Living A Double Life As Bubbles Wasn't Easy For The Wire's Andre Royo

HBO's "The Wire" spearheaded a new kind of drama television upon its 2002 debut, earning heaps of praise for its patient, cumulative writing and talented cast of lesser-known (at the time) actors. When series creator David Simon pitched the show to HBO's miniseries division, he envisioned a television version of The Great American Novel, writ large over a sprawling season depicting the dissolution of an American city — in this case, Baltimore, where Simon spent a year deposited with the city's homicide unit for a year leading to his Edgar Award-winning novel, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets." The show is only vaguely a cop drama; its principals include law enforcement, drug dealers, politicians, stevedores at the docks, and addicts, all illustrating (over five seasons) the colossal failure of the government-initiated war on drugs.

Far more than a simple "cops and robbers" template, "The Wire" expressed an unprecedented level of interest in its players, none of whom are exactly what they seem. One of the series' most compelling examples of this was Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins (so-named for the spit bubbles made when he's in a heroin-fueled trance), played by Andre Royo. A recovering addict, Bubbles begins the show as the sort of onscreen junkie you'd come to expect from a cop drama, but quickly reveals himself to be resourceful and empathetic with far more complexity than the old tv caricatures would previously allow. That didn't make it any easier for Royo to slip into the role, which was as taxing as it was fulfilling. Brett Martin's book "Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution" surveys the trajectory and impact of the series, and Royo gets a few words in about his experience as Bubbles.

What am I doing today? Getting high or pushing that f***ing cart?

Royo's audition for the role of Reginald Cousins was the "Fringe" star's first chance to make an impression. Cast interviews in the Season 5 DVD extras reveal that Royo showed up to his audition only to see that everyone else was chewing gum, presumably for bubble-blowing purposes. He threw his gum out to stand out, and eventually got the part. "Difficult Men" reports that while he and much of the cast were hailed as "local heroes" whenever they went off to Baltimore clubs, the on-set experience was at times a draining one:

"I'd look at Idris? Nothing but bitches outside his trailer. Dom West? Nothing but bitches. Sonja? Dudes and bitches. Me? I'd have junkies out there. They fell in love with Bubbles. I'd go into my trailer and clean my shit off and come out and they'd look at me like, 'You're not one of us. F*** you.' And then when I had the Bubbles garb back on, it'd be, 'Hey! What's up? Welcome back!' That's a head trip, man. That shit eats at you. [By the third season,] I was drinking. I was depressed. I'd look at scripts like, 'What am I doing today? Getting high or pushing that f***ing cart?'"

Separating one's self from the complex men they portray day in and day out is a difficulty stars have voiced from the late James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos" to Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) of "Six Feet Under." The intimate connections between cast and character is, if nothing else, a testament to the top-down creative compact with the narrative and the people that fuel it, part of the show's lasting power.