In `G,' Royo is far from `The Wire'

September 19, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Andre Royo knows he's a lucky man. In a way, that's the problem.

Royo, familiar to Baltimoreans as the hard-luck drug addict Bubbles on HBO's The Wire, stars with Richard T. Jones and Blair Underwood in G, an African-American take on The Great Gatsby that opened in theaters last week. Royo plays Tre, an enterprising journalist whose beautiful cousin once was linked to musician Summer G -- a connection Tre exploits to tragic ends.

But what makes Royo consider himself lucky is not his rising prominence on both the big and small screens. Instead, it's the type of role he gets to play in G, a role far removed from the drug pushers, pimps and trash-talkers who typically constitute the dramatis personae of African-American cinema.

"It's the type of movie where I don't look that bad, I wasn't going to jail or coming from jail or being in jail," Royo, 37, says with a laugh. "My grandma was very happy."

Royo's tone is light, but his concern is genuine. Films like G, in which African-American actors play successful businessmen instead of people on the fringes, are far too rare, he says.

"You don't see black people be really successful in the movies," he says. "But in G, you've got one guy who's a businessman and very successful, Blair Underwood, and you've got another guy who's a hip-hop mogul and very successful (Jones). It wasn't a movie about selling drugs. ... It was like a big version of The Cosby Show or The Jeffersons, where these guys are making money, they establish themselves, and now they're celebrating their success. I thought that was fantastic. I thought that was a good look for us, and I wanted to be part of it."

G opened last weekend in Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., Memphis, Tenn., and Washington before going into wider release next month. Royo says African-Americans should flock to see films of this sort -- movies firmly grounded in the black middle and upper classes -- if only to deliver a clear message to the decision-makers at the major Hollywood studios. G is being distributed through a company formed by producer Andrew Lauren, son of fashion designer Ralph Lauren.

"Studios don't believe in or don't know how to promote a movie like this," Royo says. "They say they can't promote a movie like this because audiences won't come, but audiences won't come because they're not used to seeing a movie like that. It's an ongoing circle. A few people have to come out and make a movie, and not worry about being paid, not worry about seeing a big check, but just worry about changing the ideas of a culture or of a generation."

Royo understands that his own career to some extent has depended upon stereotypes. As Bubbles in The Wire, he portrays a drug addict and occasional police informer who's unable to escape the streets. In the apocalyptic final shot of the series' third season, Bubbles is seen mentoring a fellow addict on the vagaries of surviving the mean streets.

"Black people in general, they ask me sometimes, `How can you play this role?' But it's either this role, or I play that stereotypical black guy working at McDonald's, or working as a waiter, or selling drugs. I don't want to do that. I'm going to play this role. I'm going to make it as human as possible, and then I'm going to move on."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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