In The Mix

Body and Soul

An actor who thrives on action, Sherman Augustus counsels kindness.

Mara Reinstein
  • Lewis Tan

There's a solid chance you don't remember the 1996 sci-fi film Space Marines.

But Sherman Augustus will always consider it a game-changer. On the set, noted fight coordinator Philip Tan approached the NFL player–turned-actor and encouraged him to pursue martial arts. He heeded the advice and became a black belt. "It centered me and made me more aware of my body," he says.

More than 20 years later, Augustus performs "75 to 85 percent" of his own action scenes on the third season of AMC's post-apocalyptic martial arts drama, Into the Badlands. His Nathaniel Moon, a badass with a mechanical hand, is aligned with the fierce assassin known as The Widow (Emily Beecham). The action in the next eight episodes "is bananas," he says. "There's a new threat, and none of the main characters are safe."

Growing up in central L.A., Augustus had such severe asthma he was afraid to leave home. His parents enrolled him in flag football "to get over my illness and conquer my fears.

Playing sports injected something into me," he says. Getting off the couch (where he was glued to The Beverly Hillbillies, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Green Hornet) and competing revitalized him. He eventually made the team at Northwestern College in Minnesota and went on to play pro ball — "a brief stint, blink and you'll miss it" — for the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers.

But he'd always wanted to act, so when a knee injury sidelined him, Augustus called agent James Bridges Sr. (the father of a childhood friend) and said he was ready to get serious. The former cornerback and safety took classes. Worked with teachers. Did five years of improv. Augustus landed his first role in the 1988 Dennis Hopper–directed cop drama Colors and has worked steadily ever since, in such series as NYPD Blue, NCIS, Dexter, Bones and Westworld.

Yet he singles out his experience as "Well Dressed Black Man" in 2001's The Mexican.

"That's when I knew I'd arrived," he says, citing the film's A-listers (Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, J. K. Simmons, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg). During an off day, he learned that costar James Gandolfini had called several agents to vouch for Augustus's talent. He recalls, "Jimmy told me, 'I've watched you rehearse. You're going to make it, dude. Just stick to your guns.' It resonated."

Now he's paying the good deed forward with aspiring actors. "If someone feels pent up against the wall, I say that you must dig down and find your guts," he says. "Nobody can deny you if you know your craft and believe in your ability. And if someone else blows it? Help out."

The first half of season three of Into the Badlands is available on AMC's on-demand platforms; seasons one and two are on Netflix and iTunes.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018