"I still will be on a show or do a guest spot or do a line and
the director will look at me and I can tell from his look he's like,
"yeah that was good, but can you be a little blacker. Can you
give me that mean black look?" They try to word it differently
now, but that's already gonna be there. Is it hard to take,
sometimes? You know how it is when you wake up on the wrong side of
the bed? Sometimes it's hard to take, sometimes it's not. Like I
said, it's the ignorance of the other person and it all depends on
what side of the bed I woke up on."
- So it all started in the Bronx for you right?
Royo - Well I guess being born there, I guess that's where
everything starts. That's where I sat down and watch my dad look
at TV and that was the only time I would see him smile is
watching TV. So I knew I wanted to be a part of anything that
could make him smile. That's what got me interested in the whole
entertainment thing. I didn't know whether it would be acting, a
comedian, producing or directing. I didn't know any of that at
that age. But you know when I went to my first acting class, I
fell in love with the whole aspect of there being a place where
you can practice and be on stage and be the center of attention.
I'm an only child so being the center of attention is something
that I always loved.
- Now I read how you felt that growing up you feared that you
would be a fuck up all your life, what did you mean by that?
Royo - Going to high school, I was constantly in trouble just
running around just being the class clown and you know anybody
that came to our high school as far as job fairs and all that
was cops, military or small businesses and all that kind of
bored me. Most of the teachers were like "you know half of
you kids when you gradate you know half of you will be dead, the
other half will be in jail and whoever is around better figure
it out." I was like "well I don't know what to do
because I don't like any of the jobs that you keep bringing into
the job fair." Unless you're an athlete, they never really
give you a step by step on how to succeed if you want to do
something in the entertainment world. You just thought that was
something that happened by luck and you had to be discovered or
somebody had to find you. So with that in mind it just seemed
like I was destined to be you know in trouble or just doing some
silly stuff. I was never really into the street game so I'm not
talking about selling drugs or anything like that. I'm just
talking about just a real basic boring 9 to 5, alcoholic type
situation and just stressed out about where the road took me.
All the grown ups around me kept saying that I have no
discipline, I'm too silly, I don't know when to grow up. So they
was just always surrounding me with negatives that I wasn't
gonna amount to anything. In the Bronx we weren't really
educated that you could really achieve in the entertainment
world by your own work ethic. Like I said you had to be
discovered. So I just thought I wouldn't really amount to
anything at that point in high school.
- When did that feeling change for you?
Royo - I went to college in Florida. I went to this small
college in West Palm Beach. It was like an automotive college
with a lot of rich white people with automotive dealerships and
it got me very competitive. It got me very aggressive you know
to see these people born into money, not having a problem, not
really focusing or thinking about anything. Living the same type
of lifestyle I'm living you know being silly, being unfocused
but with no problem because they got money in their pocket. It
just made me get a attitude that "you know what, I could do
whatever I want to do. Money is out there and nothing is really
etched in stone and nothing is really dictated. It's up to you
to make it happen," and I think then I started really
honing in on what type of person I am and how I am perceived by
my peers. A lot of my friends always saw me funny, always found
me engaging, always wanted me to tell stories and tell jokes or
what have you. So my true friends made me feel like there is
something about me that people just want to be around and talk
to so I need to turn that into some sort of career and I really
started concentrating on advertising. I wanted to be in
advertising and sell products and stuff like that and come up
with like commercials and stuff. I would always do that for like
small projects, I would do commercials where I would be in it
and a couple of teachers in college were like, "you should
try the acting" and I was like "well I don't know the
means of how to start." They would give me insight and tell
me there is schools out there and then when I got back to New
York I went to acting class.
- So you knew immediately after your first acting class that
this was the right career for you?
Royo - Yeah. Once I stepped on stage and did a scene in front of
other actors and heard their criticisms and heard their
accolades, it was something that I felt that I was at home with.
Like "this is it, this is what I wanna do for now. This is
something that I feel that I need to get out." The teachers
would always pull me aside and say "you know I need to work
on this, that or this" but their is something there that
you shouldn't take for granted and you know hearing shit like
that and you know you only got one life to live, you go for it
or hopefully people do. Once somebody you respect pulls you
aside and tells you that "you got something don't waste
it," you've got to step up to the plate.
- After the acting classes did you map out a plan or what were
you thinking of doing?
Royo - You know a lot of people come up to me and ask me you
know "how could I make it in acting" and you don't
really realize until you are in it that there are no rules. I
could say that you know "you've got to go to acting classes
and study and that somebody can be a superstar off of a
Polaroid" or I could say "just go and start sending in
head shots" and it might never happen. There are no rules.
The only thing you've got to do is align yourself with some good
people that trust and believe in you and don't make you feel
like you're wasting your time. So no, I didn't have a plan, I
was just enjoying the moment. It wasn't really like "okay
I'm gonna do this and I'm gonna do that." I was in acting
classes and we all go together and said "let's put up a
play." Then we started putting up plays and we started
inviting people to them. I was doing construction, waiting
tables and all that and it didn't bother me because I would come
home, go to my theatre and put up plays and stuff. Once we
started inviting people to plays you know certain people would
stop in. You know a couple of agents had stopped in and said
"hey, you got something, why don't you send me a head
shot" so I got my head shots done. It was just like baby
steps and all of a sudden I got some extra work on "Law
& Order" and "New York Undercover." You know
the steady grind, people just liking you and liking your
persistence. You know when somebody like Samuel Jackson or
Morgan Freeman who I used to see when I used to work at this
bar, when they give you information like, "why don't you
show up here" or "why don't you try to get extra work
on 'Law & Order'" or "why don't you try and do
this and that," you know you don't want to see those people
like 10 years later and ask them the same questions. They want
to see that you are listening and you're making moves and
following through on information that they give you. I always
tell my peoples, "once you start getting on TV, all your
people come" and rightfully so, they come and say "you
know how can I do that? How can we benefit? I've got a
script," and I give them advice. I say "give me the
script, give me 120 pages in like 4 months and then we will take
it to the next level. If I see you in like 4 months and you say
'yo I'm still working on it,' then you are wasting a lot of
energy and then I'm feeling like you are taking this thing for
granted because it's not easy." It's very hard to be broke
at 25 or 26 years old and doing theatre. You've really got to
have a strong mind state because you walk around with the wrong
people at 25 or 26 years old with no money in your pocket, they
can make you feel like shit. You walk around with the right
people that are like "yo don't even worry about it I got
you, I can pay for this, you just keep focused," those are
the type of friends you need to have around you because they
don't make you feel useless or like your chasing a dream. We are
all chasing a dream somehow, someway, somewhat we are all
chasing but it's those who stay focused and find different ways
to flip it that get there.
- I hear you on that…
Royo - I remember I was doing street promotions for Uptown
Records and that was the first time I was introduced to the
whole CD's and free CD's thing. You know when you work at the
record company you get free CD's, you go to another record
company and you trade off CD's for their CD's. I was like
"oh I will never buy a CD again if it's like this." I
had a closet full of CD's that I had to give away as part of the
marketing and when I was doing that, I was being naive because
everybody was telling me then "yo man you want to get in
this music video you wanna do that music video." I was like
"nah, nah, I'm not a rapper, I'm not a singer, I'm focused
on the acting." Who knew that that business would coincide
with acting and now all the singers and rappers are making
movies? So you never know the right way or the wrong way. All
you've got to do is stay focused and if it's meant to be, it's
meant to be. You just have to be prepared and make sure that
when the window of opportunity opens and you never know where it
is gonna come from or when it's gonna come, the only thing
you've got to do is believe in it and be prepared. If I was
sitting on my ass not doing anything you know like not working
on monologues or not practicing my speech, if I wasn't doing
those things, when the opportunities did come, like somebody
saying "there is an audition for this movie, why don't you
go check it out," I wouldn't have got the part. You just
have to be prepared for anything.
- Did you really struggle a lot early on in your career?
Royo - Oh yeah. I decided to take acting seriously I would say
at like the age of 21. I was working construction at the time
making like 23 or 24 dollars an hour. It was cement labor and
life was good. Your talking about $1500 a week after taxes and I
was born in '68 so we are talking early 90's so the money was
right. But one day this old Polish guy came up to me and said
like "yo your dad said you want to be an actor and you are
out here doing construction?" He said "yo by the time
you are 40, you are gonna wake up and your time will have
passed. You are gonna have money and great benefits, but you are
gonna be a construction worker, that's what you gonna be."
So I was like "alright" so I quit. So when I quit
doing construction and then had no money, you know how that
goes. When you have no money and you walk around in your 20's
with no money in your pocket? Yeah I suffered, it was no fun.
But like I said I surrounded myself with friends that stepped up
and made me feel like I was doing it for a purpose and they
never made me feel like a freeloader. If I didn't have no money
for food and I was hanging out with them, they took care of me.
It was more of a mental struggle. You don't like walking around
with no money and being in clubs with no cash. You ain't really
feeling sexy trying to talk to some girl and you can't really
take them out the way you want to take them out. So it was more
of a mental struggle. It was never really a physical struggle
like living in the streets or nothing like that., But you know
you go home to your mom and dad and you know your mom and dad
really worked hard to get you in a good school. You don't like
looking at them and not having a plan or just telling them that
"yeah I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna make it" because
they worry and they look at you like "well why don't you
try getting a government job or something" and you keep
telling them no to everything but you still but you're still
sleeping in their house. You know after a while that's a mental
burden that starts to eat away at your confidence, at your
self-esteem. So it was more that type of struggle.
- I'm sure most actors and artists can understand what it's like
to go through those type situations…
Royo - Yeah. Then I started doing theatre and theatre was fun.
It wasn't a lot of money but I started doing theatre with this
lovely lady who is now my wife and you know she was a worker.
She was the one working in the restaurant and I was the one
cleaning the house or playing Playstation with my boys and after
a while and that became a burden because you looking like a
sucka because you got this woman working and you are in the
house smoking weed and hanging out with your boys talking about
"yeah I'm waiting for an audition." That became an
issue and once she said she was pregnant, playtime was over.
That was I guess the real fire because in theatre I was kind of
content. I love theatre and I was doing theatre for a while, but
once you hear "I'm pregnant" you realize that theatre
money is not as good as it needs to be. That's when I went to
L.A. and got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card finally and
that's when I came back to New York. After I got my SAG card it
was like "ok I'm not looking for independent rolls no more,
I need and agent and a manager." So once I got my manager
that's when the doors opened and all my preparations and all my
confidence really was key. Because when you get a manager or an
agent and you are kind of older then they want you to be uh,
because Hollywood wants you to be 18. They love 18-year-old
stars because they can build a franchise off of that person. If
you're in your 20's the lane is crowded and you've got to go in
to auditions, and you have to book the first 2 off of the bat.
Even if they are small parts you've just got to book them
because that shows your manager that you are hungry and that you
got something and they will keep sending you out. If you don't
book the first 2 or 3, you go on the shelf and they only think
about you sometimes, so I was real animated about "okay
whatever you send me out on, I know I just got my SAG card, I
know I'm new, I know you got a lot of clients, but I promise you
that if you send me out, I will book." She said
"alright I will give you a shot" and sent me out to
"Law & Order" for like a co-star roll. I had like
maybe 4 lines. I went in there and there was a whole bunch of
people and I wasn't really considered a black actor. I'm half
Spanish and half black and for some reason when I would go in
and audition you know they would be like "well you know you
are not really black, black." You know they wanted the wise
nose, dark skin, real thug looking dudes at that time. As for
Spanish roles, I wasn't really Spanish because they wanted a
Italian looking muthafucka.
- How did it feel to be told that you weren't "Black"
enough or "Spanish" enough?
Royo - At the time hearing it, it hurts and you feel confused.
You go into hurt and you go into anger later. The first thing
you feel is just confused like "what the fuck?" What
are you talking about? Luckily for my ego I just always
perceived that the person telling me this was an asshole. I
didn't take it as an insult like "oh I need to do something
to my face" or "I need to get darker," I just
took it as looking at the person like "you're an
asshole" and then you get upset because you've got a bunch
of assholes that kind of in your way. They got the key to bring
you into the next door so you know you get frustrated but just
keep movin' along. I can't get too mad because like I said you
had a whole bunch of Spanish actors out there back in the day
who looked at, and I loved "Scarface" but you got a
bunch of actors from back in the day who looked at all that and
would go, "its all Italian people, why are Italian people
playing Spanish?" But that's the way it was. At the end of
the day though, only a black person can play Black. For Spanish
people they will get anybody to play that. They have white
people playing Indians you know? They've been doing it for
years. You can't go into this business and then say you know,
"I hate the business for its racism." You know it's
there, I mean it's all over. You go in this business and you
hope that you can knock down a couple of doors, change a couple
of minds and everybody will do their part. So I wasn't naive to
the fact that it was gonna be a problem. So once you put that in
your back pocket, you keep it moving.
- How much of the Robert Townsend movie "Hollywood
Shuffle" would you say was fiction and how much would you
say was non-fiction?
Royo - All that was exactly the truth. Everything about that
whole movie was true. It was a little exaggerated but only for
the humor and I think Robert Townsend is a very good director
and writer as far as giving you the understanding and giving you
a message without banging you over the head with it. He didn't
want to hit you over the head with shit that we already know.
Muthafucka, the black community, more so then any other
community does not like going home or to the movies to see about
shit that they are living. They want to be entertained, they
want to get a little escape. They don't wanna really be hit with
the same shit they live out when they walk out that door. So all
that shit that he wrote about was 100 percent true. You can ask
any comedian when they write their stuff, 75 percent of it is
the truth but they got to exaggerate so they don't hurt nobody's
feeling or they've got to exaggerate so they don't make you go
jump off of a building. All that was true I recognized when I
started in acting. I still recognize it now. I still will be on
a show or do a guest spot or do a line and the director will
look at me and I can tell from his look he's like, "yeah
that was good, but can you be a little blacker. Can you give me
that mean black look?" They try to word it differently now,
but that's already gonna be there.
- Even though I'm sure an actor can say that they get used to
it, but can you really, really ever get used to it?
Royo - Used to it maybe is the wrong word. I don't know. Is it
hard to take, sometimes? You know how it is when you wake up on
the wrong side of the bed? Sometimes it's hard to take,
sometimes it's not. Like I said, it's the ignorance of the other
person and it all depends on what side of the bed I woke up on.
- It seems like the music and acting industry are the same from
how you are speaking on things.
Royo - It's that whole entertainment world. We are still doing
the same thing, entertaining the white people. So that's just
the whole business. You can't walk into entertainment and say
"its gonna be racist free." They dictate whether you
are entertaining them or not. If they don't find you
entertaining no more, you don't get no more movie roles. It's
there and I think we as minorities understand the power that we
have within ourselves as far as creating goes. We've been able
to create more ourselves, but once we start creating more
ourselves and get to a certain point, they come in and take it
to the next level and get a piece of it. You know Hip-Hop music
was our form of entertainment. We were doing that in the streets
and behind doors to entertain ourselves, but once it got to a
certain popularity, you know white people came in and made it
into a business.
- How many of your first roles were positive roles or roles that
you were happy to play?
Royo - As a minority, I don't know if any of my roles were
positive. My roles were what I need to do to uh, I was just
happy to be working and get the worried look off of my mom and
dads face. I was happy that my boys that always supported me
could see me on the big screen. They were all happy. My first
studio film was "Shaft" with Samuel Jackson. The role
inside the movie you know it was silly stuff, you know snitching
and talking to the cops, selling drugs, going to jail, and
coming out of jail. It was all the same. There was certain
truths to those, you know there are black people going to jail,
there are black drug dealers and snitches so it wasn't like it
was a made up thing. It was what it was but you know the means
justified the ends as well man. I was happy to be working and
everybody around me was happy to see me working and that was
- So when you got offered the part playing a junkie on "The
Wire," how did you feel about that?
sure to check back with us real soon as we bring you Part II of
our Interview with Actor Andre Royo From HBO's Critically
Acclaimed series The Wire.
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