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Interview: Actor Andre Royo talks ‘Aftermath’

Monica Keena (left) and Andre Royo (right)
Monica Keena (left) and Andre Royo (right)
Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment, used with permission

Actor Andre Royo recently spoke to the Chico Movie Examiner about his new film, “Aftermath,” which releases to limited theaters and VOD this Friday, July 18. Royo is best known for his work as Bubbles in the HBO drama, “The Wire,” as well as his supporting roles in films such as “Super” and “The Spectacular Now.”

Along with Royo, the movie also stars Edward Furlong; Monica Keena; William Baldwin; and C.J. Thomason. A nuclear apocalypse has broken out, and a group of nine strangers find themselves seeking shelter in a cellar in rural Texas. Trapped in this cellar, waiting for a response from the government via their weak-signaled radio, the survivors confront each day with fear in their eyes, as they face the threats of radiation poisoning; dwindling supplies; and zombie-like refugees that lurk around outside.

Royo talks about his role as Rob – one of the survivors – and how filming gave each actor a claustrophobic feeling. Royo also reveals where he would go to seek shelter if the apocalypse happened today and how, even though he has established himself as a great actor, there are still some casting directors who don’t consider him to be “black enough” or “Latino enough.” Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: A lot of the film takes place in a cellar, which gives the viewer a sense of claustrophobia, and they have the same questions the characters have, which is, “How long are we going to last?” and “Are we going to come out of this alive?” When you were filming this, did you also get a sense of claustrophobia?

Andre Royo: Hell, yeah. [laughs] I actually did.

What was it? We’re talking about back in 2009. I don’t know what happened, but, at some point, we were in New Orleans, and it got really cold; it was freezing. I don’t think anybody was prepared for it, for all of us to have all of these space heaters in there pointing heat. And, now, we’re on the set in this basement, fighting over the heat coming from the heating lamps. It was one of those things that, for me, helped all of the actors out.

We were sitting there and leaning on each other. Some of us worked together, [and] some of us were dating. It was one of those things where it was like doing black box theater. Sometimes, it was good; sometimes it was bad. Sometimes, we were feeding off each other; sometimes, we wanted to be left alone. When it worked, it worked. When it didn’t work, the director yelled, “Cut!” [laughs]

It was one of those things where we were definitely living in the moment. Art was imitating life at that time.

DW: Your character doesn’t come in until around the 45-minute mark. Do you think the claustrophobic feeling impacted Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, and the other actors more than it did you?

AR: That’s a question for them. If you’ve ever been on a movie set, you’re walking from one part of the area to the next. I was in my little trailer, which is just as tight [as the cellar], waiting for my scene to come up. [laughs]

I think we all – just me, individually – I think we all did the work. And I think we all were coming from an outside area – I mean, our characters come from outside. For my character, I was huddled up somewhere, trying to hide from all the crazy. And I came in yelling and screaming that they were killing people out there, so I was huddled up somewhere else. I think the claustrophobic feeling was more than just the basement; it was the idea that there was nowhere else to go.

It was more of an emotional and spiritual feeling that darkness surrounded you, and it’s all over. I think that had an impact on us all.

DW: All of these characters have lost so much in their lives because of this nuclear apocalypse, and what they have in the cellar is all they have left. For your character, what were some of the things you had to think about in order to channel the emotions and the feeling of having lost basically everything?

AR: Wow. You know, again, you’re talking back then in 2009. I was probably just thinking about death. I think when, every single day it comes down to it, we’re OK. I don’t need to be yelling and screaming and having an attitude about material things. But at the end of the day, it really starts coming down to just family and loved ones.

You could lose anything. But once you start realizing that you’re alone, or that there’s people around you that do really care about you dying, that’s when you really start to trip out and start having that internal dialogue with yourself of, “Should I care anymore? Should I start killing people, too?”

I think all of us have a good person and a bad person within ourselves that are fighting all of the time. And whoever is winning in that moment, or for that duration, that person, or that entity, is the one that makes that choice for what we do. And I just remember being in that situation of the headspace of, “Who am I right now, and what choice am I going to make right now? What emotion is going to work the strongest to make me go into action?”

DW: After playing this character, was there anything that made you change the way you see or do things in your real life now?

AR: Yeah. I guess the only thing, because you have to have some sense of… we’re all intimate in social media and so many channels. We’re all being exposed and educated to how frail everything really is and how anything can just go at any moment. And I think, with that said, you look to yourself. And I have to enjoy or project some kind of goodness every day. I think after that and after doing shows like “The Wire,” I think I’ve been more impacted by a lot of different things that I’ve done.

Just really, really take the time out to care about somebody that you don’t know, to care about something, and take into account how lucky we are to be here and try to preserve it as best as we can. It’s so great to see now – I’m 45 – to see certain things and how people’s perspectives have changed. Being a vegetarian was ridiculous back in the day; that was some weird thing. Or being smart was kind of corny back in the day, but, now, being smart is sexy.

People seem to be trying to – in my small circle, at least – be green and be more conscious of what we’re doing and how destructive we are just in nature, and trying to curb that. I guess I’ve been more conscious and not reeling in the humane, destructive pattern.

DW: Brad goes to Jonathan’s because they’re neighbors, and Jonathan’s is one of the few places that has a cellar in their town. If the apocalypse were to happen right now, where would be the place that you would go to seek shelter? Who do you know that has a good place for the apocalypse?

AR: That’s a good question. I’m in L.A., and I’m from the Bronx. Being in L.A., there are a lot of hills. And, personally, I don’t know anybody with a basement. All of my people are not on top of the hill; we’re at the bottom of the hill. [laughs]

Where would I go? I’m going to have to say one of my best friends, Mack and Liliana Hernandez; I’m the godfather to their son. They have a great place in Pasadena.

I don’t know if I would look for safety first or family first. And I think I have to go with family first; that’s closer to me. So, I might go to his house, or I might just take that drive to Las Vegas and be with my mom and dad and just live out whatever little time we have left with my mom and dad. It started there, so it should end there. Who knows what happens in Vegas? Vegas, anything can happen. [laughs]

You know? That’s the one. I’ll go to Vegas to be with my mom and dad. [laughs]

DW: I was looking at an interview that you did back in 2008, and you were talking about how when you first started out, some casting directors said that you weren’t “black enough” or “Latino enough” for certain roles. With you establishing yourself and becoming this great actor in “The Wire” and all of the films you’ve done, is that still an issue to this day?

AR: Yep. It’s still an issue if you look at period pieces and stuff like that, like “12 Years a Slave.” I’m respected more, and I’ll get in the room a lot easier. But I have my own pigeonhole. I’m usually going into jail, coming out of jail, or being in jail. They want me to stay high. We all have our own little boxes that we have to fight out of.

But, as far as the racial aspect, luckily, nowadays, there are a lot more movies being made, so there will be some casting directors who will say, “He’s black enough for me. He might not be black enough for you, but he’s black enough for me.” Because I do more, I got a better shot. But those things still do exist, yes.

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