The LEVEL Man at 30
LaKeith Stanfield Settles Into His Toughest Role Yet: Himself
As he heads towards his thirties, the electrifying actor is laying himself bare — and finding a new sense of balance
For nearly a decade, LaKeith Stanfield has used his screen time reveling in the bizarreness of America’s racial consciousness. Whether Atlanta’s quippy street mystic Darius, or the code-switching sardonics of Cassius in Sorry to Bother You, his characters have always seemed to be in on the joke — and in his latest, Judas and the Black Messiah, Stanfield is closer to the secret than ever before.
Shaka King’s film, which chronicles the final days of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) through the sullen eyes of FBI informant William O’Neal (Stanfield), finds the actor in his darkest, most nuanced rendition of the Black saboteur to date. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” the 29-year-old said over a Zoom call last week, “I just really wanted to make sure I was getting it right. But then also not getting it too right, if that makes sense.”
Stanfield has built a name on playing conflicted characters, but a figure with as much baggage as O’Neal — who was forced into his own role while still a teenager — demanded what he calls a “necessary nuance,” one that became, at times, overwhelming. The film set became not just a vision of radical Black politics, but a space for Stanfield to process his own upbringing in order to be a more “realized, holistic” person. LEVEL spoke with the actor about how playing O’Neal helped illuminate his path toward a healthier decade that included both therapy and meditation, heading into his thirties.
LEVEL: Judas and the Black Messiah was supposed to drop in August, but 2020 had other plans. How does it feel to know it’s coming out?
LaKeith Stanfield: I’m excited. I want people to learn about Chairman Fred Hampton’s story. It’s something that’s not spoken about enough. Everything has been such a question mark with this pandemic — not knowing how it was going to come out…