Kiki Layne's name really sprung up out of nowhere. Prior to the release of Netflix's quick hit The Old Guard, which was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees), many only knew of Kiki Layne from her commanding performance in the second feature film from Barry Jenkins (director of the Academy Award-winning Moonlight), If Beale Street Could Talk. Now, the world knows of her as being the kick-ass woman from the new Netflix action flick The Old Guard. Sitting at 81 percent on RottenTomatoes, the surprise critical darling also stars Charlize Theron as the leader of a squadron of immortals bent on saving the world from any and everything causing threats to it. Layne plays Nile, a former Marine who gets mixed up in their world. Layne has quickly gone from a fan of only the critics attending every must-see indie screening to being in one of Netflix's biggest originals of 2020, let alone their entire history of creating original content.
It's an intriguing role to see Layne in, as she's been maneuvering through the world of film with the quickness. Outside of Beale Street, the 28-year-old Cincinnati native has been featured across from Ashton Sanders in A24's adaptation of Native Son and another 2019 release, Captive State, as well as being in the upcoming Coming 2 America, which is set to drop later this year (fingers crossed). She's making some interesting decisions that appear to be reaping quick benefits in quick fashion.
Speaking to Layne a week after the release of The Old Guard (which is set to be among Netflix's 10 most popular films) was interesting; we got to hear her response to the film's early success, as well as her reflecting on some of the more challenging aspects of shooting a film like this. She also talks about the women she worked with on this film, plans for a sequel, and her thoughts on the role of Storm in future X-Men film adaptations.
I feel like, before The Old Guard, when you heard about Kiki Layne, it was, "You can't wait to see her in Beale Street." Now it's "Kiki Layne, she just stood toe to toe with Charlize Theron in The Old Guard, what's next?" We're about a week removed from the film. How does it feel to see the props and the positive reviews for the film come in?
Man, it feels so, so good. We worked so hard on that film. It's just one of those things that getting this type of response, it feels amazing. I think we're all pretty blown away by it, honestly.
What were you expecting before the film came out?
Oh, I don't know. I guess I didn't know what to expect. I knew what I wanted. I wanted it to come out and be this big huge thing. I wanted this response, but I don't know. I was so in my head. I was like, "Oh my goodness, this is my first break into action and this is the [biggest thing] I've ever been a part of." I was just feeling so, so many things.
Everything people knew you for before this film was more dramatic. What was it about this particular film that made you say, "Yeah, I'll do action"?
I've always wanted to do action, but I think what was really special about this is first, it's the opportunity to work with the people that I was working with, to work with Gina, to work with Charlize. That definitely got me even more hyped and excited. Then once I actually got to read the script and the graphic novel, I don't know, it just stood out to me as an opportunity, "Yes, I get to play this badass kick-ass physical character," but then at the same time, especially with what Gina and Greg filling the character of now out now more for the script, I also recognized that this is an opportunity for me to play a character who people can still relate to on a very human level and still continue the journey to represent for Black women and dark-skinned Black women in the industry in roles and conversations and stories that we often get left out of it. I don't know. It was perfect. It was the thing that definitely...I don't know. It was the best way could be to break into the genre.
With the work that Charlize has put in over the years, it's almost like you couldn't have had someone better to really help you get into that world. Being able to have Gina guiding the ship, it's a perfect storm. What was it like being on The Old Guard set, knowing that you have women like Gina and Charlize in your corner to bounce off ideas and really learn from?
What had happened, Gina, this is her first entry into action. To have somebody on the set that understood where I was coming from with that, and then also understood where I was coming from with her being a Black artist and trying to represent for Black artists in a very different way, which is something that Gina has always been committed to.
Then working amongst Charlize was the opportunity for me to work with a woman who has really broken barriers when it comes to representation of women in this genre. I don't know, to be able to work with and learn from women who have been so committed to really breaking through the limitations and exceeding expectations and remaining committed to growth and not being limited by the stereotypical Hollywood assumption of what women can do. I think that was perfect for me to be around those type of artists that have been committed to that for such a long time,
We got to see Charlize really hold her own in films like Atomic Blonde, but coming after that, there are big expectations. There's a lot going on in the film. How much of that action were you able to get in there and do on your own? Or did you step back and say, "Hey, stunt people are paid for a reason"?
It was definitely mostly me.
I was trying to do everything. There's some things that [have to be done for a film where we realize] we have professionals for a reason. "We need you to last this entire shoot. We can't be messing you up week one." For the most part, it was us because, especially this film, it's a central part of the storytelling. If you're acting can't really be a part of these very big pieces of storytelling, that's not good.
Even thinking about the big fight between Andy and Nile, it would have been silly if it wasn't really me and Charlize. That's such a huge part of the story and such a huge part of the development of the relationship between Andy and Nile. We had to be experiencing that together. But yeah, for the most part, it's mostly us. There's just a couple of moves that were just like, "All right, y'all, let's get the professionals because if you all mess up yourselves ..." They were like, "We ain't risking our jobs if you want to be crazy hitting each other."
Would it be fair to say that this scene was that the hardest thing to film throughout The Old Guard?
Yeah, it's partly also it was the first week of filming. It was all about that combination of really just being brought into it. I would say yes, it probably would be the biggest, most challenging thing. A part of that was just getting out of my own head about my ability to fight. I'm like, "It's week one and we're supposed to what? Fistfight, what?" The trust that was on the set and the trust with the team. Looking back on it, I'm actually really glad that that's where we started. I think that ended up being really helpful for developing the story and developing our relationship.
It's a very key moment. I think what there was another key moment towards the end of the film. Not to get too spoiler-y, but there's one when the whole squad is leaving the facility and they encounter a room where there's just a bunch of bad guys. You really get to see everybody as a team working in unison, after everything that's going on. You got one person pulling the clip and handing it to someone else while they're going to shoot.
Was that difficult? I imagine the choreography for that has got to be so on point. Was that something that was more difficult to nail than some of the other parts in the film?
A few parts of it, just because it's one of those things where especially, for I'll call them the old Old Guard, they have to look like they've been fighting together for hundreds of years and they're just so in sync, but then it's a moment where you see how Nile fits right into it and that's where she was always supposed to be. It was just a few hiccups of us not quite hitting it as fluid as maybe they really would have, a handoff of a gun was not quite going as smoothly than they would have wanted it. We got it but definitely ... If anything, it was just like, "Oh my goodness!"
You mentioned Nile sliding perfectly into place. I want to preface this by saying we're a little over a week after watching the film, and when I rewatched the film, before I even hit play on Netflix, it said, "No. 1 film, top 10 this week."
Now with the ending of the film, because there are two important parts. One is the fact that we know that the squad has made plans to potentially meet again sometime in the future. There's also—again, not giving any spoilers—a little tease of somebody who we might not have expected to see.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The question I have to ask, is are you any closer to hearing if there's going to be Old Guard 2? Has Netflix said anything? I imagine the numbers are through the roof. They seem like they're doing very well.
I haven't heard anything officially. I think it's just the...I don't know, seeing the response and what I assume the numbers are. We're No. 1 in a bunch of countries, over 80 countries, 85 countries, something crazy.
Talk about it!
(Laughs) I'm hoping that we get the official greenlight sooner than later. I would love to do another one of these. I truly would love to get back into it.
You've been actively campaigning for the role of Storm in the X-Men. I know recently Janelle Monae also spoke about actively pursuing the role of Storm as well. Knowing what you know now as literally a part of The Old Guard, what are your thoughts on Storm?
I feel like it's just gotten blown up. How do I say this...my commitment and my investment in that character is deeper than me playing her. What I want to see is Marvel really committed to finding the best person for the job, but the job itself has to be right. Before we even get into the casting, my concern is how Storm is represented, how she is written and given space to be portrayed in the film?
I feel like some of her strengths, some of her goddess-like qualities were downplayed [in previous films] in order to make room for some of the other characters in the movies that we've seen her in. What I want to see is an opportunity for Storm to really shine. The only other person that I'm told that can strike somebody down with lightening is Zeus. I would put her in a very different category. I just want to see a film in which we really see her tapping into her strength.
Also, the depth of what does it mean for a Black woman to tap into her full power? Why does it seem like there are so many things that are set up to stop that and to hinder that from outside forces that then I feel for a lot of us become internalized, where we as Black women become afraid of the fullness of our power. That's even a debate in the comics of whether Storm is officially an Omega-level mutant. To me, if she can do something that only Zeus can do, that to me says, "Yes, this is easily one of the most powerful women that we have. It's just that she has not had into that full potential yet."
Before all the casting and all that, I'm interested. I want to see the depth of that story and see her really be given an opportunity to really live in the fullness of her power. That's my most important thing with it. I want to see that story be told.
It's good that they have a blueprint like Black Panther because I know in reading up on Black Panther, it took a while from when they thought of doing that movie to what we got. I'm glad they had the journey because then they got the right tandem. I don't know what that film would have looked like without a Ryan Coogler. Have you thought about at all about who you think might be good at drawing out the right story? Is it someone like Gina? I'm assuming it's a Black woman...
I want it to be told. It definitely [has to be] a Black woman just because [of] how I see the story, the relation to what we see Storm going through, even though she's a mutant, I still want her to be very relatable for Black women and women, period, of just what does it mean tapping into the fullness of our power. Yeah, I don't know. I want somebody who has that type of vision and that type of personal connection to it. It definitely, I do believe, has to be a Black woman.
The other film you're in hopefully coming out later this year is Coming 2 America, the sequel. What it was like working on that film? You were on the Tyler Perry set and everything?
Yeah, yeah. We did some work there and that was amazing seeing where he built...every day on this set really just blew my mind. I would go to work and be like, "I cannot believe that I am in the sequel to Coming to America, man." I watched that movie so many times growing up. I don't know, to be surrounded by legends and just able to watch these people that are masters of their craft, to me, it was amazing. Just simply put, it was amazing. I feel like if it hasn't fully hit me yet that I was a part of that project. I think it's [not] really going to really hit me hit me until I see it, see the full finished thing, and just able to watch like, "Girl, you are the princess of the movie. That's crazy."
That's nuts. What was it like working with people like Eddie Murphy?
How do I put this? It was amazing to watch someone who is such a master and is just such...I don't know. His knowledge and capability of the craft and just knowing exactly what a scene needs, like the right amount of improv that just elevates the comedy of the scene that much more. It was amazing. Just simply, it was amazing. Him, Arsenio and Wesley, it really showed me what a gift comedy is that some people are just truly, truly gifted with something special there. That's when I got to see.
Does that make you want to try out more comedy in the future?
Yeah, it did. Working with Jermaine Fowler also was a big part of encouraging me to dig deeper into comedic opportunity to come, because he was just really great at supporting me and trying different things, improvising more and just feeling more comfortable in this big comedy set. I've never done it before. That definitely is something I would love to do more of.
What's coming for you next? Quarantine has been weird, COVID's been weird. It's been odd working, I imagine.
Was there anything else completed after Coming 2 America? Are you just reading scripts and trying to figure out what's next?
Yeah. I didn't have anything lined up before the pandemic hit. Now it's just this weird thing of when will it actually be safe for us to go back to work? Films are so collaborative. There's so many people that are part of it, and just wanting to be sure that when we go back that it truly is safe for all of us. Right now, I'm trying to read things. Hopefully, we can get back to work sooner than later. I'm grateful that at least I have the joy of knowing that I have these two projects being released or see, even if, for whatever reason, I can't necessarily get to work.
Yeah, you're in a really good space for the future, though. It's almost like you bought into a couple of really good stocks, but you just have to wait for the market to open up to really get your reward back. It'll come. Everything's just on a pause right now. What else have you been doing aside from reading scripts and just thinking about the future? What's your quarantine been like? What have you been watching?
Let's see. I've been all over the place, honestly, as far as what I've been watching. I watched Da 5 Bloods and I've been binge-watching Avatar, the Last Airbender.
You picked some of the better watches to come out of the quarantine. Avatar was No. 1 for a while just off the strength of nostalgia.
That's what I've been on. I've just been going through Netflix, it's just so much there. It just depends on the day.