By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO
Though LA-based actress Aliyah Royale left Maryland when she was very young, she reveals she has gone back and forth to and from the area, “all my life.” The reason for her many trips was ostensibly to visit friends and family but she also has a secret agenda: the food. “I love, love, love a Maryland crab cake!” she gushed. “I don’t know how to explain to you,” she started, “the place that Old Bay has in my heart. They don’t have nearly enough in stock in the grocery stores out here.” A self-described military brat, Royale revealed she was born in Bethesda and moved to Baltimore soon after.
She started realizing certain things about herself when her family later moved to Michigan. “I loved playing characters, I loved dress-up,” she recalled. “I loved costumes and make-up. I figured out that I could play pretend for real.” The determined Royale shared this bold epiphany with her mother. “I told her, ‘I have what it takes. I’m good at this and I can make money at this.’” Her mother was convinced and the family soon moved to Los Angeles so Royale could pursue her career.
Now starring in The Walking Dead: World Beyond, the most recent spinoff from AMC’s epically popular zombie drama, The Walking Dead, Royale first came to the public’s attention in the Ava Duvernay produced CBS limited series Red Line in 2019. Royale gave a touching portrayal of a grieving adopted daughter of a man slain by police, navigating the torturous fallout of the tragedy with her surviving father. Though DuVernay’s schedule didn’t permit her to meet with Royale, she did reach out by phone. “She called me and let me know that anything I needed, she would be there,” says Royale.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond is more of a coming of age series, chronicling the often perilous exploits of a group of teens, ten years out from the onset of the zombie apocalypse. At this point, living with the endlessly walking, always hungry for human flesh zombies is a day to day reality. They are the first generation to have grown up with the deadly scourge, and their society has, if not accepted the so-called walkers (called empties in this series), have mostly adapted to them as a part of life. Royale plays Iris Bennett, the level-headed half of a pair of sisters who have lived through a series of traumas that neither has yet fully processed.
Royale has found she has certain traits in common with her formidable character. “We are both intensely loyal,” she stated, “And awfully pig headed and stubborn, but in all the right ways.”
Recalling when she first read the script, she explained, “I immediately loved the character of Iris. I love being able to play a young adult who is smart and fiery. She wants to do good things and be a part of the solution.”
“Young people are often portrayed as reckless and naive and hormone-driven,” Royale explained. She’s grateful her character, a smart, loving and courageous leader in her family and community, strays from stereotypical depictions of youth. “Iris is a real person with validated feelings and thoughts and worries. I’m thankful for that,” she emphasized.
The 20-year-old was also undaunted by the thought of starring in one of the world’s most popular sci-fi horror franchises. “It was really important to me to keep myself grounded and keep my head out of the media,” she stated. “And just play Iris as organically as I could, enjoy the ride and not think too much about where I was going.”
To say that Royale oozes confidence and assuredness would be an understatement. She is the embodiment of a self-possession uncharacteristic of most people, let alone someone her age. “I know what I want and I know what direction I’m going in.” she stated matter of factly. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t have everything figured out, because I do. Of course, life sometimes laughs in your face but that’s okay, I just try again.”
As for advice for young women her age, Royale said “It’s your story. Other people might want to edit or change a couple of lines but at the end of the day, it’s your story. Write it how you want to write it, live it how you want to live it.”