His latest project is “Unsupervised” (Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on FX), where he keeps it real as the voice of Darius, a character he bases on a childhood friend from Brooklyn. Despite an impressive TV and movie CV going back about 15 years, Malco has never considered himself part of the Hollywood elite, and while he maintains a home there, he has recently moved back to New York City.
Last week, we invited Romany Malco to be a guest on “The Mike & Mike Show” on Kiss 94.5.
Dow: You’re in a unique position. You no longer have to audition for roles and can pretty much take your pick of what’s offered to you. What made you decide to say “yes” to “Unsupervised?”
Malco: The only reason I ever take a job is because the script is just rockin’. When I read the script for “Unsupervised,” I genuinely laughed out loud. Usually when you read something in a Japanese bath house, it’s very difficult not to offend someone when you’re laughing out loud.
Dow: (laughing) Do you record your parts alone or with the rest of the cast?
Malco: I’m in the sound booth by myself, but I’m almost literally dying from laughter when I do my parts. It’s an hysterical show. I might have David Hornsby (voice of Joel) on the other side of the glass reading to me. I feel like these kids in “Unsupervised” – they’re from the other side of the tracks. It’s very easy for me to create that world.
Dow: As Conrad on “Weeds,” you and Mary-Louise Parker had such a great chemistry. Man, I miss you on that show. Have you kept in touch with the cast since you left?
Malco: Yes I do. I reached out to Mary-Louise three days ago just to catch up. I still have a place in Redondo Beach near LA, and Kevin Nealon (Doug Wilson) is a neighbor and Andy Milder (Dean Hodes) lives nearby. I did three seasons on “Weeds” (2005-2008). You know how it goes. As soon as a brother hops in bed with a white girl, they kick him off the show. Whatever! (laughing).
Dow: One of the great things about “Weeds” is the cliff-hanger. I always say “There is NO WAY they can get out of this.” As an actor, did you have that reaction when the scripts would come down?
Malco: Oh, all the time! I’d even go up to the writer’s room and say, “I want to give you guys a round of applause because you have just written yourself into a corner and if you can write yourself out, lunch is on me.” I would read the screenplay as a fan. A lot of times, I was just like the audience saying, “What the hell is going to happen now?” Then they’d write some clever way out and I’d love it!
Dow: What would be your ultimate dream job?
Malco: Other than what I’m doing right now, the only thing that comes to mind is fishing professionally for a living. I’d like to be a fishing guide, taking people out on the water to experience what it’s like to net fish into a boat. I love that – I’d like to fish every day. Maine is actually on my list of places to hit for awesome fishing trips. I’m telling you right now. If you are listening to this on the radio and you are a fishing guide – I mean a REAL fishing guide, I want to go to your website, see your catches and see the trips that you’ve had – hit me up on Twitter or on Facebook. I am dead serious. I will track you down and I will get on a boat with you.Dow: When you’re working with Judd Apatow, how much room does he give you to improvise? Many of your scenes in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” seem so real and unscripted.
Malco: Judd is the king of that. He would let us be off-the-cuff but he also had a good ear for when things were really funny. We were giving each other ideas – it was really collaborative. Steve (Carrel) and I would bounce off each other, and Judd would say, “OK, that was funny, do that again!” With Judd, you’re shooting over a million feet of film. For most people that’s like three movies. We would get to experiment a lot and he only keeps the great moments. Cheesy as it sounds, that’s an actor’s dream.
Dow: Name a person that you look at and say, “That’s the kind of person I want to be.”
Malco: Oh my God, that’s such a great question. I like those people who don’t give a damn. You’re going to laugh, but I look at people like Jim Morrison and I go, “OK, whatever. Flawed as ever. Talented as ever,” but I like that freedom of being just who I am. My issues are available and on the table for you to critique and point the finger, but I don’t care. He seemed to be one of those people.
(Note: Shortly after our interview, Malco posed this question on his Facebook page, and after reconsidering his answer, he selected Charles Barkley. He wrote “Even in his prime, Sir Charles refused to be a poster boy. I aspire to that kind of freedom.”)
Dow: Some people are surprised when they find out that you were involved in music first. (Romany was part of the group College Boyz. Signed to Virgin Records, they had a #2 rap hit with “Victim of the Ghetto.” In 1990, Romany did the raps for MC Skat Kat in “Opposites Attract” with Paula Abdul). Is it true that you got into acting almost by accident?
Malco: In a way, music did lead to acting for me. I quit music and started an internet business, and then John Leguizamo came into my life because of music I had done years before. In College Boyz, we had a dream - “I’m going to California and I’m going to have a hit record” - and that’s exactly what we did. When you go balls to the wall and the dream comes true, something clicks in your head that gives you confidence in everything else that you do. To be honest, I was never a thug, and being a thug was becoming the thing back then. It didn’t feel authentic to me to aspire to being a thug or being ignorant.
Dow: You recently moved back to New York City. I’ve spoken with actors and musicians in Hollywood who have told me that it’s almost impossible to live a completely normal life there. They told me they have to leave that place sometimes just to regain some sense of normalcy in their life. Have you found that to be true?
Malco: It’s 100 percent true. Let me tell you, I’m not knocking this place. This place is lovely, but the truth is, it’s like “The Twilight Zone” in that you’re on the clock 24/7. Here’s my analogy of living in Los Angeles. When most people go to work and they are with their peers, they modify their behavior. They do that because there is a certain etiquette you have when you are in a work environment. In Los Angeles, anywhere you go, you’re at work. Your opinion, your political stance, your religious stance - all of it is on display, and if you are a recognizable person in the film industry, it’s amplified. Out here, if you are in a restaurant and you let it slip that you’re a Republican or you let it slip that you’re a Democrat, depending on who hears it, that could mean the difference between your kid going to public school or private school. You can be denied a job or an opportunity just because you have an opposing religious or political view.
Dow: And I’m guessing that’s a much different environment from the one you grew up in.
Malco: I grew up in a working class environment like the kids on “Unsupervised.” I grew up fighting in the streets. I remember being on the set of “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and the other actors were talking about fights. None of them had ever been in a fight before. They asked me, “How many fights have you been in?” I started counting in my head and they were like, “Damn, if you’ve gotta count, forget it.” And then I remembered I had literally pulled over on the freeway and had a fight the night before. (laughing) It was up to me for me and my brother to eat. I was the legal guardian for my younger brother by the time I was 18. Mike, I didn’t have Hollywood parents or show parents – it was the real world. A lot of the humor is based on characters that I grew up around. I feel 80 to 90 percent more normal being back in New York where I grew up. It’s like the cultural center of America. If I run into fans here, they just keep it moving. They’re like, “That’s some good s*** you’re doing, son!” and then they’re gone.