Lakeith Stanfield on “Sorry to Bother You”

Lakeith Stanfield on Sorry to Bother You

Lakeith: Hello.

Scott: Hey, Lakeith, how are ya?

Lakeith: I’m alright. How are you?

Scott: Great! Happy to talk to you! First, congratulations on yet another incredible performance, and another amazing role.

Lakeith: Thank you.

Scott: What was it like for you to be at Sundance and what was the experience like premiering Sorry to Bother You there?

Lakeith: It was crazy. I hadn’t really properly seen the film until that so you don’t see it in its entirety, get to be with a crowd of people and see all the responses and see how people were responding really positively to it, so it was quite nice. A good time.

Scott: You and I have met, I think, on numerous occasions. I remember very fondly that you and I talked for “Short Term 12” way, way, way back when and you were very worried that you were not going to get any more roles and you were never going to make it as an actor and here you are, five years later, and you have been in so many big movies. How does that make you feel as an actor to know that you came from something where you were so nervous that you weren’t going to get work to being part of so many well-received movies over the years?

Lakeith: I don’t recall being extremely nervous about it. I don’t recall being worried about it, per se, but I did entertain the possibility that I might not get another job. I was okay with that. I was happy with the fact that I had done one job. That’s all I really wanted to do is just be in a movie. All the opportunities that have come to my place after that, I think, have been just great, and I’m very grateful that I’ve had these opportunities and I’ve worked hard to try and continue to secure work. It’s been a nice journey to be able to try and bring about actually doing this as a full-time job. It’s quite nice.

Scott: Working with Boots, what was that experience like for you and how did he compare to other directors?

Lakeith: Boots doesn’t compare to other directors I’ve worked with; he’s in his own lane as are all directors. It was quite nice. He had something that was an idea that he had been working on for years. I was really excited with the idea that we could bring this to life for people.

Scott: What was your initial reaction to reading the script for Sorry to Bother You?

Lakeith: I don’t know. I was a bit confused, so I had to read it again. About the third time, I realized it was something that I not only wanted to do but something that I had to be a part of if I could.

Scott: I think, I mean this is probably your most ambitious project yet. You’ve taken on so many different types of roles and you’ve made all of them your own. Were you nervous at any point? Was there a scene in particular? Was there something about this project where you felt, at any point, like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can pull this off?’

Lakeith: No. I mean, I think if you have those kinds of doubts, you can’t really do it. I think initially you always have some kind of questions as to whether you did it successfully. If it’s an engagement story in a way that you want to, but I never really carry those things with me into production. You have to find a way to get it done. If you are concerned about ways that you might fail, then you are kind of setting yourself up for failure, in my opinion, so I try to always keep it on the up and up. If there’s a problem that presents itself, then I deal with it at that time. Yeah, this is a difficult film to make.

We didn’t have a very large budget, and we had big ambitions and things we wanted to do. No film that is worth watching, in any way, is easy to do. Yeah, I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park but I wasn’t really discouraged by anything that was new to me. I needed to get it done so I just had to put my best foot forward and make it happen. Which was also surrounded by a large team of people, including Boots, but there were dozens and dozens of people that worked on this film that helped it be what it is, so it wasn’t all on my shoulders.

Scott: How about filming in Oakland? I talked to Boots, I think, like a week or two ago and he said that that was a big part of the film and a lot of his friends, who were not in the industry, but they actually contributed to the movie because he shot there.

Lakeith: Yep. The whole community was engaged in this process and was happy to do so. Although there were some people in the neighborhood that didn’t want us shooting there but that’s always what happens when you’re filming in real places. There are some people that would rather not be bothered by the lights and the crew and the noise.

Scott: In this film, you got to share the screen with a lot of really well-known actors, but I think two really great actors, like yourself, who are up and coming and that, of course, is Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer. Do you have any stories or fun details about stuff that happened with you guys on set?

Lakeith: Our relationships on set, it was cool. You know, we had a lot of cool, cool things go down. That’s part of what makes it a fun thing to watch. We all just got along, and I’m grateful for that. A lot of times you might have people with ego problems but none of us are ego driven so we didn’t really have … We just gave it all to the story. It was great. It was a fun time.

Scott:  You’ve been in all these different types of roles. You haven’t been pigeonholed at all. You’ve kind of taken on every performance you have done has been different from the previous one. Can you just share some of the experiences, I mean, with like you worked with Donald Glover and Jordan Peele. Can you talk about like what you learned from those guys or Ava or just people who you’ve worked with that you’ve learned stuff from?

Lakeith: Yeah. I haven’t met anyone that I haven’t learned something from. I haven’t worked with anyone that I haven’t learned something from yet. I share stuff, little nuggets and things, that I pick up from them, but I think that’s part of the magic of the whole thing, not really kissing and telling, per se. Those things I just kind of pick up on. Not really that anyone has sought out to teach me anything but you just kind of pay attention to certain things and you sort of take those little nuggets that you take with you.

One thing is to just not be afraid to have a perspective. I think a lot of these people they mention a particular perspective that they wanted to share but that may not appear palatable to some people or many people. I think you just stick to your guns and work hard and you try to come up with a concise story that fits with what you are trying to do and you just go for it.

Scott: I think that’s pretty incredible.

Lakeith: You can’t be scared to fail.

 

Scott: On top of everything else, I mean, you’ve been doing a lot of new projects that are coming up still. You are working with even more talent, even more actors, even more directors, which of the upcoming projects are you excited about?

Lakeith: I don’t know. I’m not really thinking about that too far in the future. I’m just kind of staying present now. I’m excited about “Sorry to Bother You.” I’m excited about people seeing that. I didn’t realize how excited I was until I went to the premier and Boots receiving the award from Sundance and how engaged people were in the audience and how happy they were to sit down with us and watch it all. I’m really excited for people to see it because I know that no one will be expecting what it actually is unless they are like some crazy, psychic, whatever type of person. If that’s the case, I’d like to hire them so they can help me avoid pitfalls.

Scott: It’s strange because you try to find something to explain something that, I mean, the movie in itself, right, in a lot of ways is kind of unexplainable. If you were to try to explain this movie to someone, how would you describe it?

Lakeith: Batshit. There’s no way to explain why batshit is crazy and there’s also no way to explain this movie so batshit is quite fitting actually when you think about it. This movie is batshit.

Scott: God. Yeah.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. I think so. What was your favorite scene in the film to shoot or what personally?

Lakeith: Funny enough, the scene where I’m covered in shit. Yeah, it was quite fun. In my mind, I was thinking of it as shit, so I couldn’t think of it as shit, so I kept like throwing up in between takes.

Scott: Oh my God. That’s hilarious. This conversation took a weird turn, didn’t it?

Lakeith: I mean, I’m still here, man. I didn’t think it got weird yet. I’m waiting on the weird stuff. A little bit of shit talk ain’t too bad.

Scott: Yeah.

Lakeith: It’s definitely has gotten more fun, which I’m happy about. I mean, you gotta make these things fun.

Scott: I completely agree. Here’s a really kind of personal question for you then. Of course, you are talking to a white person, so I’m going to ask you this, so I’ll just call it out like it is. How does it feel right now, as an actor, you know, to be a creative voice where we want more people of color? We want more women, not only as story tellers but as actors, as producers, as directors. How does that make you feel?

Lakeith: I think that’s maybe a better question for someone like this in a world where there hasn’t been a lot of stories for people of color, but, you know, in my family, we have stories all the time and people and friends that I know have many, many different stories. Now they haven’t maybe been all movies or on screen or maybe perhaps for audiences, that would be nice change, to see the diversification of stories. But really I feel like every story is the same, and I think you start to see that more and more when you see black faces attached to them. You can identify with them too. Everyone can identify with different kinds of stories from different demographics, so it makes me excited. The idea that we can now tell these many, many stories that we’ve always had in our arsenal and that everyone can enjoy and be a part of these things.

The question, to me, more should be, instead of how does it feel to be able to tell these stories moreso does the audience agree that these stories can be universal. Just ask them when they sit down and watch them. Are the stories like “Black Panther”, like “Get Out” relatable? I think you begin to see more and more that they are, and that’s a good thing. So it will make people in the future more readily available to fund movies like this. People will go see movies like this, which is important that we all support all kinds of filmmaking. It’s a good time for that.

Scott:  If you could create something you would really want to do, what would be something that you personally would want to create or be a part of?

Lakeith: It would be nice to do some like BR stuff. Get into something that you could completely immerse yourself in. I do have some ideas that I’m working on, which I won’t mention here, but be on the lookout.

Scott: Okay. Sounds good. All right, man. Thank you so very much. I really appreciate talking to you and fingers crossed the movie does great. I’m rooting for it.

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott "Movie Man" Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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