Lakeith Stanfield On 'Atlanta' And Playing Characters With Sh*t To Say

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February 28th 2018

Lakeith Stanfield is intensely captivating. It’s fairly early in the morning, and he’s huddled over a plate of fruit, tucked away in a crisply lit condo in Park City, Utah. Stanfield flew in from Germany – a short hiatus from the project that he’s currently working on -- to attend Sundance Film Festival. He has to be exhausted. With starring roles in Sorry to Bother You, Come Sunday and a spoken word show in the festival, this is one of the first times the 26-year-old has been able to just sit and chill. Stanfield lets his long limbs rest on his chair as he hovers over the table, his booming voice almost a surprise as it rings out in our quiet surroundings.

It’s been quite a year for the San Bernardino native, who made his feature film debut back in 2013. Get Out is Academy Award-nominated and Boots Riley's wonderous Sorry to Bother You is the most talked about film of the festival. Stanfield is also set to return to our TV screens in March in the much-awaited second season of FX's Atlanta. “I'd like to take credit and say it's all my doing but, I'm just really fortunate to be surrounded by these creators who are doing daring things at this time,” he said, reflecting on his bustling filmography. “I have the disposition that I want to be a part of things that say something and move the needle. We try to weed out things. We can do that now by the way. When I first started out, I didn't have that luxury. I was just trying to work."

In Sorry to Bother You, Stanfield stars as Cassius, a telemarketer desperate to make his mark in the world, but that’s only the beginning of this mind-bending story. It spirals into something more imaginative than anything you’ve seen on screen before. For Stanfield, roles like these are a dream come true. “I'm trying to be aware of what I'm doing," he explained. “I love my people. I love our story and where we come from and our journey in this country. I'm interested in being one of many faces in it that can speak to it if I can. It feels good to show people that we can be human. We can be anything. We can be silly. We can be crazy. I grew up feeling like I was strange and things of that nature. It feels good to reiterate the idea that that's okay.”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Doug Emmett. 'Sorry to Bother You' Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Doug Emmett.

In Come Sunday, Stanfield tackles a quieter role. The film is based on the life of Tulsa minister Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who shocked the evangelical world in the late ‘90s when he decided hell did not exist. In the film, the Prince of Sundance stars a Reggie, Pearson’s choir director and surrogate son who is struggling with his sexuality and an HIV diagnosis. For Stanfield, it was important to pay homage to this man's life. “I identify with Reggie's story because he was a man that needed to be himself and try to find himself," he revealed. “He felt conflicted about being himself, and I thought that was interesting. It's a really powerful thing because we deal with that every day. All people are dealing with that on some level, trying to situate themselves because we live in a society where it's so judgemental, and often about things we can't control -- things we can't change. I think human beings -- there are some good ones, some bad ones. It doesn't matter what your sexuality is, and what your disposition is. This character to me represented an opportunity. I thought that was a beautiful thing.”

With so many different characters under his belt, I was curious to know how Stanfield approached them all. He had no definite answer, but he was clear about one thing. “A lot of my work is done in the writing,” he insisted. “When you have good writing, the characters are revealed to you through that. I don't know. I guess every character in a sense is a chamber of me, (or) a side of me that I really haven't tapped into. Or maybe I have before, and I'm revisiting. The good thing is the roles always come to me at different times. I'm kind of a different person by the time each role comes to me. It takes movies years to come out so by the time it comes out; I'm already working on something else."

Netflix's 'Come Sunday' Netflix's 'Come Sunday'

We might have to wait for Lakeith's music (which you can read more about at our sister site, Blavitybut Atlanta is set to return. The highly anticipated sophomore season of Donald Glover’s FX series will premiere in March. On the show, Stanfield stars as Darius, the perpetually high but hilarious best friend of Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). So what will Darius and the rest of the guys be up to this season? Stanfield remained tight-lipped about it all. “It's really hard to say,” he said mysteriously. “It's just so much going on. I think people are going to see a different Atlanta. This is Robbin' season. It's a different lens over Atlanta now. We're just coming from another angle with it. I'm excited to see what people think. It's going to be crazy. It's going to be a wild ride." He chuckles to himself.  “You know Atlanta."

Come Sunday will premiere April 13 on Netflix.

Atlanta returns to FX for Season 2, March 1.

Sorry to Bother You premiered Sat. Jan. 20, 2018 at Sundance Film Festival. The film has been acquired by Annapurna.

Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami

 

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