The same year Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield shared that unforgettable scene in Jordan Peele's political horror classic "Get Out," the moment where Stanfield screams the film's title over and over again, the two men found themselves sharing the bill at a one-night performance of "The Children's Monologues" at Carnegie Hall.
After the show, Kaluuya told Stanfield that he had agreed to join him on the film "Judas and the Black Messiah," a tense portrait of Illinois Black Panther Party leader and defiant activist Fred Hampton and William O'Neal, the FBI informant instrumental in Hampton's killing.
"Then the drinks started flowing, and I can't remember the rest," Kaluuya says. "LaKeith. Would you mind telling me?"
"I was like, 'F—, that's dope as s—,'" Stanfield says, laughing. We're connecting via Zoom, Kaluuya electing to keep his video off, Stanfield initially doing the same ("we're going to let our spirits speak") before relenting. When Stanfield finally turns his camera on, it appears as if he's floating in space, the sun rising above the Earth in his virtual background.
"He's playful," Shaka King, who directed, co-wrote and co-produced "Judas and the Black Messiah," says of Stanfield, a longtime friend for whom he wrote the part of O'Neal. "Unpredictable" is actually the first word that comes to King's mind when thinking about Stanfield. "He's very charming. He's very sincere. Mischievous, certainly. There's a vastness to him."
Talking about Kaluuya, King describes the Oscar-nominated actor as "thoughtful in the actual sense of the word."
"He's thinking about things, really thinking through things," King says. "I was fortunate to be working on this film with two of the most thoughtful people I've ever met."
That abiding contemplation ran through our conversation, with each man listening intently to the other as they openly shared their experiences in life and acting. I spent most of the time listening, too, as they didn't need much prodding when discussing matters so close to their hearts.
Q: We learn many remarkable things about Fred Hampton in this film, one of them being that he had so much intelligence and intention at the age of 21. What were you like at that age?
Stanfield: S—, man, 21, I think I just got fired from my job for warrants I had for obstructing justice. [Laughs] I was outrunning the police, and there was this big chase, and everyone was running. I was trying to zigzag, thinking I could outrun the spotlight from the helicopter. For some reason, I thought I could outrun it, but I found out the radius was a lot larger than it appeared in my imagination.