As a film actor, Braugher is best known for his supporting roles in successful movies like Glory (1989), Primal Fear (1996), City of Angels (1998), Frequency (2000), Poseidon (2006), The Mist (2007), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and The Gambler (2014).
Braugher, the youngest of four children, was born July 1, 1962, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Sally, a postal worker, and Floyd Braugher, a heavy-equipment operator. He attended St. Ignatius College Prep and later graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in theater in 1984. He then attended the Juilliard School's Drama Division (Group 17: 1984–1988), graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1988.
Braugher's first film role was in the 1989 film Glory as Thomas Searles, a free, educated black man from the North who joins the first black regiment in the Union Army. He played Kojak's side-kick in the late-1980s ABC television film revival of Kojak.
He subsequently moved on to a role on the television series Homicide: Life on the Street as Detective Frank Pembleton, a self-righteous, fiery, unyielding, Jesuit-educated police detective. Playing opposite Kyle Secor (who portrayed Detective Tim Bayliss), Braugher became the series' breakout star. He received Television Critics Association awards for individual achievement in drama in 1997 and 1998. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1996 and 1998, winning in the latter year.
He left Homicide after its sixth season but returned for the reunion television film. He has also co-starred in the films City of Angels, Frequency and Poseidon.
In 1997, he was selected by People as one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World".
At New York City's Shakespeare in the Park Festival from June 18 to July 14, 1996 at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, Braugher played the title role in Henry V for which he received an Obie Award. In 2000, he played the title role as Ben Gideon in the series Gideon's Crossing, which lasted one season.
In 2002, Braugher narrated the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, produced by Unity Productions Foundation and recently re-issued.
He played Detective Marcellus Washington in the TV series Hack from 2002-2004. In 2006, Braugher starred as Nick Atwater in the mini-series Thief for FX Networks, winning a second Emmy for his performance. He portrayed General Hager in the 2007 film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Braugher appeared on the TV series House, M.D. as Dr. Nolan, a psychiatrist who helps House recover from his addiction to Vicodin. He also appeared in the TNT series Men of a Certain Age, for which he was nominated twice as Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. He also voiced the villain Darkseid in the animated film, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.
Braugher co-starred in the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Whipping Man, off-Broadway, for a limited run from January–March 2011. He narrated the introduction to the Olympic Games on NBC from 2006 to 2010, succeeding James Earl Jones in the role. Braugher also narrated James Patterson's Alex Cross book Cross Fire (2010).
He has a recurring role as defense attorney Bayard Ellis on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and appeared as the lead character, Capt. Marcus Chaplin, in ABC's military drama TV series Last Resort. He currently stars in the Golden Globe winning TV series Brooklyn Nine Nine as the precinct captain, Raymond Holt, for which he has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Braugher married Ami Brabson in 1991, an actress who later played Pembleton's wife Mary on Homicide. The couple have three sons; Michael (1992), Isaiah (1997), and John Wesley (2003). The family resides in South Orange, New Jersey. Braugher and his family are Unitarian Universalist.