missed that there.  I couldnít have a car there and it made me feel confined.  I just love the sunshine and the weather here in LA Ė the space and the freedom to just jump in my car and take a ride to Santa Barbara.  But I always go back to New York at least twice a year to see friends and get my theater fix and see as many plays as I possibly can.  I do still have a strong love for New York but I couldnít imagine living there permanently and eventually starting a family there.

How would you like for people to see your career in the future?  

My first love is theater and I would love for people to see a trained actress who is just multi-faceted.  I am not opposed to any medium but I always like to come back to theater.  I would love to do other things on Broadway Ė like a play, but not necessarily a musical.  Eventually I would like to start my own theater company here in Los Angeles putting on productions.  That is something I am definitely working towards.  I also want to be able to create opportunities for other people Ė whether through the theater company or giving people jobs and directing or producing.  I definitely would like to be at the stage of my career where I can pick the projects that Iím passionate about and help others that might just be starting out in whatever capacity I can. 

You mentioned youíre from Michigan.  Do you ever get back there?

My family is from Michigan and Ohio and I do get back there.  I was just there in January and I would love to get back there in the fall for a University of Michigan football game.  Hopefully that will happen. 

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2007 Robert Voets.  Courtesy of CBS Television.  All rights reserved.
#2 © 2007 Robert Voets.  Courtesy of CBS Television.  All rights reserved.
#3 © 2007 Robert Voets.  Courtesy of CBS Television.  All rights reserved.
#4 © 2007 Robert Voets.  Courtesy of CBS Television.  All rights reserved.
#5 © 2007 Robert Voets.  Courtesy of CBS Television.  All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 23, 2007.

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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 23, 2007.