Actor Issac Ryan Brown Takes The Lead in “Believe”
Actor Issac Ryan Brown Takes The Lead in “Believe”
by Brad Balfour
December 14, 2016
Young Hollywood actor Issac Ryan Brown has quite a presence. Having establishing himself with credits that include his current stint in “Black-ish” (as the young Dre), he’s also appeared in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” spent time at Nickelodeon, and recently, was seen in an episode of “How to Get Away with Murder.”
But now he’s made the leap, from supporting work to leading man in the inspiring holiday film “Believe,” being released in select theaters throughout December. Produced by Smith Global Media (headed by Harry, Will Smith’s younger brother) and Power of 3 Entertainment — which are developing family and faith-based fare — the signing of the then-10-year-old Brown to be co-star was an uncanny move.
This Detroit-born and bred talent is precocious beyond belief, perfect to be cast in film that follows the painful but ultimately, feel-good tradition of such classics as It’s Wonderful Life.” In fact Brown’s character is named Clarence after the Angel who appears in the 1946 classic.
Written/directed/produced by Billy Dickson (“One Tree Hill,” “Ally McBeal”), “Believe” tells the story of a Christmas crisis in the small town of Grundy, Virginia. Over the years the town relied on the Peyton family to provide the annual Christmas pageant. When Matthew Peyton (veteran producer/actor Ryan O’Quinn) inherits the business, the pageant falls on his shoulders to maintain it just as financial hardships fall on him and the town. Peyton is overwhelmed as the business start to go down the tubes. His workers threaten to strike and he’s forced to choose between selling out and canceling the beloved pageant or sticking to it despite the town turning on him.
By chance, he meets a boy who believes in miracles, young Clarence Joseph (Brown) and his mother Sharon (Danielle Nicolet). His new friends stir his own faith in a way not thought possible and it teaches him to believe as well. Partly shot in O’Quinn’s hometown of Grundy, Virginia, the 40-something actor got to show his young charge what country life in small town America is like.
In turn, given his charged A-personality, the now 11-year-old shared a lot of his energetic and enthusiastic personality with O’Quinn and the rest of the cast — something this interviewer witnessed as well when he recently conducted this exclusive interview at the Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
I once interviewed an 11-year old Dakota Fanning for a half hour and she was as lucid as anyone I ever talked to — much like you.
Issac Ryan Brown: What does lucid mean?
Sharp, or smart. See? You’ve learned a new word.
IB: So if my face was sharp could I say I looked “lucid?”
Not your face, but your words or your ideas are lucid. They’re crystal clear. With that in mind, were you trained as an actor?
IB: Yes, for a short time I trained [through] the mentorship of Lisa Picotte and she taught me a thing or two. After that I branched out on my own. God gave me a really amazing gift and after that I learned on my own, if you know what I mean? I followed my way around the business.
Do you learn by observation or do you ask a lot of questions?
IB: If you can’t tell, I ask a lot of questions because I need things to be crystal clear. Because if I can’t understand you or if I do understand you, I want to know why I’m doing this. I ask questions so much my math teacher can’t stand me because I want to know all these rules and terms you have in math, I just like my stuff to be lucid.
Why do you think they cast you? What did you bring to the character?
IB: Everyone loves me and everyone loves Clarence, he’s just such an amazing young boy. And I feel like Ryan O’Quinn, he brought a lot to Matthew Peyton. It’s like I’ve said before, “We’re all connected to our characters in some way, we can all relate.” Me, being from Detroit, I’ve never been in that real low area, but I know that my situation could be much worse than what I am in, so I can understand the situation Matthew Peyton is in — and I can understand the situation that Clarence is in. So when I was able to read the whole script and get an understanding of who Clarence Joseph is and why he is and how his faith gets him through things, what I brought to the character is my relationship with Clarence Joseph.
What were the questions you asked when you were being auditioned?
IB: I can’t remember the questions I asked, but I’m pretty sure I asked how did he get into poverty or how bad is he really or is this movie really about God? I told Ryan this, you don’t get a lot of scripts about God or scripts where the kid isn’t smart mouthing all the time, you don’t get kids who are naive or just like to have fun, and Clarence Joseph always gets to just come back. If I had to ask a question, I’d ask if Clarence were to come out of poverty, would his faith change? I think it wouldn’t, me personally.
Does Detroit feel like a big town or just a neighborhood to you?
IB: My grandmother cooks all the time. My grandmother cooks and we spend the night at each other’s family. It’s like that; I never thought of Detroit as a big city. My mom owns a daycare center right up the street, my sister went to school in the neighborhood as did I, so we knew where everything was in the city of Detroit. I never really thought of it. Because God blessed me with amazing memorization, my mom would ask me how to get home and I could tell her. I knew everyone on my block and it never felt like a big city.
This movie is set in a small town. Did you have to learn about what it’s like living in one of those places? And add in the element of African American community living separately from the rich community — did that feel natural to you?
IB: When I came across Clarence Joseph and read that he’s kind of poor, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that he was living in a small town. I did when I got there, I looked up the landmarks, we went everywhere, but what I really thought about Clarence was how do I portray this character to be happy, but he does know his circumstances? I figured, when you have god, you’re happy.
When I moved to California, my dad and my mom were always successful. My mom owns her own business, my dad’s a construction worker, they always supplied for me. I always had more than I had not. Nickelodeon gave me tablets, my school gave me tablets, my grandma gave me tablets, I never been lacking for anything. But when you come across a character that’s the exact opposite of the material things, but has the exact same in your spiritual demeanor, it wasn’t that hard to convey the message.
How old are you now?
IB: Eleven now.
Eleven and you knows the word “demeanor.” Wow… Do you find you learned about language through acting?
IB: You come across so many different characters. I just read for a character that cusses and slangs all the way, and sometimes you have to be comfortable with switching nodes. It has taught me the variety of everything. I read for characters that are super smart, the other day I read a part for a kid that’s a future politician and he’s like, “I’m gonna need to enforce some carbon cutters for that” and then you read for another kid and he’s like “What’s up, mother [f-ing]…” and all this crazy stuff. As an actor you have to transition and it has taught me a lot about English because in English you have to learn about those slang terms, even if you don’t want to. You have to learn about standard English too. You have to know what both are to understand. With acting I’m able to learn and do both.
Will Smith’s younger brother is involved with this film. Did you ever met him or Jaden Smith? I bet you’re a lot like him when he was your age.
IB: Really? No, never met him. I met Harry though, he’s the head of Smith Global Media. I got a picture with him on the Red Carpet and I didn’t know who he was at the time and later I was like, “Oh my God.” I always like to be up close and friendly with people no matter who they are.
When you pay too much attention to who someone is or what they do, or how much money they have, it begins to take away from how you act on set. I worked with Laurence Fishburne and a lot of good actors and [it was] like, “Oh my God, this is this or this is that,” but when you’re on set or on camera, you can’t play it like you know who they are.
Do you know where the name Clarence comes from?
It’s a name from one of the great classic holiday films of all time. It’s a Wonderful Life, he’s the angel. So this connects you with an incredible history.
IB: No kidding! Awesome! No one told me!
Do you have a favorite holiday movie of your own?
IB: I like Frosty the Snowman. I never really had a favorite holiday movie though. We watched Home Alone, and watched all these classics every Christmas, but I never had a favorite. I’ve always been more of an animation type guy. But I’ve never been one to ponder over movies.
Did Ryan take you to see where he grew up?
IB: As we were filming a lot of places he pointed out a lot of places. One of the things that drew me to the film is that it’s for everyone. I can take my grandmother to the film and nobody is questioning me or my character. You don’t have to worry about it. I hope it becomes one of those classics that people watch every year like the Grinch.
That’s called a perennial or a chestnut. You can count on it being shown every year. Blackish has serious themes but it’s more a comedy. This is a serious film but were there funny moments? Is working with you funny?
IB: It was funny on set, filming, in the hotel room at six in the morning and getting ready before going on set. Every moment of filming was hilarious and that has to do with the amazing cast. Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, David DeLuise, Kevin Sizemore, everybody was incredible. I’ll never forget that time when I was watching the movie and there are two scenes where I get hurt and I look at myself and I’m like, “You know, you’re hurt.”
And there’s a scene where I jump onto the bed and hit my knee, and I remember it, and Ryan remembers it too. In the factory, I hit my hand and, in watching that scene, I thought it was awesome how I was able to push through that. Ryan always brought the humor, everyone did, not just me.
We can’t forget your work as the young version of Dre in Black-ish. Who you crack up the most on the Blackish set?
IB: Anthony Anderson, that dude cracks me up. Every moment is like living with a living Google machine “I went to South Africa and went to the top of this mountain…”
Does he test you?
IB: I play the younger version of him, so we try to battle each other with our knowledge. Sometimes he’ll be like, “I went here one time and it was amazing.” Did you? “No.”
Does he ever say you’re more him than he is?
IB: There was one time he brought his mother to set and she said I look exactly like him because I have to wear that wig. “He looks just like you, Anthony!” and she grabs his cheek.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
IB: My mom, and I tell everyone this, she’s amazing at sports, my dad as well. They love sports, watch football every day, my mom will literally wrestle my father when they’re playing. My mom, when she had a son she said, “My son’s gonna be great at football,” but I just came out of the womb singing and dancing. She tried to hand me a football and I just got hit in the face. At 10 months I started walking and talking and singing and dancing!
I praise God for this, my mom took me to a football field and I was too small and she said, “I guess he can sing for a little while since he’s too small. But as soon as he gets of age he’ll start playing football, it’s in his blood”. Well, a few years later I’m six years old on “America’s Got Talent,” singing and dancing and the next thing I know I’m in California and six months after that I’m auditioning for “Believe.”
This is not your first feature, is it?
IB: It’s my first in California. I did three back home called The Netherlands and King Ripple. And I did Batman Vs Superman.