Last Night: The Wire's Andre Royo Speaks at History Museum

Sep 5, 2008 at 10:09 am

Sans the nappy hair and pock-marked face, America’s best-known heroin addict was in fine form last night at the Missouri History Museum.

By Matt Kasper

Andre Royo
Andre Royo

Andre Royo
Ande Royo, a Bronx native famous for portraying the drug addict Bubbles on the HBO show The Wire, talked for close to an hour about cats of all stripes: drug dealers he grew up with in his neighborhood, script writers on the show, strong parents and the family with whom he credits with his acting success.

Filmed in Baltimore, Maryland, The Wire, an urban drama that portrays the struggles of city life -- failing schools, rising crime, sensational media, poverty and drug use -- is comparable to St. Louis' own problems.

Royo said St. Louis and Baltimore were similar in some respects.

"St. Louis feels like a city that recognizes it wants to do more" he said, explaining that in a short trip through the hood he noticed "great energy."

Although The Wire is officially over, Royo was an invited guest as part of the museum’s "Urban Stories: Reflections of History" series.

Donn Johnson, director of communications for the museum, describes the series as a way of letting people access history in the making, particularly with events and people that fuse art with urban life.

"We really want them to absorb not only what is history but what will be history," he says.

Following a brief acting highlight reel — Royo in Spike Lee’s Jesus Children of America, Royo getting a gun in his face from Samuel Jackson in Shaft, among other highlights — Tony Scott and Tammie Holland of KMJM=FM (Majic 104.9) recounted their love of the show before introducing him.

Royo then spent the next hour or so seated on stage talking to Scott and fielding questions from the audience.

In the beginning, Royo said he was nervous about accepting the role of Bubbles because he knew if it was presented in a comical or condescending manner it would make him "shunned in his own community."

Once he figured out creators David Simon and Ed Burns had everyone’s best interests at heart, namely, capturing the basic humanity of people from all rungs of the socio-economic ladder, the preparation started.

How do you prepare to be a crackhead without any personal experience?

According to Royo, making a list of all your addictions — television and Coca-Cola were big ones for him — and trying to exercise said demons over the course of six months.

He also spent time visiting people in Baltimore’s ghettos to get an eyewitness account.

"We wanted to be educating people and putting a magnifying glass on the city and community," he said.

Despite not getting much recognition from the established TV world, Royo says he started to realize the show was becoming successful when people saw him on the subway and he heard such intellectual luminaries as Cornell West talking about the show.

"This wasn’t a race story, this was a have and have-not story," he explained at one point, when an audience member asked him about the show’s ability to transcend niche appeal.

Still, without any awards to show for his five seasons on The Wire, not to mention a cast of 40 to 50 "people of color," Royo said finding quality work is difficult.

"Marlo (Stanfield) and I are doing a stint on Heroes," he said, referring to another popular actor on the show.

Royo also says he will play a surgeon in a movie about Vietnam that is in the works.

The actor spent some time in St. Louis Thursday, enough to check out its most famous landmark.

“That weird loop,” Royo said, smiling. “That thing, the arch is crazy.”

- Matt Kasper