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Andre Royo: Pushing his talents to the wire

SILVER SCREEN MAN: Andre Royo in 2006 (PA)

BEST KNOWN in the UK for his role in the renowned US TV series The Wire, Andre Royo says coming to terms with his first ever lead role in the movie, Calloused Hands, was a refreshing challenge.

Screened for the first time in the UK at the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), Calloused Hands – written and directed by former Voice reporter Jesse Quinones – received rave reviews for its gritty, heart-wrenching story about a boy chasing his dream to become a Major League baseball player.

Royo, 45, plays the role of Byrd, the father of Josh (Luca Oriel); a 12-year-old mixed-race boy who is growing up in Opa Locka – Miami’s roughest neighbourhood.

A thought-provoking and at times disturbing insight into the unbalanced psyche of a parent who has missed his shot at the American Dream, Calloused Hands highlights the fine line between pushy, expectant parent and child abuse.

Talking to Life & Style, Royo explained why once he had read the script he was immediately on board with the project.

“Coming up in the States in a lot of supporting roles, you get put in a box,” he says. “I am the world’s greatest junkie right now, so the idea of playing a lead role was interesting.

“So when Jesse came up to me and said he wanted me to be the lead in a movie about his life and he told me he was abused, that was it for me – I was down. I thought it took a lot of courage. For any person to put their true life story on the big screen, out there for everybody to judge, is incredibly brave and I was in.”

He added: “The other thing that made me do it is that this is a movie about a kid being abused but it’s also about parenting and how hard it is to be a parent. I have a daughter and the idea of being a motivator or being supportive to your child is always a thin line. You never know when you are going too far."

Reflecting on that “thin line” Royo considers how the parenting techniques of those with famous children are often viewed in different ways.

“I find it interesting that we look at Serena Williams or Tiger Woods and when you hear how their parents raised their kids, because they’re successful, it’s seen that they did a good job. But when you hear about Michael Jackson’s parents, we say ‘oh, maybe they went too far’.

“I find that it’s a thin line of knowing when you have overstepped your boundaries as a parent to push your children to succeed. I thought that was an interesting area to tackle and it’s the theme throughout the film.”

Calloused Hands is inspired by the real life story of US-born Quinones, who once had his own sights set on Major League stardom. When Quinones’ mother embarked on a relationship with a man, a baseball enthusiast also called Byrd, the then seven-year-old Quinones was soon inspired to love the sport as much as the new man in his mother’s life.


ACTOR: Andre Royo stars in Calloused Hands (PA)

Byrd practiced with Quinones nearly every day, with the hope of moulding the youngster into a baseball star.

“He devoted nearly every spare minute he had taking me to batting cages, hitting me ground balls, making me run wind sprints,” Quinones recalled of his one-time stepfather.

“He instilled his dream into me, made me focus so hard on it that eventually it became my own.”

But Byrd was also an abusive man, who possessed, as Quinones describes it: “A violent and unpredictable temper that could turn on the drop of a dime.”

On bringing his story to the big screen, Quinones says: “This film is a tribute to men like Byrd; men who are tortured by the dreams that slip through their fingers, men crushed by the immense weight of the American Dream.”

Though the film features several characters, Royo says that playing the lead meant he had limited interaction with the other cast members who weren’t directly scripted in his scenes. And because of the intensity he wanted to bring to the role of Byrd, it wasn’t until the last scene was shot that he relaxed and got to know some of his fellow cast members.

Also, of the film’s sporting theme, Royo feels that although baseball is an inherently American sport, the pertinent issues around parenting in a bi-racial, multi-cultural family structure are as a much an integral part of Calloused Hands as the universal dream for sporting stardom.

Royo first gained global recognition when he featured in John Singleton’s 2000 remake of Shaft. His stock rose further when he played the part of deadbeat drug addict Bubbles in The Wire.

Still good friends with British actor Dominic West, who played lead detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, Royo says he had no idea how well received the show was until it was nominated for a BAFTA award in 2009.

“It took a while for us to realise it was a great show,” he said. “It wasn’t until the end of the fourth season that we would be walking around and people would come up to us.

“Over here in London, the BAFTA was the first award we were nominated for. We had Dominic West and Idris [Elba] telling us we had love over here [in the UK]. It was great.”

To watch the trailer for Calloused Hands visit www.callousedhandsmovie.com

Life & Style sends a huge congrats to our former colleague Jesse Quinones for taking his story to the big screen.

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