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KiKi Layne draws on her Chicago roots for the new Netflix movie 'The Old Guard'

Tracy Swartz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- When KiKi Layne took the stage at a South Side Chicago tabernacle in February, she declared that it "feels so good to be home."

The 28-year-old Layne grew up in Cincinnati, but studied acting at DePaul University and made her mark in the theater scene here. She's also performed in the Chicago-set films "Native Son" and "Captive State." She plays South Side native Nile Freeman in her new movie, "The Old Guard," which dropped Friday on Netflix.

"Something that's really unique to Chicago is that drive, that authenticity, and so that definitely had to be a part of Nile as well, that commitment and work ethic," Layne told the Tribune in a recent video chat about her character.

Charlize Theron toplines the project, which follows Freeman, a U.S. Marine, as she joins a group of centuries-old mercenaries who have drawn the attention of a pharmaceutical executive dying to learn the secrets of their near-immortality. The movie is based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and helmed by Chicago-born director Gina Prince-Bythewood, of "Love & Basketball" fame.

This is Layne's first stunt-heavy action movie, and though she said she's never had her butt kicked so much in the gym, she and Prince-Bythewood hope this is the start of a hit superhero franchise.

"I'm excited about it because I felt like we came together to disrupt the genre a little bit, and it's been exciting to see how people have been embracing that," Prince-Bythewood said before praising Layne's work.

Layne wanted to be a singer and actress since she was a young girl. She graduated from DePaul in 2014 and landed theater, TV and movie work in Chicago. She snagged her breakout role, the female lead in Barry Jenkins' "If Beale Street Could Talk," not long after she moved to Los Angeles in 2017.

A Definition Theatre Company ensemble member, Layne said she would like to return to Chicago to perform at the Steppenwolf, Goodman and TimeLine theaters. The Chicago arts landscape has changed so much since she left and even just recently, with organizations grappling with racism issues raised after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

 

"It makes me happy to see a lot of my artist friends in that community really speaking up on things that we've all experienced," Layne said. "I think that's one of the great things that's happening right now just collectively, that there is a call to call people out and to call institutions out and call organizations out for lack of representation, lack of care and respect towards black persons, creators, artists."

Up next for Layne is "Coming 2 America," due out in December. She said she's also interested in working with Chicago native Lena Waithe again. She played Kiesha Williams on the original pilot episode of Waithe's Showtime series "The Chi." This was Layne's first TV gig, and she didn't make the cut. The pilot was revamped and fellow Chicago actress Birgundi Baker nabbed the Kiesha role, which is part of a major story line this season.

Layne has fond memories of her time and her work in Chicago. Fans in February gathered at the Grand Crossing tabernacle of New Life Covenant Church Southeast -- which Layne joined in 2011 while living here -- to hear her talk about her faith and her career. Netflix could make her a household name.

"I'm interested to see how that changes once 'The Old Guard' comes out, because I mean, right now, I'm not actually that recognizable, so I've kind of been enjoying the fruits of being recognized in the industry, but not so much in everyday life," she said.

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