Romany Malco discusses playing Darius in Unsupervised

The new FX animated series Unsupervised continues its Season 1 run Thursday, February 9 with Episode 1.04: Fires & Liars. Actor Romany Malco, who voices Darius on the show, recently held a conference call to discuss the rest of Season 1. Here's what he had to say below.

I'm a big fan of the show, a big fan of your work, and I'd love to learn more about what was your interest in the show, how you first heard about it, and was there something in there that was appealing to you personally that you wanted to give it a go? Tell me about your original interest in Unsupervised.

Romany Malco: I don't know if most actors will ever admit this, but look, I tell on myself all the time, you can just look at my timeline on Twitter and it's obvious that I tell on myself, and straight up, I've always wanted to do voice over on something. And I got to do a little bit of stuff on American Dad!, but for whatever reason I had never really landed the gig that I wanted, so when I learned that there was an offer out to me to be involved with this project instantly I wanted to know more. But when I started learning who was involved, that had a lot to do with it. And no matter what happens the track record of these gentlemen, they're just brilliant people, they really have the type of taste that I like, and honestly speaking, the game has changed so much and FX is one of the networks that is in the business of empowering their artists. They have a different business model to the business model of a lot of these different networks, and what I mean by that is FX is encouraging co-ownership of material. I call it the network that builds rock stars. They don't just throw something out and if it doesn't get the ratings that you want in the first three or four episodes, can it. They really do take time to nurture and grow an audience around the material that they use, which tells me that they get behind the stuff that they believe in. So that was another major factor. Then when I realized Justin [Long] was going to be involved, you know I'm a fan, and..., everybody involved just made me excited to be involved. And at the end of the day it was the people. Then lastly and most important, I read that pilot and was busting up. My agent read the pilot and she was busting up. My manager read the pilot and she was busting up. My dog, who's going through the Evelyn reading school thing, read most of the pilot. I'm sorry for the long, extended answer, but all of those factors had a lot to do with it. I wanted to be in business with people that are in business with FX because somewhere down the line I will be doing that type of business with FX. And it's good to learn and know the options that you have, the type of business models, and the people with entrepreneurial mind sets are the people that I'm just usually attracted to. You can take almost any job you want in Hollywood, but I'm the type of person that I want to work with a certain quality of people, a certain mindset of people, and this is giving me that opportunity. The sensibility and the humor, the relatability of the project, all of it is just awesome.

You mentioned the flavor of the show and the type of show that it is, and what I liked about it, it was not extreme in its humor like Family Guy or like South Park. It's a show that I can watch really with my family if I want to. Give me your comments on the direction of the show and the style of the show. Was that part of what got you into it?

Romany Malco: Yes, well, the truth is, I did not know really what the show looked like until after the fact. But it really looked like places that I had grown up in Texas. I lived in Baytown, Texas and I literally ran around and lived and grew up with people like these guys. But the thing that I caught on to almost instantly was, and this is going to sound really cheesy, in fact it might be one of the first things I tweeted when I started doing this show was it was nice to be a part of a show where these kids, and these kids are like burdened, oh I shouldn't use this quote but I'm going to, as my longtime friend and producer, Jon Feldman says, "These kids are burdened with optimism," and I thought it was a rare quality for shows because usually there's so much sarcasm and shock value humor in cartoons, and it's rare that you come across a couple of lead characters that are almost motivational speakers in their own right. They're looking at it from such a young and naïve perspective. And of course as you get older you become more aware that your childhood and your upbringing had a major impact on your self-esteem and your outlook on life, and as a result of that it tends to, if you allow it to, if you're not aware of it, dictate what you become in life. But these kids are still in their naïve phase and they're completely unaware of that and working so hard to do better. I live for that. I'm telling you, look at my Twitter line, look at Tijuana Jackson's Twitter line, look at my Facebook page, I live for this. Before this show ever came along I was talking and doing this just from a different perspective. So I love that about it and I love the contrast of them being in the neighborhood with 'Jojo Vanetti' and all these guys, do you know what I mean? I grew up like that and I relate to that, and even though I was a lot skinnier, I was 'Darius' in Baytown, Texas.

So what did that bleed into, for lack of a better term, your inspiration for 'Darius,' like the actual character 'Darius' was your personal upbringing and where you were from and all that stuff?

Romany Malco: I'm going to just go ahead and say it, 'Darius' is inspired by a family that I grew up with called the Greene family in Baytown, Texas. I go to Baytown for two families; for that family and my cousin, Darlene. 'Darius' is inspired by my best friends; I grew up in their house, they grew up in mine, the Greene family, in fact, Cane Greene, to be specific. It's just a certain voice and a certain perspective. I remember one time there was this guy in Baytown who was a really crazy dude and he always had negative things to say and he came up in a conversation and Cane didn't say a word, and then my cousin was like, Cane, you know who he's talking about, right? And Cane's response was this, are you ready, he said, 'Two percent, homey, two percent.' I said, 'What the hell does that mean?' He said, 'Man, people like that get about 2% of my energy, dog. That's why I ain't talking about him, 2%.' That right there is how I see 'Darius.' He tells it like it is, but he doesn't waste much time doing anything else. And I love that.

It's like the voice of reason almost.

Romany Malco: It is. And he's conscious of his shortcomings but he doesn't kill himself for it. Whereas most, at least for me, I shouldn't say most of us, but I'm like the kids, do you know what I mean, I want to fix myself. I'm like 'Gary.' I want to fix me. But Cane and 'Darius,' they're wise, and they accept who they are and leave it at that.

When you're reading the script and you're seeing the show and you're seeing these different kids and these different personalities, do you ever point them out and say, you know we didn't kick it like that when I was in school, this kid reminds me of a kid I used to know, or this guy reminds me of a neighbor I used to have? Do you have any personal experience that you're really oh, wow that looks familiar?

Romany Malco: Literally every episode. I'm lucky, I get to read opposite David all the time, David Hornsby, who's actually one of the creators of the show, I get to read opposite him, and there's always a moment where it goes silent in the booth and he's like, what is it? Is everything okay? And I'm always like, yes, this just reminds me of - and I'm telling you I had West Indian parents, I grew up in the Caribbean, I grew up in New York, and I grew up in Baytown, Texas, and the fights at the games, we had those for real. This is no joke, Baytown, Texas, there are two high schools, Lee and Sterling, and they were serious rivals, and we literally would go to games with the intention of having fights. We were that school. The dude with the patch over his eye, we had that guy. The whole 'Yo, we built a lake you've got to come down and see it,' we built that lake. I'm not exaggerating. It's so weird because I didn't grow up in Hollywood, so as a result of that I think that my references tend to come from a different place. A lot of people have this huge catalog of movies and shows and cartoons that they can reference. I don't have that. I have real life experiences. I grew up with those dudes. Anyway, I can go on and on but one for sure is we had this creek that ran behind our house and once in a while you would see life in it, and we literally did go there and intentionally shovel the bank into an area so we could create our own little pond. Now, here's what's crazy, we've even done that in New York. In New York we dug a big trench when I lived in Queens, and we dug a big trench in my yard and filled it with water and then we went to a pond in Queens, and at the time we didn't catch any fish but there were a bunch of these little tadpoles so we brought the tadpoles back and put them in the pond that we made. And I kid you not you haven't seen anything until you see these frogs hopping all over your street in Queens, mashed, people freaking out because a frog chased them to their front porch and they think a frog is chasing them, because they got cut off by a frog, I've done it all.

When we got into the call we were talking about a pilot you were writing, is there anything you're working on for 2012, anything that we can look out for? What can we expect for Romany this year?

Romany Malco: Here's what's going on, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm just going to say it anyway, let me think about it, I'm basically going out on camera to perform a show. I don't want to tell too much, but I'm going out for a show and literally meeting the people within the span of my social network, so anywhere from Facebook to Twitter to whatever, I'm actually going on the road on the tour bus and meeting with people and documenting it for a show. Yes, I'm really excited about that, because if you looked at my social network you'd get a good sense of how I engage, and it's very personal, because really I'm thinking out loud. And a lot of people would prefer not to share their private life like that, but for me it's the whole point. The people in my personal life, when I engage them I engage them on a very real level. Why wouldn't I do the same? If I could multiply my span or my outreach why wouldn't I do the same? I'm really curious on people's opinions. I grew up, like I said, in a West Indian family, a lot of my family's from the country, and I don't have that etiquette as a lot of people that was passed on from their upbringing. I don't have that etiquette. So a lot of times I can be offensive or I can be off the mark, and it's nice to learn other people's upbringing and their perspectives or culture, and so this has been an opportunity for me to do that. So now we're taking that whole thing and putting it on the tour bus and I'm actually going cross-country doing that and it is really exciting.

The nature of the episodes right now feel like they're random stories. Are we going to get into a serialized nature where we get to see 'Gary' and 'Joel' progress and maybe get more realization or less innocent?

Romany Malco: I will tell you something, I've been following it on Twitter and it's amazing how many quotes go up with the hash tag #UnsupervisedFX during the airing of these shows and throughout the week. It's amazing to me because I know for a fact that the show takes off, and when I say takes off it just hits a different level of entertainment starting on Episode 4, or is it Episode 3, Episode 4. So what I've experienced so far is this, the characters become much more refined and the relationships among the characters become much more defined, but it does not become any more serialized. It's different episodes, not continuing, it doesn't lead into the next ..., but it does have more of a...line in regards to the living conditions of the kids and the relationships that the kids have at school and amongst one another. So you get a look into each individual character's life and how the guys play into it. It gives us this feel of a continuation because you're suddenly aware of the quirks of the different characters, so once you get that opportunity to step into their personal lives, it doesn't seem like it's out of nowhere.

Will we see a bigger role for 'Darius'? Right now he's like the scene stealer and, like I said earlier, the voice of reason, but does he tend to take on a bigger role or a deeper friendship with 'Gary' and 'Joel' and maybe even 'Megan'?

Romany Malco: He sure does. Not only does he do that, but he also has a few of his own episodes. How else can I say it, I think that what happens with most shows is that you're figuring it out as you're going along, you don't know how the characters are going to mesh, you're feeling it all out, you've got to do testing to see what people are responding to, and I genuinely believe that, those guys, man, they struck a chord when they started writing 'Darius.' All I've noticed since I've been coming back is more and more and more material for 'Darius' to perform.

So, yes, he's going to have a much more in depth role starting around Episode 4. They said that 'Darius' really gets to shine, so, yes, definitely. But we're just feeling it out. My first job... they didn't know if I was going to suck at doing this thing, they didn't know if I was going to hit the right beats, and voice over is difficult, and also it's the beginning of the pilot and you've got to establish the main characters and establish them well and then you build around it. So you guys be patient. If you disappoint you can tweet me directly, man, I'll give you your viewership back.

One thing I also want to wrap up with this group of questions, is you normally are working with other actors, you get to interact with them, see their faces, see their reactions, are you reading alone or do you get to read in the booth with all the other actors?

Romany Malco: The truth is, I'm not technically reading alone, because I do read with David. I read with David almost every single episode, and sometimes I get to read with Rob (Rosell). But what it is, is they're sitting in a sound booth in LA, and I'm in New York, because I just recently moved to New York because I've been doing The Good Wife here. And I'm in New York so I don't really have anyone in the booth, which is a different experience, but I will say something about that, I think it's kind of cool. One, David and Rob know what they want so they know how to guide me along. They also encourage me to try different takes, different perspectives, we improvise together, a lot of that stuff sometimes ends up in it, sometimes it doesn't because sometimes I just stink. A lot of times I'm just asking them for lines, but the point is this, I have a reference point that I think a lot of people don't have, and that reference point is I grew up in a neighborhood and amongst people like these characters. So as a result of that there's this picture and this idea of where they are, what the room is like, what the people are like, what it smells like, what it sounds like in my head that I've had since childhood, and getting to play off of that and incorporate that into the show, I can always tell when David and Rob are really excited about that, because, first of all, they let you know. And second of all, it really does resonate as if it's coming from somewhere genuine. I guess I just sounded really arrogant right there, but you can tell. That's all I'm saying. There's a difference between a guy who talks about fighting and a guy who's been punched in the face. That's all I'm saying.

You have such an interesting career, you kind of flipped back and forth to comedy and drama and now you're doing voice over stuff. What's your advice to actors?

Romany Malco: First of all, let me just tell you this, thank you so much for acknowledging that. Thank you so much for acknowledging that. My advice to actors is, everything I tell you comes with a story, and my advice to actors is honor the stories. Honor the stories first. A lot of people will jump into work because they get to do something, or they'll jump into work because of the instant gratification of feeling like you're working and feeling like you're doing something, but the truth of the matter is I have a great agent, I have great management, but my best piece of representation comes from my body of work. And I'm beginning to believe that the patient are the ones, in the long run I believe the patient people are the ones who ultimately get to that place. I honestly thought because of the fact that I was being so picky, and not just being picky, but being an African-American who was being picky in this industry, I really...weirdest, I don't know why I thought this, and it doesn't even have anything to do with race, I just thought I was being penalized because I always would see my peers getting so much press and being in so many different things, and I couldn't bring myself to being involved in a lot of the projects that were being offered to me. And I thought that I was maybe pissing Hollywood off and executives off because I kept saying no, thank you. And over the last ten years it was kind of trying and I was tempted to get involved in projects that I wasn't really excited about. But I didn't and suddenly I'm looking at today, I'm looking at the fact that I've got Unsupervised on the air, and I'm extremely proud of it. I've been doing guest appearances on The Good Wife. I've got a movie called Think Like a Man coming out, which is my first urban film. I've got another movie coming out with Kate Hudson which is a full blown drama where I play her best friend. I'm doing a show now, an online show, and I get to go online and meet my social people in my social network face-to-face. And I don't know, man, I feel really lucky and very fortunate to basically stay true to honoring good story, and that's it, my advice to actors is to honor a good story and study.

Unsupervised, featuring Romany Malco voicing Darius, airs Thursday nights at 10:30 PM ET on FX.