From Sterling K. Brown in "This Is Us" to MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore in "Pose," it seems that every year there’s a breakout TV performance that restores our faith in humanity. Now, it’s "The Red Line" star Aliyah Royale’s turn to bring America to tears and encourage us to be better people.
In the CBS limited series, Royale plays Jira, an adopted teenage daughter of an interracial male couple who is grieving the death of one father, an unarmed black doctor who was mistakenly shot by a white police officer during a drugstore robbery. Despite the efforts of her other father, Daniel (Noah Wyle), who is white, she realizes that she needs more family — more black family— so she begins the process of connecting with her birth mother (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
Jira embarks on a complicated journey — both beautiful and heartbreaking — in an attempt to make sense of a cruel world, all while carving out a space for her to be happy, whole and seen. Even for the most seasoned actor, this material is pretty heavy, but Royale brilliantly holds her own beside her veteran co-stars. It’s a remarkable feat considering that, aside from a few short films, this is the 19-year-old’s first major role.
But this level of confidence from Royale makes sense. At 11 years old, after acting in church plays and taking classes, Royale told her mother she wanted to move to Los Angeles and pursue her craft professionally.
“We were chilling in our Michigan home and I told my mom that I might be good at this, and she took a leap of faith,” she told NBCBLK. "Now here we are.”
Considering the few times black girlhood is portrayed on TV, Royale says she was instantly drawn to Jira because of the character’s nuance, strength and agency.
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“I immediately saw that this teenage girl had a whole lot of strength and fire, in the best way, and I wanted to play her,” Royale said.
“Just looking at that scene on the train platform [in the first episode], where she tells her father she needs her birth mother and how she needs more family is just one example of how Jira makes her own conclusions of what she needed. Not an adult, but her. This is so important because we need to see more of this.”
Royale approached this role with the same determination and maturity Jira possesses, which came from the understanding that this series was bigger than her and required her to “bare her soul.”
“As soon as I got the role, I told myself that if I’m doing this, I’m doing this correctly, which meant I was going to have to be honest,” she said. “And that’s what this subject matter deserves. So we all had to make sure we were our most vulnerable selves on set.”
Adding, “I had to bare my soul playing Jira and it became clear that it was working, because there would be times when the director would yell cut and the crew would be crying. But I knew that if this was the response we were getting on set, were going to connect with our audience.”
This idea of connecting with the audience about an epidemic of police shootings affecting black America was important to Royale, who strongly believes that, when it can, art should reflect the real world.
“Now I love every genre, from comedy to fantasy, but I think in these times of turmoil when we have a platform that can reach millions of people, we have to talk about something real,” she says.
“Especially with this show being on CBS, this is about the effect. There are people in Kansas who might not have [police brutality and corruption] on their minds, but this story is going to reach them and so many other people. There’s definitely more work we need to do, but change is possible. There’s room for it.”
And for those who are fatigued from the viral videos and the countless news stories on police brutality, Royale hopes they still tune.
“Yes, the subject matter is intense, but there are moments that tug at your heart,” she said. "This is a show about love, care and resilience. It’s about more than the tragedy and the injustice. It’s a story about hope, what happens when people come together and the possibility of us being better because we are and we can be.”
Still reeling from all the “unexpected praise” she’s received since the show’s debut in April, Royale is definitely looking forward to the future of her career, but wants to live in the moment and celebrate what the show, which runs for eight episodes, has accomplished.
“Honestly, I am just taking it one day at a time," she said. "I have a few things lined up, but my biggest thing right now is to enjoy ‘The Red Line’ and the impact it’s having and the conversations people are having because of it.”