Somewhere around the late summer of 2005, actor Romany Malco seemingly materialized out of nowhere to find breakout success in both “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and TV’s “Weeds,” and has continued to be a sly comedic force to be reckoned with in such films as “Blades of Glory,” “Baby Mama” and “The Love Guru.” Unlike so many of his Hollywood co-stars therein, Malco didn’t actually springboard out of stand-up or sketch comedy, and even acting came completely by accident (one could say light coercion, but more on that later). No, Malco’s showbiz path began as a young member of the hip-hop foursome the College Boyz, whose radio hit “Victim of the Ghetto” made the Billboard Hot 100 back in the early ’90s. And while we’re on the subject of rap, one of his earliest performances was in the title role of VH1’s 2001 movie “Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story.” Proper!
In writer-director Hue Rhodes’ oddball feature debut “Saint John of Las Vegas” (loosely inspired by Dante’s “Inferno”), Malco co-stars alongside Steve Buscemi, Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, John Cho and Emmanuelle Chriqui as a daunting insurance claims adjuster named Virgil. After recovering gambler John (Buscemi) joins the company to escape his demons in Vegas, Virgil takes him under his wing at their boss’ request. Together, the new partners head to Sin City to investigate a dubious claim, with their wild road trip involving a wheelchair-bound stripper, a perpetually combusting carnival worker, nude cowboys and surreal dream sequences. Malco called me to chat about the pleasures of Vegas, being the king of a male-enhancement empire, and why it’s hard to get girls when you’re MC Hammer.
The world of auto insurance sends Virgil and John on this bizarre journey. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
I worked for this company that repossessed cars. Sure enough, the day after I quit, they repossessed my car, but that would probably be my strangest job to date. You have to work your way up to become a hardcore repo man. You work in the office, process all the paperwork and learn all the codes first. You get these requests from the dealers saying what the car is, and you prepare this sheet with the scenario, who is involved, the address of the people, and where the car may be located. Then the drivers go out and can miraculously cut keys for these vehicles, or they get keys from the dealerships. They track the vehicles down, they get shot at, and the whole deal. I’m thinking, “That’s what I’m working my way up to?” [laughs]
What’s your opinion of Las Vegas: decadent playground or overrated tourist trap?
It’s a giant adult amusement park. You think Vegas, you think gambling. I’m in Vegas a lot, and rarely am I gambling, but rarely am I bored. I go to shows, I hang out in the bungalows, and I eat the best food. I had read that this one chef was frying the head and shell of the shrimp. Not the shrimp, but the shell, so I had that the last time I was there. I do a lot of shopping, relaxing, and a lot of dating in Vegas. That’s what Vegas is about. Also, research. A lot of times I’m doing these characters that you can only find in Vegas. [laughs]
And I guess I do a lot of promotion. For instance, these publicists might represent the people who own, for instance, Palms Hotel. They’re opening up a new line of condominiums and they want to create a promotion around that. They’ll put me and Bruce Willis and Serena Williams on a plane, fly us all out to give us rooms and let us try them out, and then we’ll do the red carpets and tell the people what we thought about it.
In the film, there’s a scene in which you show quite a bit of flesh. Would you ever go fully nude onscreen, perhaps for the sake of a well-timed laugh?
That’s the thing is that I don’t do things for the laugh. I do things for the story. I think the laugh is making fun of the circumstances in a good story. I would totally go “full monty” if it served the story really well. But I’m not just going to drop a towel.
“The 40 Year Old Virgin” was your big breakout, but let’s not rely on Wikipedia to tell your backstory. How did that Brooklyn-born kid from a West Indian family grow up to become an actor?
I had a grandmother who would always encourage me to learn about theater and film. My grandmother took me to see “The King and I” when I was a kid in Trinidad. My father was a complete homophobe and totally against it. He sincerely thought that anyone in entertainment was bisexual. [laughs] I never really gave it any thought.
Somewhere along the line, a guy named Timothy had gotten shot at a park we used to play at when I was living in Queens. [His friend] Mark who lived on 222nd Street wrote a rap. He was sitting on my friend’s bed, said the rap and I remember these lines: “I heard a shot / I heard a cry / I said Timmy, Timmy, Timmy / Did you have to die?” I don’t know what it was about his rap, but it literally made me hurt so bad that I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to affect people with words in that way. So rap was my destiny. I was seven at the time. After about 13 years, I ended up signing a deal with Virgin Records. I was a one-hit wonder. But I got frustrated with the music industry. I didn’t feel as though I was respecting my peers, and I no longer respected the process. I didn’t know if that was a fault of my own character disorder, or if it was manifesting within the industry itself.