Born in 1984, genial actor Rob Brown instantly bypassed bit parts and supporting roles in features by debuting with a lead in a Hollywood A-lister. In 2000, Brown took his first screen bow as Jamal Wallace, a young African-American basketball player with more than a passing flair for writing who develops a surprising friendship with a crusty, agoraphobic novelist (Sean Connery) in Gus Van Sant's gentle coming-of-age drama Finding Forrester. It marked an auspicious beginning to a promising career, and an unpredictable one. With absolutely no formal acting experience, Brown attended the audition with plans to try out as an extra (allegedly because he simply wanted extra money to pay his cell phone bill) and scored the lead. In the process, the neophyte thespian beat out thousands of young hopefuls and prompted Van Sant to later reflect, "[Brown] handled himself so beautifully that I'm not sure how he did it with no previous acting experience -- not even a lesson. We were all amazed."
Brown waited five years to tackle another effort on-camera, and in the interim finished his own tenure at preparatory school in Manhattan. His sophomore outing, the gentle, sports-themed inspirational drama Coach Carter (2005), earned favorable if not unanimously positive reviews, and teamed him up with Samuel L. Jackson. Two additional features, Liz Friedlander's urban dance drama Take the Lead (2006) and Gary Fleder's period sports drama The Express (2008), both recalled Forrester with their similar tales of underdogs who far surpass the expectations thrust onto them thanks to the guidance of a visionary mentor. In 2008, Brown also appeared in Kimberly Peirce's Iraq War drama Stop-Loss in the supporiting role of Isaac "Eyeball" Butler.