The Wire has rapidly become my cultural litmus test for people I meet.
If you’re into it, I’m with you. If you’re not, I’ll convert you. And if, heaven forbid, you’ve seen it and you’re not into it, you’re my sworn enemy. Sworn enemy. Forever, forever ever, forever ever © Andre Benjamin.
So when I learned that I would be able to interview Andre Royo, I was ecstatic. Royo’s portrayal of a drug addict named Bubbles was one of the most unidealized and haunting in any medium. To get the chance to pick his brain was a special privilege. We spoke about everything, ranging from The Wire to rap, race to poverty and politics to Omar Little.
Be warned; there are plenty spoilers below for those who haven’t watched all five seasons. Enjoy.
Words by Matthew Mundy
TSS: So what’s new, what are you working on these days?
Andre: You know, in L.A., running around. When The Wire ended, that was a lot of black people out of work, you know.
Andre: …I’m in L.A. and just trying to get the hustle going. It was a great show, got a lot of great feedback and everything. Things that make it a little difficult with all of the strikes going on and the economy being jacked up, I mean you’ve got many excuses. But you know, no Emmy Awards. As actors we’re doing it though, know what I mean, I got Heroes coming out, Criminal Minds coming, me and Ed Burns, one of the creators of the show, we’re working on things. So, the grind just never stops. It just gets a little easier, coming off The WireThe Wire, I don’t feel comfortable like I used to doing some regular show. If it ain’t gonna be hopefully up to par with what I’ve been doing with The Wire.
Andre: Just like David Simon; he doesn’t want to dumb down either. I never got into acting for the money. It was about the quality of work. That’s the fantasy (Laughs). The reality is, it is about the money and I’m hoping before my money run out, I can get on something I can be as proud of as The Wire.
TSS: For sure. Were you surprised about The Wire? You guys were just completely ignored by The Emmys, year after year. Were you surprised even in the final year that you were ignored again?
Andre: Yeah, yeah. It gets to the point… I’m not saying I feel bad, but let’s be clear. The Emmy’s aren’t alone. Golden Globes, SAG awards, all of them ignored us. It wasn’t just The Emmys. We never got nominated for a Golden Globe, never got nominated for a SAG award. The SAG awards are our peers, so all of the awards ignored us. The first two or three years you figure ‘Alright, it’s too black,’ ‘it’s too slow,’ because the qualifications for these award shows is you mail the judges one or two episodes and they look at it and decide. One or two episodes of The Wire, you’re not gonna get – if you get one or two episodes out of context, you’ll look at it and be like ‘There’s a whole lot of talking going on. And I can’t understand half of what these motherfuckers are saying.”
Andre: Know what I’m saying? In the final season, a season where there was the writer’s strike and a lot of stuff wasn’t on TV, it almost felt like it would have been insulting to nominate us and say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the best show on TV now because there’s nothing else on.’ So we took it as you know what, if we’re gonna start off strong and get a lot of street love, a lot of writers love us. It’s always great when people in the street, and journalists, you read the paper and they’re saying we got one of the best shows in American history. You feel great. You would hope, a little part of you, that would have loved to have gone to any one of those award shows, just to get the goddamn flag back.
TSS: Exactly. It does seem really absurd, because most people – well, a lot of critics – recognize it as one of the best TV shows ever. I certainly feel that way, and I know a lot of people who do feel that way. It just seems completely ridiculous that it never received the props from that on an industry level.
Andre: Yeah. Then again, it all comes down to whose running the industry. I go on sets and I do guest stars here and there. And writers, they’re the ones who were on strike this year as well, and writers love our show. They’ll sit and talk to us and be like, ‘We should be doing this, I’ll be writing this for you,’ and you kind of figure out how much power they don’t have. You feel bad, because they’re the ones who put the words on the page, and they’ll sit and talk to you for hours about how much they love the show. But they don’t have that kind of power to be like, ‘They should be nominated, or this should be out there.’ That entire cast [of The Wire] should be working right now. I don’t know who are the powers that be that really make those types of decisions, but you don’t get that show. And I’m not sure if there’s no money to be made off that type of show. You can’t call it.
Most of the actors on the show, it has been a lifelong dream to 1) Become a working actor, 2) to be on a show that is successful, and 3) for people to respect what we do. And to be on a show like this… Again, the scariest part now, is will we ever be on something that good again? Have we hit our high end, our peak right now, now that this show’s gone? Because we’ll do other shows, and we’ll bump into each other and be like, ‘Yo, did you do that movie?’ and be like, ‘Yeah, wasn’t that wack?’ or ‘That was real one dimensional.’
Andre: Everything was so lined up in a perfect line as far as the number of people of color on the show, the storyline, the characters being four or five dimensions and just being on a show that not only educated but enlightened and entertained all at the same time. It’s amazing.
TSS: 100% agreed. It was just an amazing, really unflinching look at race, and poverty, the inner city and the war on drugs. I can imagine it would be a tough show to follow up as an actor.
Andre: Yeah, exactly. Again, with that though, hopefully there were so many writers that liked the show and with the accolades that it got, hopefully more people will write about it. The scary part is a lot of people won’t write about it because it didn’t get the awards. And people will be like, ‘I loved that show, that’s a great show…but I wouldn’t do it, because it just goes unnoticed.’
Andre: Like Jay-Z won’t go back to Reasonable Doubt, because he knows the other shit makes more money (Laughs).
TSS: (Laughs) So what was it like for you personally, playing Bubbles? It was such a harrowing and truthful portrait a drug addict. And you became one of the most redeeming characters on the show as well. What was that like?