When BET premiered “The New Edition Story” last year, the network drew 29 million eager sets of eyeballs. The network expects similar numbers for the follow-up, “The Bobby Brown Story,” which airs in two parts, Tuesday and Wednesday. The miniseries follows the Boston native into manhood, his solo career, his tumultuous marriage to Whitney Houston, his substance and alcohol abuse, and his resurrection after the tragic deaths of his ex-wife and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
Modeled after the Jackson 5, New Edition was one of the biggest groups of the 1980s, with infectious hits including “Candy Girl,” “Cool It Now,” and “Mr. Telephone Man.” As a solo act, Brown had a No. 1 hit with “My Prerogative,” and he is often noted as one of the pioneers of the pop-hip-hop hybrid known as new jack swing.
Brown is set to capitalize on the biopic, launching a tour with RBRM — himself with his former New Edition bandmates Bell Biv Devoe (Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins, Ronnie Devoe). They play the Boch Center Wang Theatre Sept. 20 and Foxwoods Sept. 22. Brown will no doubt unveil his new single “Like Bobby,” an autobiographical song about tough times and perseverance.
All questions about Whitney Houston were off the table for this interview, but Brown had plenty to say about other aspects of his life, from the time the members of New Edition received their checks for their first big tour — $1.87 each — to the ambitious promotional campaign for “The Bobby Brown Story,” which included a 30-foot inflatable replica of Brown’s head.
Q. Here’s my most pressing question: That art installation in New York — did you go inside your own head?
A. Yes, I did go inside my own head. It kind of mind-boggled me.
Q. Did you learn anything about yourself while you were in there?
A. [Laughs] No, no. We went to New York for the promotions and they surprised us with it. Everybody in Harlem that I knew was like, “Bob, what’s up with this big old head of you?” And it was Harlem Week, so the whole thing played really well. It was just beautiful to go down to Harlem, get some good food and see some great people, go to the Apollo. We had a really good time that day.
Q. Where did the idea for the new song “Like Bobby” come from?
A. The inspiration came from the movie. I got with Face [producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds] and Teddy Riley, and I asked them to join forces to give me a song that just sums me up. I wanted it funky, I wanted it uptempo, and I wanted it to be a song that could play on the radio today.
Q. Between the two miniseries, what’s it been like watching some other dude play you?
A. [Laughs] Woody [McLain], he was so good in “The New Edition Story,” there was nobody else we wanted to cast for this. That was simple. People are gonna be real impressed with how well he plays me. I couldn’t play me — I’m 50 years old. I thought I was gonna play me one day in my own movie, but, you know, you grow up. And you realize there is always somebody out there that’s able to do what you could do when you were younger. Woody captured my mannerisms. He did a great job.
Q. Do you have any idea whether it was intimidating for him, playing you, with you watching from behind the camera?
A. No. I made him feel as comfortable as possible. I’m not a scary individual. I’m more of a “C’mon, you can do it” type of guy. When we wrote the story, there were a lot of things that I wanted to get off my chest. Things that I really wanted people to understand about who I am and where I come from, how I made it through and how I keep on . . . how I keep on . . .
Q. Keepin’ on.
A. Yeah, exactly. How I keep on keepin’ on. It’s been a hard time losing all the people that I lost in my life. But I have a really solid foundation that my mother instilled in me, and my father. I try to hold on to that as much as possible. And with the love of my family, my kids and my wife, my brothers and sisters, it helps me to understand life, and to understand that you only get one. God has blessed me. God is still working on me.
Q. Was it your decision to open the movie with that scene of your buddy getting murdered?
A. That began what I call [the things that] strengthen me — losing my grandmother, and my friend coming to my aid, to try to uplift me, [to] try to forget about the loss of my grandmother. And then for him to be killed that same day was just, like, piling on thick. It was piling on thick in my life. It taught me about loss really, really early in my life, and I had to learn how to cope.
A. Bobbi Kristina Serenity House is a safe haven for domestic violence. Men and women are affected by this. We’re building homes for them to have a place to come get themselves out of the situation they’re in. Find a safe haven for them to get themselves together, to learn how to live without someone who is domestically violating you. And how to move on. We’re really working hard at this, and we appreciate anything people can bring to the table. We’re really happy that people are supporting this, and I know my daughter would be proud.
Q. In the latest issue of Boston magazine there’s a nice story about how New Edition hasn’t gotten quite the same recognition as the other huge pop and rock bands from Boston — Aerosmith or the Cars, or New Kids on the Block. Do you feel like your band deserves more recognition?
A. Well, we look at it sometimes, but for us, the longevity part is everything. We have fans from 35 years ago that have shown their kids the movie, and now their kids are fans. To us, it will come in due time. We’re not rushing to be the biggest band that ever came out of Boston. We were kids. Aerosmith, they were grown-ass men. New Kids probably got more recognition than we did. But at the same time, those are our friends. We all respect each other, we talk to each other. And there’s no animosity about who’s better.
Q. The boy bands that came after New Kids, to what extent have any of those guys said, hey, thanks for paving the way for us?
A. Um, we’ve gotten it from some of the groups [laughs]. Some of the groups really can’t help but pay homage to New Edition. Us being the first boy band since the Jacksons, it is what it is. There’s no doubting who we are and what we meant to the field of entertaining, and to music. We don’t go around looking for compliments. If they want to make a show where the boy bands battle, hands down, we would win.
Q. When Bruno Mars came out with “Finesse,” I thought maybe new jack swing was about to have a comeback. But it didn’t really happen. It would have been welcome.
A. I totally agree. What Bruno Mars did was, he brought music back to the forefront. There’s so many rappers got a hit record right now, but come two months from now, you won’t even remember their names. Lil Weezy, or Lil Kermit. It’s all the same style. So, it’s like, great, let’s bring this music stuff back, so we can have fun. And I’m glad to say it is coming back. Bruno’s not the only one that’s been thinking about it, you know.
Q. The famous $1.87 check. Did you cash it or keep it?
A. [Laughs] You know what, I don’t know what happened to that check. I think my mother ripped it up and threw it at the people that were handling us. That’s neither here nor there. We didn’t get into the business just for money. We got into the business because we love entertainment. We love being onstage. We love seeing the reactions from people. We’re just grateful to still be here, and give people what we love to do.
THE BOBBY BROWN STORY
Starring Woody McClain, Gabrielle Dennis, Mekhi Phifer, Laz Alonso, Lance Gross. On BET, Sept. 4-5 at 9 p.m.