MURRAY, Ky. — W. Earl Brown, 1986 alumnus and professional Hollywood actor, was recently named one of the 2017 recipients of Murray State University’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Murray State presents the Distinguished Alumni Award annually to alumni who have made meaningful contributions to their profession on a local, state and national level. Established in 1962, the award is the highest honor granted by the Murray State University Alumni Association, and its recipients include Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, renowned authors, research scientists, physicians and educators.
Brown graduated from Murray State in 1986 with degrees in theatre and electronic media.
Born and raised in western Kentucky, Brown’s first exposure to live performance was on the front porch of his grandparents’ farmhouse. It was there he realized he was much more suited to the stories and songs on the porch, rather than the backbreaking labor of the field.
During his undergraduate career at Murray State, Brown was heavily involved within the theatre and journalism and mass communication departments. He won several awards as part of the Speech and Debate team, served as a weather anchor for MSU 11 News, was the co-creator of the MSU 11 comedy show “More Strange Urges” and was actively involved as an actor or director in numerous Murray State theatre productions.
Despite being involved in both departments, it wasn’t until October 1984, when the curtain fell after the performance of “The Championship Season,” that Brown discovered his calling.
“It was on that stage of the Robert E. Johnson Theatre that I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” said Brown. “That performance was a very spiritual and transcendental experience. I was hooked from that moment on. I realized that performing wasn’t something that could fuel my ego, but rather could nurture my spirit.”
After graduating from Murray State in 1986, Brown continued on to earn his M.F.A. in acting from the theatre school of DePaul University in Chicago, Ill. in 1989. He then stayed in Chicago for four years, pursuing various acting roles throughout the city with his first job on a film set teaching dialect on “Backdraft” in 1991. Soon after, his performance in “A View From the Bridge” at the Steppenwolf Theatre catapulted his career as an actor into television and film.
“I was intimidated in Chicago at first when I started pursuing roles. But once I got the lay of the land, I started feeling more comfortable auditioning,” said Brown. “After three and a half years in Chicago, I knew I had hit the glass ceiling and it was time to move on. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, though. I loved living in Chicago.”
In 1993, Brown moved to Los Angeles and landed his first major roles in several films, such as “New Nightmare” in 1994, “A Vampire in Brooklyn” in 1995 and the role of Kenny in “Scream” in 1996. After the success of “Scream,” Brown was cast as Cameron Diaz’s brother Warren in “There’s Something About Mary” in 1998. Since the 1990s, Brown has played roles in several notable films, such as “The Master” in 2012, “The Sessions” in 2012 and “Wild” in 2014. On television, he has guest-starred in several series, including “American Horror Story,” “Justified,” “X-Files,” and “Six Feet Under.”
Despite his wide array of acting experiences, Brown credits HBO’s “Deadwood” as his favorite project to date. In addition to portraying the role of Dan Dority in the show, Brown joined the series’ writing staff in the second season. In 2007, he was honored with a WGA nomination for writing on a drama series and a SAG nomination for best drama ensemble acting.
“‘Deadwood’ is the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s vulgar poetry and works on so many levels,” said Brown. “You can watch it over and over and pick up new meanings each time you watch it. There are subtle nuances throughout the show that just make you think differently.”
Brown will be taking a brief intermission from Hollywood to return to Murray State’s Robert E. Johnson Theatre April 27–30, 2017. Performing the role of Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Brown is excited to return back to his roots in the Murray State theatre department. Over the years, Brown has remained very engaged with the department, often returning to the University to lead theatre workshops and host Q&A sessions for current students.
“I want current students to realize that no one can take away the joy you get from creating something. Don’t put all of your eggs in the ego basket and think you have to have your name on the marquee one day. To be in the arts, you have to open yourself up and allow your vulnerability to lead you,” said Brown. “The irony in this business is that even the most successful artists get turned down. Don’t take all of the criticism to heart, but don’t let all of the praise go to your head. You can let the arts feed your ego or feed your Spirit.”
Brown will be honored at the Distinguished Alumni Award banquet to be held April 21 at 6 p.m. in the CFSB Center’s Murray Room, and he will have the opportunity to speak about his professional experiences. The banquet is open to the public with tickets available for $30 at murraystate.edu/distinguishedalumni until April 14.