Reading previous profiles of LaKeith Stanfield, you’ll see him dubbed things like: “the king of cinematic surrealism” (GQ.com, March 2020) and “the new symbol of Hollywood weird” (The New York Times, July 2018). Such descriptions are certainly great bait – a foolproof means of getting you to read on but it should be stressed here at the very start of this piece that these aren’t epithets the 30-year-old actor and musician agrees with. “I don’t relate to those descriptions at all,” he writes, via email, in a tone most matter-of-fact. “I don’t define myself or my style. I’m ever changing.”
A fair point. While introductions highlighting the eccentricity of his acting style may hold water with respect to his recurring role as Darius Epps (or Darius X, as LaKeith refers to him) on Donald Glover’s Atlanta, the same can’t be said for many of the other performances he’s made a name for. In the Safdie Brother’s anxiety-ridden Uncut Gems, for ex- ample, he plays Demany, the broody fixer for Adam Sandler’s Howard. And in Shaka King’s historical drama Judas and the Black Messiah, LaKeith’s most recent big hitter, he gives a tense, emotionally wrought turn as William O’Neal – a petty criminal set up by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther Party, and gather intelligence on its chairman, Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya. The latter role earned both actors an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, with Daniel taking home the statuette.
Perhaps the best way to preface this conversation with LaKeith is to not try to. He is versatile to point of being mercurial – he evades pinpointing or grasp, as you’ll see below. His answers to questions are often skillful détournements – pithy, cryptic one-liners that elicit more intrigue than provide clarity. Rather than a contrived conversational tactic, though, LaKeith’s style speaks more to the fundamental difficulty of mirroring the sum of his many parts in words – and to the fact that, perhaps, there’s little to be won in trying to do so. He is both this and that, neither and nor, all together and at once.
His protean nature makes itself beyond his career on screen, too. Like his Atlanta co-star Donald Glover, LaKeith is an accomplished musician, re- leasing music under the alias HTIEKAL (his name spelled backwards) – he’s currently working on his debut album, Self Control. He’s also a bona fide fashion pin-up, one of his most notable looks being the svelte 70s-inflected tuxedo jumpsuit he wore to the Oscars – a custom piece from Saint Laurent Par- is, whose AW21 campaign he was the face of, and whose SS22 menswear collection he wears here in these images, shot by Justin French on a snowy day in Atlanta.
Mahoro Seward - Was there a moment that made you want to pursue a career as an actor? And what keeps you in it today?
LaKeith Stanfield - I can’t pinpoint a moment. I’ve always been drawn to play and expression. As for the career, it found me. I love storytelling and magic. The two are married in what I do.
MS - One of the roles you’re best known for is your recurring turn as Darius Epps in Atlanta. How much of yourself do we see in him?
LaKeith Stanfield - Darius X is his name. Darius is Donald Glover’s imagination. I re- late to him the same way I relate to any other character I’ve played which is to say in any way I can.
MS - Could you give us any hints of what lies in store for him in the up- coming season?
LaKeith Stanfield - Yes. But I’m not going to
MS - You’re a big fan of The Joker – what is about him as a character that you’re drawn to? And what would your rendition of him look like?
LS - The Joker makes those in power question the durability of their structures and programs that they and their cohorts hold sacred. I wouldn’t know what my rendition looked like until I began prepping for it.
MS - You’ve been nominated for your first Academy Award for your role in Judas and the Black Messiah. What was the first thing you did on hearing the news?
LS - I was in total shock. I was largely ignored by most of the other (and often less distinguished) award platforms until that moment. It was exciting. I kept in mind that my worth as an artist and human is not determined by accolades given out by Hollywood or any- thing else while also feeling hum- bled to have made it this far in my career. I held respect for those of my peers who chose to nominate me. I was sitting next to Daniel [Kaluuya]’s mother when he won. It’s so beautiful to see a Black mother’s love, especially for a story so powerful where Chairman Fred Hampton’s own mother was able to celebrate with us in spirit. We hope we’ve lent a hand in Black cinema for such a giant and courageous young hero.
MS - The contemporary significance of the film has been dis- cussed quite widely, but what makes it such an important film?
LS - We have to correct the record. So many of those in power have lied about history in the past. We love tell our own stories
MS - How would you introduce William O’Neal?
LS - The way the film introduces him.
MS - Playing William O’Neal was especially challenging for you. What made it such a tough role to prepare for?
LS - It’s demanding to play a historical figure since they are or were real people. The heft associated with a great man like Chairman Fred Hampton puts pressure on any- one involved to “get it right”.
MS - The range of characters you’ve played in your career is broad. Over the years, have you developed a particular process for connecting with the spirit of a character?
LS - Each character is different. I tend to let God guide.
MS - You also put out music under the name HTIEKAL. When did you start producing music? And what’s coming next from this project?
LS - I have been making music since I was a child. Long before I start- ed acting in any capacity. Tune in by searching “Htiekal”. e a special journey ahead.
MS - How would you describe the relationship between your work as a musician and as an actor? How much do they inform one another?
LS - I approach everything as if it’s my last day on earth. 100% ambition and preparation meet decades of soul searching and spirit reaping.
MS - What does Saint Laurent Paris represent to you?
LS - Sleek, simple sophistication.
MS - How would you summarise the spirit of the SS22 men’s collection?
LS - Trademark Saint Laurent quality with a fresh perspective.
MS - If you were to pick one piece – or perhaps a look – from the shoot, what would it be and why?
LS - LS - The new boots because they are damn sexy.
MS - Speaking of the shoot, the set- ting and atmosphere were quite unique. Could you set the scene for us?
LS - A house built in what I can only imagine was once a slave plantation in the South. I love the gallant South from the air to the food. There is always an eerie air about the plantation sites and what were the seeds of America becoming what it is. A reminder of the resilience the occupied have and their offspring have. We shot in a craftsman’s house around which it snowed. I like wigs so we were able to include those in the shoot.
MS - What do you like so much about them?
LS - Wigs are fun. Have you ever put a bright red w e on.
You will smile.
Lakeith Stanfield Movies