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Andre Royo on Playing Bubbles on ‘The Wire,’ Snitching, and His Emmy Speech

Courtesy of HBO

And here you thought you’d heard the last of our breathless anticipation of The Wire. Not by a long shot! Cheerful, chatty Andre Royo, better known to fans as perennial junkie-informant Bubbles, slipped into our squad car yesterday, ready to talk, and we couldn’t resist. In our third Wire Q&A of the week, Royo discusses fan anger at the series' ending, Bubbles's tenuous fate, and the perils of appearing on Law & Order after acting in the best show on TV.

Congratulations on your last season of The Wire — though it’s sad to say congratulations.
It’s a very weird thing to say, congratulations. A lot of us actors are out of a job. I’m very happy I survived five years – I was really on the cutting edge every season. And it’s been an incredible journey, but with the Wire fans, there’s a lot of hate right now. I don’t want to make it racial, but for the [black] middle-class and the urban communities — this is our story. This is our Sopranos; this is our Six Feet Under. And the fans feel slighted, like it’s HBO’s fault or the actors’ fault. But it’s not. The story is coming to an end because that’s the way it was put together.

Why did it take so long for The Wire to gain an audience?
The urban viewers were always there. HBO couldn’t find out how many viewers we had, because when they started the Nielsen ratings with cable, you had to take them Sunday at ten and that’s it. Urban viewers aren’t watching Sunday at ten. That’s basketball.

Bubbles is a junkie, but he never loses his sense of dignity. Where did that come from?
When I got the part, I didn’t know anything about the drug game. Fran [Boyd, a former junkie and source for David Simon’s series The Corner] brought me around to a lot of her friends that are still in the life. We all see these people. We make them invisible because we don’t want to be bothered. But now that there’s one of these people in my living room every Sunday, I’m going to root for this guy!

What happens to Bubbles this season?
I’m coming out of the rehab place, clean. That was hard to paint Bubbles in that light. For the past four years, my whole job was getting high or finding a way to get high. Now, I don’t want to do either or, and it was very awkward. I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks on the screen.

Snitches or potential snitches on The Wire tend to get clipped. How is it that Bubbles, a confidential informant, has stayed alive for so long?
Being a snitch has a negative connotation in our community. I thought that might reflect on me. But Bubbles was a real-life character, he was an informant for [series producer] Ed Burns. He said that the whole neighborhood knew Bubbles was snitching, but they also knew he was a junkie and he was killing himself. What would be the point of getting a body when that person’s already killing himself? Snitching has more weight when it comes to turning on your boys, lying to your friends. If I come into a group and then I turn on my group, that’s a snitch. If I’m on the street, there’s no loyalty there. I’m just doing what I have to do to get high.

Can you give us any reassurance that Bubbles is going to survive the season?
The real Bubbles passed away. We have to hope that there’s some creative license and I might live. But who knows in the Wire saga?

Who’s your favorite character on the show?
On paper, just for having the balls to really tell the truth, I would have to say Omar. We all knew about homo thugs, but I never thought in my lifetime, I would see it portrayed on television. Baltimore is the biggest character on the show though. When I practice my Emmy speech in the mirror, I say "You’re not nominating just the show, but a city."

You’ve been on Law & Order a couple of times. Is that something you would go back to, or are you finished playing criminals?
These are trying times. I did Law & Order while on hiatus from the fourth season, and I got a lot of love — they loved The Wire. In one scene, the cops come to my house because someone is killed and I have the weapon there. While we were shooting, I saw an open hallway and I ran out. And the director yelled “Cut” and said, “We’re not as smart as The Wire. On our show, you put your hands up and get handcuffed.” As long as there’s a character I can find some meaning in, I’ll do it. But being on The Wire has made looking at other shows and other scripts a little bit more difficult.

As a viewer, what do you think of Season Five?
We’re definitely all viewers because it’s such a large cast. There’s so much I haven’t seen that I am a fan of the show. There was a lot of anticipation and a lot of fear when we first started shooting this season, because the last one was so big. I went up to Ed Burns and said, “Can we do better?” The big intellectual that he is, he said, “Better is the enemy of good. We’re not going to try to be better. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and tell a good story.”

Who do you watch with?
I watch it with my lovely wife after my daughter goes to bed. My daughter, she’s 9 years old, she can’t watch it yet. I haven’t made it in my daughter’s eyes until I’m on Nickelodeon, so I’m working on that.
—Aileen Gallagher

Earlier: Jamie Hector on Playing Marlo on ‘The Wire’ — and Keeping Secrets About ‘Heroes’
Michael K. Williams on Playing Omar on ‘The Wire,’ Discovering Snoop, and How Janet Jackson Changed His Life