W. Earl Brown returns to Murray State

By Emily Williams, Features Editor

Earl Brown, American actor and alumnus of Murray State’s Department of Theatre, made his way back home to Robert E. Johnson Theatre this past weekend to play “Big Daddy” in the theatre department’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Brown, best known for his roles in films and TV series such as Deadwood, Scream, There’s Something About Mary and Black Mass, said a return to Murray State was something he and chair of the theatre department, David Balthrop, had been hoping to plan for a while.

“My schedule changes constantly,” Brown said. “But everything has worked out perfectly. It was kind of kismet with everything lining up so I was able to get here.”

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” originally a play by Tennessee Williams, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Lissa Graham, director of Murray State’s production of the play, said they chose it about a year ago and then “hit the ground running.”

“W. Earl Brown is why we chose this play,” Graham said. “He’s a local hero. I mean, he’s well-known in Hollywood. He is a major veteran of television and film.”

Graham said the entire production has been a great experience for the theatre department.

“We really appreciate Earl,” Graham said. “We love Earl. We think he’s wonderful. We appreciate the time he’s put into this, the effort he has put into this. He did not have to do this. It has really helped the students.”

Shelby Fry, junior from Paris, Tennessee, played Maggie “the Cat” Pollitt in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and said it was a wonderful experience working with Brown on the play.

“He’s been very helpful and kind, and he’s given so much time to all of us in the theatre department,” Fry said. “He’s taught us a lot, I think. Working with him has been a very valuable experience.”

Brown said coming back to Murray State was a great reminder of when he first decided acting was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life and that he was able to make that dream come true. He said it was also refreshing to see the thrill and joy of the students who are just starting out in theatre.

“Theatre is a chance to learn and explore,” Brown said. “That’s what it was to me. But I’m that way about arts education in general. Art and humanities changed my life. Changed my life.”

Brown said he was not a good student in high school because he was lazy and apathetic. He said when he started at Murray State, he held the same attitude for two semesters until getting involved in the theatre department and being challenged by one of his English professors.

“Something happened around that time,” Brown said. “Something planted a seed in me. I wanted to learn. I started challenging myself. It wasn’t just a teacher challenging my assumptions about life, or about any number of things.”

Brown said he was on the Dean’s List within a year after this change of heart at Murray State.

“The chances of being a professional actor or a professional writer are slim,” Brown said. “But it doesn’t mean they’re insurmountable. I was determined to be where I am, so my dreams came true.”

Brown quoted author David Mamet and said, “If you don’t take your ball and go home, you eventually get in the game.”

He encouraged students who are pursuing a career in the arts to not allow their ego to get in the way of what should be their main goal: to express. He said simply feeding that hunger and allowing it to teach you more about yourself is what will help you grow as an artist.

“No one can take that away from you but you,” Brown said.