‘The Wire’ star Andre Royo faces his own sobriety in Eric Bogosian’s ‘Drinking in America’
Andre Royo, a scene stealer in seminal TV series like “The Wire” and “Empire” and the recently Oscar-nominated film “To Leslie,” is tackling his most daring role to date in Audible Theater’s revival of “Drinking in America,” which opens at Minetta Lane Theater on Sunday.
The 54-year-old Bronx native yearned to return to his roots in New York City theater but had no idea how hard his first headlining Off-Broadway role would hit home.
Written in 1986 by Eric Bogosian, the one-man play centers on 12 inebriated men under the influence of everything from heroin to alcohol to power.
Working on the play is deeply personal for Royo, who is currently celebrating a year and a half of sobriety.
“Drinking has always been a part of my life, like everybody else, like when we celebrate we pop bottles, or we’re having a bad day, you have a drink. So I’m not gonna say it was always bad. But at a point, it got ahead of me,” Royo told The Daily News.
The former Shark Bar waiter took his first swig of Bacardi in his early teens. He said the isolation of COVID lockdowns had a devastating effect on him. “When I got excited about Trader Joe’s selling Meikakuna Japanese Whiskey, I knew I had a serious problem.”
The sudden and unexpected deaths of his close friends, actors Michael K. Williams and Craig “muMs” Grant, compounded the depths of darkness and isolation he described as “emotional roller coaster rides.” Royo said it led him to “get ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ for a minute,” referencing the 1995 Nicolas Cage movie about a screenwriter who moves to Sin City to drink himself to death.
The actor didn’t seek professional help for his drinking problem, and doesn’t point to one specific event that led to his decision to go sober.
“For real addicts and all that, there is no rock bottom, it is a combination of just hits that you take … It just came a moment in time when I just had to stop. I felt like I was going one direction and one direction only. And I didn’t want to go that way. I loved acting way too much to throw it all away.”
When Royo told Bogosian he wanted to find his joy on the New York stage again, the playwright suggested he star in “Drinking In America.” He was hesitant at first to take on such a “heavy lift.”
“But I said to myself, ‘I’d rather liquor and drink be a part of my art than in my liver,’” he said.
An alum of HB Studio and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, Royo’s previous stage credits include off-off-Broadway productions of “The Tempest” and special benefit Broadway productions of “The 24 Hour Plays.” His most recent theater performance was for LAByrinth Theater Company’s “A View From 151st Street” in 2007.
“I thought maybe this would be my little way to take all of the stuff I’ve been through, all the things I’ve gone through with liquor, and use it,” he said of his return to the stage. “One of the great things about being an actor is that you get to use all or most of the stuff that you go through and you have a place to put it, so it doesn’t sit inside you and start affecting you.”
“So I was like,’ I’m gonna step on stage and it will be my way of saying to alcohol, ‘Thank you for the good times and f— you for the bad times, liquor, say bravo,’ and transform it into art.”
Royo, who gained notice as crack addict Bubbles on HBO’s “The Wire,” relates to this new role in a very personal way.
“I connect to this because of how it speaks to the alienation of the modern man,” he said.
“I look at this piece and it just reminds me of all the men in my life [like] my father and my uncles and how I never saw any emotion from them,” he continued. “The only thing they projected was to be providers and protectors. I never saw my dad cry. I never saw any of them in a weak moment.
“But I saw them suffer. So it just seems to me that all of us as men, especially back then, were just locked into a stereotype that was hurting us because we just weren’t able to be vulnerable or to ask for help. We had the burden, the weight of everything that we put on ourselves, and either prevailed or buckled. So this work is in honor to my dad and my uncles and all the others to let them know that, ‘I know the s— y’all went through, and I’m sorry you couldn’t even ask for help because you thought it was unmanly.’ It is ridiculous.”