If you’re a fan of one of the greatest shows ever made, The Wire, then you’ll absolutely know Andre Royo.
For 5 seasons he made viewers laugh and cry with his portrayal of ‘Bubbles’. Fans of the show, Fringe, also know him as cab driver ‘Henry’ who helps ‘Olivia’ (played by Anna Torv) in the parallel universe.
I talked to Andre in a conference call about his role as ‘Henry’, his advice to actors and yes, The Wire.
What keeps challenging you about playing Henry?
Andre Royo: Fringe is such a great show. It’s a thriller. It’s Sci-Fi. It’s suspense and there is even a lot of humor. I think with Henry, the mysteriousness of why he’s helping Olivia out and what’s going on with himself, what demons is he facing, I like to layer up so many different little nuances and not give away anything at the same time. I guess I just enjoy the complexity of his character and the show itself.
What do you like best about playing Henry?
Andre: Coming from a show like The Wire, it feels real good to be clean and sober and just dealing with the mysteriousness. Fringe is such a mysterious type of show. Even when you know the script, even when you’re involved in it, there’s such a tone of mystery that surrounds the show that it’s kind of exciting to see if you can keep that tone within your scene, for yourself, the actors and the audience. I like the intense mystery of the show.
How it is working with Anna?
Andre: Anna, first of all she’s a great looking woman. The chemistry that we— Being stuck in a cab with her for a whole 18-hour day shoot is a great feeling. I really enjoy the chemistry. I really enjoy her work ethic. She really gets into her character. She really commits to what we’re trying to do with the scene. I like being around other actors who really want to put in the work and do their job.
You’re a recurring character. Since the show so intricate, do you feel like you have to pay more attention to the episodes that you aren’t in so when you return you can hit the ground running?
Andre: At first I did. At first I thought let me really do my homework and check out all the episodes and make sure I get a sense. But really, what works for me is you just want to get a sense of the tone of the show. The tone of the show and its mystery is what drives the show along for me. I think not knowing everything just gives Henry much more of a foundation of shock and surprise. This character, he knows what’s going on in his world, but that’s where he lives. I don’t like knowing too much because I like reading the script like a fan, too, when I get it and be like, “Oh, wow, let me see how I’m going to do this.” It keeps it fresh for me.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to pursue acting?
Andre: This is going to sound corny, but it’s like a bad bootleg Nike ad, but just do it. There’s no real formula. I could say go to school for 10 years or 20 years and then the person gets discovered in an ice cream parlor, like they used to say back in the day. Just commit to that idea of just going for it and not thinking about fame, not thinking about money, not thinking about other people and their success or other people and those who are not successful scare you. We all have our own individual paths. If you’re going to do it, you’ve just got to clear your head, think positive and just go for it.
Then at the end of it, just align yourself with people that believe that you’re going to make it. I think the worst thing for most actors is a support group. When I was not working, that was a harder time. Being twenty-something years old with no money in your pocket is not cool. My friends could have been like, “Yo, you need to get a job,” or, “Yo, you need to give that up,” but most of my friends that were close to me were, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll happen. I’ve got you on this,” or, “ I’ll this time for you to get in the club because you’ve got to pay for your head shots.” When you’ve got that support group, it kind of helps you strengthen your goals. If they believe in you just as much as you believe in you it gives you a little bit of extra power to go for it.
What are the main differences between filming something like The Wire, which is small and intimate, to filming Fringe?
Andre: The two main differences were my outlook because The Wire was such a huge cast and because we were based in Baltimore, the city itself was a major part of the show. My character was in a different mind space, but I think what David Simon did for the cast of The Wire, which helped us out, was within our scene he made sure that there were people that were real-life in the scene with you. Like for the drug dealers, we had ex drug dealers in the scene playing little parts. You kind of felt their heat of these people looking at you like you better get it right. When I did a scene, there were real junkies or people dealing with what Bubbles was dealing with within the scene with me. I felt their energy like I’m looking at you and if you have any sense of false or fakeness, I’m going to call you out.
In Fringe, they can’t really do that; they can’t have somebody who’s been traveling in different universes really sitting there going, “That’s not it. That’s not how it goes.” It’s much more of a fantasy-based storytelling where you’re not going to have that heavy sense of realism surrounding you. That’s like the only major difference in shooting Fringe as opposed to shooting The Wire.
As far as cast and crew, they’re the same. They’re dealing with the same type of tones and motions as far as humanity and justice. The actors are all professional and they all come to play; they all come to work.
What was it like to work with the rest of the cast? How is it coming in and then coming back to do another episode?
Andre: It was my first time shooting out in Vancouver and the cast and crew were fantastic. Coming from The Wire, just being in Baltimore, in that city, which is a major part of the show, there was always a little element of danger or a little element of grit that helped make the show what it was. In Vancouver, there’s a lot more …. It’s a nicer feel and the crew was wonderful. I guess because I’m coming from another show that was kind of successful, it was always great. When you walk in somebody else’s kitchen you could get attitude like, “Hey, this is our world. Don’t try to butt in. Just do your job and get out.” Since most of them were fans of the show, they kind of embraced me in a warm way. I was really thankful for that.
You always feel a little weird when you come to somebody else’s show especially when you’re just a guest star at first. You try to do your job and get out. You kind of feel like I can’t really connect with everybody because I’m an outsider. But, the minute I got there they really embraced me and said, “You’re not an outsider. Welcome” My man, Lance, from The Wire is there so he looked out for me and we made sure that our presence was known.
Most of The Wire and Fringe, they’re very heavy, serious dramas. I know that you’ve done a little bit of comedy, but do you have an interest in doing more comedy or do you consider yourself more of a dramatic actor?
Andre: I love comedy. There’s a certain intensity in comedy that you don’t usually see in drama. That’s my foundation. That’s where I started, but in drama, people really sit back and they kind of wait for you to take them where you want to take them. If something funny happens, it’s a surprise and it’s enjoyed and when it gets serious people are ready for whatever journey.
In comedy, their like, “Make me laugh right now. You better just make you laugh. If you don’t, you’re whacked.” That challenge I always found fantastic. You always want to challenge yourself. I want to do more comedy and I think with the drama that the humor inside me always seems to seep out. I was shocked when a lot of people came up to me and said that certain things that Bubbles did were funny. You don’t go out there trying to be funny, you’ve just got to react to a situation the way you feel a character would. I would love to do more comedy. I would love to do a lot of drama.
You know what I think? I think I love to work. I just want to keep working.