Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield share the love of a hero and freedom of performance

LaKeith Stanfield told @GlennWhipp how he got his first acting role, and another intense story: 'I could outrun the spotlight from the helicopter'

2/23/2021 1:55:00 AM

LaKeith Stanfield told GlennWhipp how he got his first acting role, and another intense story: 'I could outrun the spotlight from the helicopter'

The 'Judas and the Black Messiah' actors talk about their early years, their love of the craft and their appreciation of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who is at the heart of their film.

I did. I showed up literally on the last day they were casting. I remember it was in the evening. The day was going away. “Damn, I hope he’s still here.” I’m knocking on the door, and he opened, “Yo!” “Yo!” That s—'s crazy. That’s God.Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield first worked together on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

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(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)Kaluuya:Twenty-one was a big year for me in terms of meeting myself. I was doing a play,“Sucker Punch,”at the Royal Court, where I played this boxer. I lost 42 pounds in three months — he was a lightweight — and it was the first lead role I ever had, and I got into a zone. I didn’t realize you could make work mean something. I didn’t realize it could speak to you. I knew, “Wow. This is what I’m here for,” because it was the sweet spot: When you’re in it, you want to watch it. And when you watch it, you want to be in it. And that’s been my North Star for everything. I just want to be in stuff I want to watch. At 21, that gave me an understanding of who I am.

Stanfield:That’s nothing but the facts right there. I had a similar experience with “Short Term 12.” I was not unlike the character I played, very untrusting of everybody. I kept to myself. Didn’t want to talk. Didn’t even want to eat with anybody. I was kind of damaged. I didn’t trust people in general, and I damn sure didn’t trust the white people in Hollywood. [Laughs] That’s how I was set up. It wasn’t until we finished that I got to feel like, “Wow, this s— is cool.” It was a relief. And it still feels that way. There’s not too many places you can feel completely free, but in the moments, in the performance, yeah. It’s releasing. headtopics.com

AdvertisementKaluuya:It is. At the end of that play, I was liberated. I stepped out of that validation mind-set. I had a breakdown on stage on the last scene. I had let go of giving a f—. I got to the point where I knew that if I give all of myself, that’s enough. I met that version of myself. I did not hold that version of myself, because I still performed old habits, old thoughts, old beliefs. But I realized that all the errors of my life had been holding back, not trying to get hurt. I was watching this video the other day,

. “We’re here on earth to give ‘til we’re empty.” And I met that philosophy then.Daniel and Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield star in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)Daniel, you told me once about the history textbook you found with information you weren’t learning about filled in the margins. How did you find out about Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party?

Kaluuya:Self-education is the real education in life. I believe in conversations, not classes. The stuff I was incubated in [at school] wasn’t serving me. It was telling me I wasn’t enough. It was suggesting that I was “less than.” It wasn’t even suggesting that. It was telling me that white people are “more than.” And you’re internalizing that. But I don’t believe in that in the slightest. I believe in me, bro. So if I really do believe that in myself, that I’m equal to any man or woman on this earth, then I’m going to go toward content and scriptures that speak to the finest version of myself within myself. And that’s what the

and ideas instilled within me.AdvertisementStanfield:I hated school. And the worst class for me was history, because I always thought they were lying. They were talking about a bunch of white guys in wigs and how they laid the law and the land down and created everything. I never felt connected to it. I always had a rebellious spirit anyway and thought that everything was a damn lie and that my teachers were stupider than me. [Laughs] I could have paid some more attention in some of my other classes. headtopics.com

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But I got to the age where I could do my own research, and, like Daniel said, I was attracted to certain things, and I stumbled across Fred Hampton. And I went on this whole shift. I used to be a troublemaker, running away from police, fighting, trying to get it however I thought that’s how you get it. That’s all I knew. But then I had this little shift in consciousness where I was like, “Damn.”

My brother wanted to be an astronaut, and he’d be studying all these interesting things, black holes and subatomic particles and dark matter. So I started diving into that, and it just brought me into a spiritual space, thinking about the macro and the micro and, man, just questioning everything. But I was always like that. We were raised very religiously. We were praying, and we had to close our eyes. But I would always open one eye and peek around and be like, “Wait a minute. Is this what’s really going on?” I’ve just been trying to find my own truth.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” stars Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield embrace at a recent photo shoot.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)AdvertisementLaKeith, you’ve talked about how hard it was to play O’Neal, the man who betrayed Hampton, because you had such admiration for Hampton. Yet you really give him a full humanity.

Stanfield:For a long time, I didn’t even know if I wanted to see the movie. Maybe just let that thing live, you know. Oftentimes, I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing with this character, playing him with more dimensions than just being the villain. Maybe you should just be the villain. Maybe he doesn’t deserve dimensions. But it headtopics.com

couldn’t just be a boogeyman. When I finally saw it, I was very happy, because I thought it showed Fred in a beautiful light and also might help people understand how they themselves might be aligned with a character like Bill O’Neal in more ways than they might know.

Kaluuya:I’ve got a story about LaKeith. I really haven’t told people about this. There was a scene of LaKeith driving, and the sound guy’s like, “Yo, there’s some sound on the mic. What the f— is that sound?” He’s looking everywhere, thinking he f—ed up. Then he realizes it’s LaKeith’s heart. Because in the scene, he had to get away. His heart is really beating. But that’s the level of commitment he’s showing in this. His heart’s literally in it. The sound guy had to turn s— down. That’s rare. He was all in.

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Stanfield:To be honest, man, every damn scene I was lit. I had to be in all these stressful situations. Even my damn hair started falling out. It was hard. Just everything felt intense. Every moment.AdvertisementKaluuya:The day where I felt the weight the most was the [O’Neal betrayal scene]. I walked out of the trailer, and it felt like I was on another planet. I told Shaka that day, “I just want to say something. I want to do a speech.” I was just confronted by how much Chairman Fred meant to me, and a wave of emotion came up within me. I felt really ... I was in shock. I just didn’t have any control over it. How much he loved. And we’re doing this scene on the 50th anniversary of his death. Some things are just aligned.

Stanfield:“You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” Those were his words, and they were a manifestation of what was happening. Here we were 50 years later, replicating it. He did it. And there’s going to be a whole new generation that meet his words, meet his mind, meet his love, the love that he had for these people and the love that he had for himself.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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