Malco, whom we profiled last month on S&A, started in the industry as a music producer and rapper in the group College Boyz. He’s also had a successful internet business for over a decade. The savvy social media entrepreneur can be seen in the on-going hilarious web series as alter-ego Tijuana Jackson, an ex-convict turned motivational speaker. The series have made their presence felt online; Tijuana was brought to television in 2011’s HBO Presents: Funny or Die.
Malco started his career in film with roles in the 2001 low-budget comedy flick The Chateau, playing the adopted brother of Paul Rudd’s character, and as MC Hammer that same year in a VH1 telepic about the entertainer. Malco, whose family roots are in Trinidad and Venezuela, went on to star in several supporting roles in films such as Blades of Glory, The Love Guru, Baby Mama, The Prime Gig and Saint John of Las Vegas. He also starred as George St. Cloud in the 2011 ABC one-hour drama No Ordinary Family.
I had the pleasure to chat on the phone with the candid and magnetic Romany for almost an hour; he talked about his role in Think Like A Man, the industry, how he picks his projects, his web series and much more.
S&A: Congratulations on the success of Think Like A Man! Tell us how you got involved.
RM: James Lopez over at Screen Gems, who came from the music side of things, was instrumental in the marketing and promotion of Takers, and that movie ended up making double the expectations. He did such a good job on that project that Clint Culpepper offered him a job, and the next year, the first project he signed on for was this one [Think Like A Man]. He [Lopez] was like, “Do you know who would bring a whole new twist to this? Romany Malco, we should get him on.” Clint was like, “Who the hell is Romany Malco?” And the rest was history. Then of course, Tim Story, the director, was also interested in hiring me. Then I had one meeting with Will Packer. He and I were just really shooting the shit; that translated into Will being like this is the guy. I’m pretty ashamed of 80% of that conversation because we talked about love, relationships and dating [laughs].
[James] Lopez, [Will] Packer and Clint [Culpepper] gave me a big role; but in the world of urban film, I’m really no name. I’m aware that my predominant audience are males 17-44 and White females 25-65 because of 40-Year-Old-Virgin; so for them to take a risk on a brother like that? If I were in their shoes, would I have done that? They gave me the opportunity and I had no doubt in my mind I would enjoy myself and do my best. But I never get to see the magic of the work until after. I’m usually so psychologically involved in the character that I don’t notice what’s going on around me.
S&A: How did you approach the role of Zeke, the “player” in Think Like A Man?
RM: For me, I always try to get as personal as I can with the characters that I play, which is a reason why I don’t play a lot of characters. I like to be challenged and stay true to my archetype. That’s something I don’t admit of being like in real life and I don’t have to be. I always try to understand what would lead an individual to being that way, to being oblivious to the fact that he’s somewhat insensitive and scared of commitment, and that psychological journey, and what traumas may have occurred in this person’s childhood to bring him to that point. I try to understand his parents and how he attracts the same dynamic that creates a bigger hurt from point on. Rather than working through it, he decides to stay clear from commitment.
S&A: It must’ve been hilarious working with the cast.
RM: It was. Kevin Hart and I have a rapport ever since working on 40-Year-Old Virgin. We’ve been looking at projects to work on together. I feel comfortable working with people who are secure in themselves and confident in what they do, and Kevin, Michael Ealy, Taraji, Gabrielle, Jerry etcera, everyone was really great.
S&A: I don’t know how you guys were able to keep a straight face in a lot of the scenes.
RM: Well we don’t; that’s what’s great about editing.
S&A: How did you get started into acting?
RM: John Leguizamo asked me to audition for The Pest. He said, “Man, you’re funny as hell;” so I auditioned for The Pest. Wendy Kirkland, that casting agent referred me to the producer, who called me back six times, but I didn’t get the job. They feared my inexperience could cost extra days of shooting. But Kirkland pretty much told everyone that I was one of her favorite auditions of all times. Then eight, nine months later go by and my phone is ringing off the hook. All These casting agents were calling me; I didn’t realize at the time it was pilot season. That was pretty much the beginning of my career.
S&A: How challenging was it to star in your first film roles?
RM: The Chateuand the MC Hammer movie were demanding in different ways. As a first time actor, having to improvise opposite Paul Rudd [The Chateau], then to have to learn MC Hammer steps and MC Hammer likeness, there was never any down time. I would just go home and rehearse my dance moves over and over, and I broke my ankle on the first day!
S&A: What kind of roles are you looking forward to playing?
RM: I’d love to do things outside of the typical; everybody is like, “You have to do a cop movie,” so here comes the cop screenplays, or here comes every single romantic comedy in the history of rom-coms. I have the appetite to do different roles that have different backdrops. I’d like to show that there’s more to people sitting in cars for reasons other than being police officers. I’d like to change the depictions of life, love, and adventure under what’s known as the typical, overused backdrop of Hollywood.
S&A: At S&A we talk a lot about the state of Black cinema and the so called burden of representation for Black actors; are you concerned with those?
RM: I didn’t choose this film [Think Like A Man] to be in a Black film. I read the script and I was like, oh! It’s universal story, and a story I could sink my teeth into; literally, that was it. Ever since 40-Year-Old Virgin, I get considered for a lot of stuff, but it’s redundant, meaning I’ve played it before, or I ask myself: what does the protagonist learn? What’s the lesson at the end of film? If I don’t have that, I don’t do them.
Ultimately, I’m a Black man. To some degree, Black cinema is wherever I go.
We as Black people have so many experiences that are so unique. I lived in Paris, England, Texas, Toronto. I’ve spent time in Japan. We have experiences like families all across the world.I visited a family in Japan, and I’ve watched the husband and wife. I’m letting you know right now, if they’re not a Black couple, I don’t know what is [laughs].
I come from the best era of film I believe; when people where taking chances on films. It’s time for us to bring more truth to the story and not necessarily carry a torch for every Black person in America; just tell a story, and a good one too. The moment a brother says, “I got a script,” I want to read it because I want to give a brother a shot; I can’t help it. I’m reading your script not because I got two hours to blow, but because I’m rooting for you. And it pisses me off that, for example, it’s about this neighborhood gang and about being true to the crew. No! It’s like, why do we do that when we have some of the most colorful existances on the planet?
S&A: How hard is it to find work? Are you auditioning?
RM: I don’t drive an Escalade; I’ve never lived on a mansion; I live in a townhouse. Even with my internet business, when I was making just shy of a million and a half a year, I lived in the same house. I’m interested in experiences. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to work. I want to work when I’m inspired. For my lifestyle, I believe in living 10 times below my means. As a result of that, I have the luxury of working only when I’m inspired.
Thank God, I haven’t really been auditioning. For me is about finding quality work versus finding work. I get a considerable amount of offers everyday. It’s extremely difficult to come across quality material. It’s a competitive world. Most studio films, a third of the funding comes from overseas, markets like France, Germany what have you. Now, why are these markets putting money on these films? Because they know for the price that they’re paying, they’re going to be able to market that film to their audience and make money off of it. So, they’re only going to put money on it if the film has the kinds of names that their audience in these places will respond to.
With the exception of like Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, supposedly Blacks don’t do well overseas. So that’s why when you look at Hollywood, you feel like a minority in film because Hollywood is running out of money and in order to keep geetting a third financed, you have to rely on overseas funding, and in order to do that, you have to get recognizable names.
S&A: What do you feel the overseas reception for Think Like A Man will be like?
RM: One of two things is going to happen. It will be difficult if people can’t get past their prejudices; I don’t mean Black and White; I mean people automatically assume because a film has a predominantly Black cast, that it is a particular quality of film. There are a lot of people who resisted seeing the movie and who saw it on the 2nd week, and I’m glad they did. The other side of that is a huge, warm reception because there’s a lot of buzz surrounding it, and it’s about time. I truthfully belive it’s a universal project, and I wouldn’t have been involved if it wasn’t.
I realize I’m not going to get the roles intended to become big overseas. In the event that this film does well overseas, we’re opening doors for casts of African Americans to continue to do well.
S&A: What’s next for you?
RM: The project I’m most excited about right now is Romany Meets His Friends. It’s a deal with a Google affiliate called Alchemy Networks, and I’m going to go online and land in, for example, Little Rock, Arkansas, and the minute I get there I’m getting a rental car, a bicycle and a pair of rollerblades. I’m contacting the people in my social network; I’m humanizing the social network, and it’s a race against time because I have a certain time to get to as many people as I can and spend time with them, and show how much I know about them. At the end of the race, the person I think it’s the most deserving, that most needed it, I take the money that I’ve earned and donate it to that person.
I’m taking the indie filmmaker’s approach to building my career and that approach is developing a relationship with the fans. I don’t want every fan; I’m interested in fans interested in quality work, authentic archetype depictions. That’s what I’m interested in. So, it’s a longer road. I don’t get immediate hits like those who you consider my peers, and that’s ok. It’s a slower more suitable process for artists like myself, who can get a chance to be here for a long time.
S&A: You’re probably getting much more recognition and opportunities now since Think Like A Man.
RM: What’s ruined my life, not really, I’m kidding. What’s really changed my life are 40-Year-Old Virgin and Think Like A Man, [the latter] which had this impact in a way that I never experienced before; where I went from being the funny Black guy from 40-Year-Old to being Romany Malco.
This is my first role where I get to like chase the girl in such a fleshed out story. A lot of times I don’t give films a chance because I don’t see they’re an authentic depiction of Black love. That’s why this film touched me and I said, I can relate to that; it was real. My goal in life is to bring to the screen really believable depictions that make you think, “Damn, I have to look within myself.”