Actor Romany Malco may be best known for his roles in film and television comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Weeds. But Malco has created his own franchise in Tijuana Jackson, a foul-mouthed ex-con turned motivational speaker, whom he’s portrayed in a series of online videos as well as on stage. Malco’s also known for his fearlessness in addressing social issues, which he discusses in the following interview, along with his latest film — Think Like a Man Too — opening in theaters everywhere today.
Nerdist: Unlike many of Think Like a Man Too‘s characters, your character straddles both the serious and comedic sides of the film.
Romany Malco: More than anything my character reflects probably the most mainstream relationship of all. And when I say mainstream… it’s the most common issue most of us have – determining when it’s time to commit or continuing to live your frat boy existence. Determining who’s the right person to commit to, when is it just for fun, when is the person worth it, and what makes it worth it. Having to figure out all of those things I think is probably the most universal concern of most people, and for whatever reason The Player seems to be the guy that treads on most of those.
N: Do you find your character easy to relate to because he is so universal?
RM: Yeah, I do. I really really do. When I did the first film, I was surprised how much like me the character actually was. And in this go round I actually feel quite similarly. If you’ve seen the film, the character actually has evolved quite a bit. As you get older and more mature, you begin to realize that people are people. All these safeguards that you’ve established just kind of fall by the wayside. That’s what’s happening in this scenario.
N: Your character is partnered with Meagan Good’s character. Like yourself, she has a huge number of comedy fans, even more so after her performance in Anchorman 2.
RM: The thing about Meagan is… I don’t know how to explain it, but she’s very feminine and soft and thoughtful, and for whatever reason whenever I upset her, or whenever I feel like she’s upset in our film, I really feel like she’s upset. Because she’s such a butterfly in read life, you can’t help but take it personally when you think she’s hurt or upset. I take things a lot more personally with Meagan, in working with her. We did a breakup scene and I literally walked around for a day feeling like I’d been dumped. Working with her is awesome. She’s so off the beaten path. I swear to God, it’s so refreshing.
N: Speaking of going off the beaten path… Think Like a Man was based on unusual source material, in that Steve Harvey’s book didn’t have a narrative structure. And Think Like a Man Too isn’t based on a book at all. Did that make the shoot an even more liberating experience?
RM: We definitely piece the series together as we go along. That’s what makes this series so good – rather than coming in with a preconceived notion of what the story is going to be, we really work off the chemistry that’s created on the set, usually on the fly. The writers give us a great template to work from, and then they come back and say, “Now, we give you the liberty to do whatever you want.” I think there’s something to that. Speaking for myself, I’ve never really felt handcuffed to the storyline or any type of format. I’ve always felt the freedom to do whatever. One of my most prominent scenes was made up the night before.
N: When I visited the Las Vegas set last year, I noticed how much you guys enjoyed cracking each other up. Were there any standout moments in that regard?
RM: I haven’t seen the movie, and I can guarantee this will make the outtakes… There’s this one scene where all I had to do was deliver one line. But Kevin Hart is standing next to me playing drunk. Oh my God… [Laughs] I couldn’t get that line out, because I was laughing so hard at his antics. He wasn’t even saying a word. That’s what’s so awesome about Kevin – he doesn’t even have to be funny, and he’s one of the few people I’ve met who’s even funnier in person. That was the standout moment, and it’s not even that eventful.
N: What else are you working on now?
RM: I finally wrote my own movie, and I’ve finally raised the money to film it, and we’re in the midst of casting. But it’s too soon to talk about it, only because we haven’t confirmed our deals yet… We’ve been doing a Tijuana Jackson movie in collaboration with quite a few people. With a great team of financiers and writers, and we’re actually doing our first Tijuana Jackson movie. It’s the reason fans have been like, “Where are you?” I’ve been busting my ass to deliver the finest Tijuana Jackson movie possible. Tijuana Jackson is my passion. We completed a one-man show and we’re starting to workshop it. Another thing I’ve been doing is, through the Young Man’s Initiative in New York, I’ve been working on a high school curriculum that aims to empower consumers. Those are the things that I’m working on.
N: Having read your your impassioned letter in The Huffington Post to Trayvon Martin sympathizers last summer, it’s clear that social issues mean a great deal to you. Would you ever considering running for public office?
RM: My girlfriend’s father is a delegate in Baltimore, and I began to understand how the White House is a complete misrepresentation of the politicians who actually care, who are on the ground and doing things. The more I came to understand that… It’s funny you bring that up, because the curriculum I’ve been putting together actually is kind of breaking down what a lot of activists have begun to do – completely bypass the government. In this country, what people have to realize is the division of the country between Democrat and Republican is really irrelevant ultimately. If you want something done, you have to go to the boss – and the bosses are the corporations. The bosses are the titans of industry. I’m putting together a curriculum that helps people to see things through that paradigm… You have to go directly to the source. Politics have proven themselves to be an ineffective approach to any kind of change. That’s not an attack on any party or politician. The truth is, the corporations call the shots. So why not ask the corporations? Why not demand it of them?
N: Going back to Think Like a Man Too – what do you think accounts for the phenomenal success of this franchise?
RM: I think that there are a few things. Everyone loves a good fairy tale. But it’s very rare that you get a fairy tale told from the perspective of men – and a very, very funny man at the forefront, Kevin Hart. And this cast happens to be a team of really good storytellers. You can put a script in front of someone and they’ll execute it to the best of their ability, but some people just add something different and make it more relatable. We just happen to have a cast of good storytellers and a great director [Tim Story]. The other thing is there was a certain amount of integrity that came with the first story. After establishing that integrity, people are giving us the benefit of the doubt in the next go round.
N: Can you see where your character could go in a third film? Would you be up for that?
RM: Of course. I’ve never been part of a franchise before. It’s a rare opportunity. I would definitely be interested. The second one tested higher than the first one. And let’s be honest – a film with so many honest depictions of relationships, all wrapped into one movie, is rare. Just being a part of something so different, I’d gladly do another one.
N: The second one takes place in Vegas. Where would you like a third one to take place?
RM: I’d love to film the next one in Milan. [Laughs] Since we’re going all out, that would be great.
Think Like a Man Too hits theaters today.