Bruce Fretts
October 28, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Andre Braugher is a compactly built man, but when he lets loose his stentorian voice as the fiercely intelligent Det. Frank Pembleton on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street (Fridays, 10-11 p.m.), he towers over every other actor in prime time. So it comes as a surprise that the Juilliard graduate thought he blew his first audition for the role. ”It just sucked. I stiffened up on camera,” says Braugher, 32, puffing on a Marlboro Light in the back room of the Daily Grind, a neo-boho coffeehouse across the street from the Homicide set in Baltimore. ”I threw the (script pages) in the trash can and said, ‘Well, I didn’t get that gig.’ But I guess they saw something magical.”

Braugher first worked his magic on film with his stirring portrayal of a Harvard-educated Civil War soldier in 1989’s Glory. He’s since carved out a career mixing Shakespeare productions with such socially relevant TV movies as PBS’ civil rights drama Simple Justice and TNT’s The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson, in which he starred as the baseball groundbreaker. Braugher swore off second-fiddle parts after appearing with Telly Savalas in ABC’s 1989-90 Kojak revival. ”It put food on the table and a roof over my head, but it was a sidekick role,” he says. ”What appeals to me about Homicide is it’s an autonomous character. I’m nobody’s sidekick.”

Even so, Braugher still isn’t a household name — and doesn’t care to be one. ”The danger for me is I’ll forget who I am and where I came from,” explains the actor, who grew up in Chicago as a heavyset, introspective kid and now lives in Maryland with his wife, actress-writer Ami Brabson, and their son, Michael, 2. ”I might begin to believe my own hype.” Not that he’s trying to generate any. ”I don’t have a manager. I don’t have a publicist. I don’t want to go on The Tonight Show and be all palsy-walsy with the host,” he says. ”I think I want to be rich, but I don’t want to be famous.”

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