Story by Stereo Williams
Images by DeWayne Rogers
Romany Malco has quietly become one of the more high-profile black comedic actors in mainstream Hollywood. The former rapper made the leap to acting in the late 1990s after encouragement from fellow New York native John Leguizamo, whom Malco worked with on the 1997 film The Pest. Malco broke through with his turn as the obnoxious Jay in Judd Apatow’s 2005 hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and for the next few years, he could be seen alongside other A-list funnymen like Will Ferrell (Blades of Glory) and Mike Myers (The Love Guru). But a funny thing happened as Malco was climbing the Hollywood comedy ladder.
“I’m a brother who has been fortunate,” says Malco. “I started out mainstream and then literally made a conscious decision, like ‘I don’t have that core black audience on my side.’ And then I literally started looking for projects to get involved in. I had never been hired by a black production [company] until Will [Packer] was gracious enough to hire me, and that changed a lot.”
Packer is the co-founder of Rainforest Films, one of the most successful black-owned production studios. And the film Packer brought to Malco was 2012’s Think Like a Man. The romantic-comedy featured a majority black cast that included Kevin Hart, Meagan Good and Michael Ealy and was a sleeper hit that year. Now, as Think Like a Man Too gets set to hit theaters, Malco is grateful for the bonds that have been forged between he and his cast mates.
“I felt more comfortable with the cast because prior to [the first film], I really had only known Kevin, Meagan [Good] and Regina Hall,” he explains. “I’ve become friends with pretty much everybody on set and we’ve been friends ever since. People usually go to Vegas to bond, but we showed up bonded.”
With so much success in comedic films, one would think that Malco worries about becoming pigeonholed as a comedy star. While he acknowledges that he can do more than just make people laugh, he refuses to become angry when he enjoys what he does so much. “I could create a story about why it should piss me off. But I’m too grateful for everything that I’ve done. I love my job. And I get to work with cool people,” he says, before adding, “I don’t worry because it’s too late! They already do [laughs]. No one can pronounce my name. My name is ‘The Black Guy From 40-Year-Old Virgin.’ Before I could worry about [pigeonholing], it had already happened. Because of that, people don’t know that I can do dramatic roles or whatever. Because if I do indie, the demographic that goes to see 40-Year-Old Virgin probably won’t see that indie film. “
Malco’s professional background isn’t limited to acting. Having served in the military and pursued a musical career, he knows a life beyond just headshots and read-throughs.
“What kept me grounded was I didn’t start acting until I was 30, so it’s not all that I know,” explains Malco. “I’m very lucky to have these patterns of success throughout my life in different areas. So it doesn’t feel like this is my only shot. I really think that because of that, I feel confident that if I were to venture off into something different or aspire to different things, I’ll be successful.”
Malco is not one to fret too much over perceptions — be it the narrow-minded casting directors or hypercritical audiences. “For me, I never want anyone outside of my immediate family and outside of me to have the power to alter the way that I walk, talk, shop or date,” he says. “When you start feeding off of that outside acceptance and accolades, you lose sight of what’s actually real. Once you get there, it’s kind of hard to double back. “