Calling Aliyah Royale an “old soul” is low-hanging fruit. She simply exudes a maturity uncommon in your average 20-year-old. Your average 20-year-old has also not worked with the likes of Matthew Cherry and Ava DuVernay. Your average 20-year-old is not handed the keys to one of TV’s most beloved, longest running franchises. Aliyah Royale is clearly anything but average.
Pure Fandom had the opportunity to speak with Aliyah Royale about her leading role in AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond and more.
PURE FANDOM: Let’s talk about The Walking Dead: World Beyond. You’re playing Iris Bennet. What was it like landing that role and what excites you about your character?ALIYAH ROYALE: It was a very different process than any audition I’ve ever had. It was extremely quick. I had auditioned on a Wednesday or Thursday. I flew to New York to test the next day and chemistry read with (Alexa Mansour). She had already been cast. I flew back to LA that Sunday and the next day I got the call that I got [the role]. Two days later, I was literally on the ground, in Virginia, shooting. So, it was like a week from the audition to [filming].
I was excited to play Iris because of the way she was written. I only had [notes] and they weren’t from the actual script. [They had to] keep the project under wraps. It was a pretty big deal having another spin-off of The Walking Dead. In the [notes] the character wasn’t even named Iris yet. She was in a Student Council meeting because she is class president, playing the whole political game. The meeting ends, everyone leaves the classroom be her, and she turns and sobs. That one scene: having to do that in the audition and chemistry read, going from happy-go-lucky and transform into mental breakdown. It was an awesome challenge. I thought, “wow, it’s possible that young people, young women can be going through the absolute most, but for all you know, they are handling their business”. The chance to play someone like that is the opportunity of a lifetime.
You were just 10-years-old when The Walking Dead first premiered. Did you have any level of relationship with the show growing up?
I had a [vicarious] relationship. My two older brothers loved the series and have always adored it since it came out. Anything with blood and guts and gore, they are all in for. I, on the other hand, have always been afraid of the walking dead. That’s the one creature/monster that scares me, so 10-year-old me stayed far away from The Walking Dead – which is crazy now!
I’m guessing you did not bring that up during your audition (laughs).
You’re right! I did tell my manager, though. It was funny. I didn’t think that I’d get the job, so when I went on the audition I was thinking, “this will be a fun one”. I put no pressure on myself to get it. Why would I get this? I’m afraid of “walkers”. The moment that they called me asking, “can you be in New York tomorrow?”, I was on the phone with my manager. “I think I need to tell you something”. [My manager said], “you better keep that secret in until the end of the shoot”.
That’s hilarious! “Walker” fear aside, what is it like taking the reigns of such a popular, long-running franchise? Do you feel any pressure now?
I wasn’t feeling pressure then; I feel like there would be more pressure living up to the comic book. Because our show doesn’t have any blueprint for these characters, there was a freedom in crafting them how we wanted. I started feeling pressure once it aired. It’s very different from the other The Walking Dead series. You do have your walker/slayer moments of course, but the story is more about the characters. I always define it as the scariest part of the apocalypse is not the walkers, it’s the people that are very much alive. But it came out, and I’m feeling great!
So, for many people, this may be their first introduction to you. Our more fashion-forward fandom may recognize you as a child designer from Project Runway: Threads. When did you start designing clothes?
Oh my god! I started designing clothes probably at 10. Every Christmas I asked for a sketchbook; something [in which] I could draw and create clothes. One day I actually started to get the needle and thread and pick up actual sewing skills, and it just kept going. I auditioned for Project Runway, and I think I had the personality for it. I had to bring in several of the pieces I actually made and the rest is history.
Are you still designing or sketching now between projects today?
I have gotten more into lookbooks and creating outfits that way. Recently, I haven’t put my pen to paper as much. I know that given the opportunity to collaborate with a major fashion house, I’d be right back in it. I constantly have that kind of creativity flowing through me at all times. The opportunity to work with a Chanel, or Tom Ford, I’d put a line out like that!
So you’re an actress, fashion designer, and I understand that you’re also a philanthropist. Can you talk about what causes you are currently invested in? What brings them close to your heart?
I’m currently working on what my own foundation looks like. It would focus specifically on single moms. My mother was a single mother. Most of the women around me that I admire are/were single mothers. I learned that there were a lot of opportunities and housing programs that for one reason or another they could not qualify for. I want to make opportunities for access for these women. You shouldn’t feel like you’re at a disadvantage by being a single mom. I want to invest in that community. What’s available to single moms and their children in regards to living a better, healthier lifestyle is not up to par. That’s where my heart is thanks to my mom.
I’m also close to at risk youth. It’s always been about the kids. At church, I always served in children’s ministry. Working with babies and children – there is something special in my heart about it. [In] my series before this (The Red Line) I’m playing an adopted child and in World Beyond I’m playing an adopted child. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence to me, it feels like a calling. I have a lot more plans that I can’t talk about right now, but in the near future, I hope to be able to discuss these programs publicly.
Very nice. We’ll be on the lookout. A bit of a pivot, I hear that you are a movie buff. What is your favorite movie?
No… no, no, no, no… [laughter] how dare you?!
Okay, lighter question, what is your favorite genre?
Old Hollywood. Easily, Old Hollywood. Most of the films I love that are not form the 50’s or 60’s are from like… the 90’s, and that’s it. There are films that I love regardless, but the films that I can watch over and over again and still feel the same emotions are definitely form the Golden Age of Hollywood. I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Scarlet Pimpernel… if it’s black and white, that’s [for] me!
Very cool! Very different as well.
Yeah! One that I recently watched all the way through for the first time was Carmen Jones. What a beautiful Black story – all of these people of color, the costumes, the set design – I love that film.
Given the combination of things such as your early career success and your movie taste, have you ever been told you have an “old soul”?
More times than I could ever count. It’s a blessing and a curse; a blessing because you are able to see outside of yourself and your current circumstances. It’s a curse because it’s lonely sometimes. I’m 20, and I think about life like I’m 60. It’s an interesting dynamic, but I am blessed regardless.
This has been a lot of fun. Thank you for your time, best of luck on your future endeavors, and I hope World Beyond has an amazing season.
Thank you so much!
Do not let the “old soul” fool you. Aliyah Royale has a youthful, joyful exuberance that walks hand in hand with the poise and maturity. She is positioning herself to be Hollywood’s next “big name” and looks to use that influence to give back to communities in need. All this, in spite of a fear of her own show. That is some real Black Girl Magic!
Watch Aliyah Royale in The Walking Dead: World Beyond Sunday nights on AMC.