Exclusive: Lakeith Stanfield Talks ‘Death Note’ & Jay-Z’s Moonlight

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Exclusive: LaKeith Stanfield Talks ‘Death Note’ & Jay-Z’s Moonlight
Posted by Wilson Morales

August 28, 2017

Currently playing on Netflix is the movie adaptation of Death Note, directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, You’re Next) and starring Nat Wolff (Paper Towns), Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers), Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out), Paul Nakauchi (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), Shea Whigham (American Hustle) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) as the voice of Ryuk

Based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note follows a high school student named Light (Wolff) who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner inscribes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.

In the ultimate chess match between “Light” and darkness, L (Stanfield) is the prodigy detective behind the investigation of the serial killer known as ‘Kira.

For Lakeith Stanfield, the California native is really having a big year, having appeared in 6-7 projects in 2017 including the breakout hit Get Out, as well as three Netflix films (War Machine, The Incredible Jessica James, Death Note). He’s also on the big screen currently with a starring role in Crown Heights. He’ll be starting Season 2 of his day job,  playing Darius in the Emmy-nominated FX series Atlanta. Stanfield even time out of his busy schedule to appear alongside Issa Rae, Tiffany Haddish, and Jerrod Carmichael in Jay-Z’s ‘Friends’ inspired video, Moonlight.

Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Stanfield on his role in Death Note and the success he’s had thus far with the projects he’s been doing.

How would you describe your character L?

Lakeith Stanfield: He’s engaged in an endeavor to bring about justice in the face of a murderous tyrant, who’s got a hold to power that he doesn’t deserve.

Had you read or heard about the series prior to taking on the role?

Lakeith Stanfield: In dreams, I had heard about the death note, but in reality. So, I dove into an investigation which ultimately led to my fandom and infatuation and admiration for the character that is L. I figured it would be an interesting endeavor to dive deeper into the world of Death Note.

How much fun was shooting the film? There’s a scene where you’re running endlessly. Was that you or a stuntman?

Lakeith Stanfield: That was me. I became very exhausted after a while naturally, but it was fun to work out some of those muscles that I hadn’t used. It was also good to stretch, having been sitting in that position for quite a while. It was great.

Why is that L wears a hood without revealing his face?

Lakeith Stanfield: I think that L thought it was important to withhold his identity because he knew that this entity, who at the time was Kira, required a face in order to carry out his murders. Also, L is also a reclusive individual. He never presents his face in public until the story unravels itself and it causes him to come out of the shadows.

Whether it’s during or after production, what are picking up per production that works for you as an actor that you can take on to your next project?

Lakeith Stanfield: I always learn a valuable lesson on every project, whether it be with a particular character I play and the choice that I made or life lesson. I think more or so, I take away life lesson from them, whether it’s being diligent, being responsible, working on my work ethic and becoming more detailed oriented or my exchanges with people. You’re dealing with a lot of personalities on a set, so you need to learn how to interact and deal with a human being in a way that allows you to complete what you’re trying to do; but at the same time, maintain and create friendships, which can be very beautiful and long lasting.

When you’re consistent working, from doing a serious project like Crown Heights to doing the show Atlanta and then working with friends on the set of Jay-Z’s Moonlight, when do you get a chance to be the real you?

Lakeith Stanfield: I think all of these are manifestations of the real me. The real me I haven’t found yet. It’s constantly creating itself and destroying itself. There is no thing that I can point to and say that “This is the real me.” Everything you see is a version of the real me.

You also have Crown Heights in theaters now. What did you get out of that film, especially when you what’s happening presently?

Lakeith Stanfield: There’s an obvious parallel to the content in Crown Heights to what’s happening right now. That’s just a symptom to the residue of white supremacy and systematic oppression and racial oppression. It’s a residue of that and Holocaust and slavery. We’ve been seeing it since it ended. People tend to develop a sense of amnesia around it and pretend it wasn’t as long as it was and that we haven’t been liberated from it longer than it actually happened. There are residue in generational effects of that. Also, there’s a systematic legislation that directly affects black youth and cities and things of this sort; but we pretend that doesn’t exists. I think the new version of lynching is cops shooting people in the streets now. We see this parallel and Crown Heights touches on that.

On a lighter note, you’re also in Jay-Z’s “Friends” inspired music video for “Moonlight.” How did that come about?

Lakeith Stanfield: Well, I had been hearing from my team that I might be speaking with Jay-Z but they didn’t tell me what it was about. I thought it might be a music endeavor but I didn’t see how it could have been since I haven’t released any music recently. He called me on my phone and I answered it. “I think you would be great for this…” and he’s so humble and it almost threw me off how humble he was. He was honest and straight to the point what he wanted to do. I heard the song and told him that I totally would love to be involved in this. It’s moving in the right direction. I love when rap music, now popular rap music can say things that speak to real shit. A lot of it is just pop music forced or about worship, filtered over spineless beats. But this music is moving in the direction of Kendrick Lamar. It’s a beautiful true aspect and the version of hip hop that I enjoy the most. So, I jumped at this opportunity.

With Death Note, The Incredible Jessica James and War Machine, and Get Out released this year, what goes in the projects that you say yes to?

Lakeith Stanfield: With the first three you mentioned, Netflix has been great. They have been very accommodating and made a comfortable environment on every set I’ve been on and it’s a beautiful partnership. What goes into choosing a project for me is a lot of different variables. It starts with whether or not I feel a connection to that material. Obviously if I don’t feel any connection to it, there’s no way I can be a part of it. Also, when there’s a racial component, I must think about who’s telling the story, how they are telling the story and if it rings true and accurate to my experience. And if doesn’t, then I can’t be a part of it. If it feels like it’s someone else’s idea of what black is for example, I’m not going to be a part of that particular endeavor.

It needs to be true and if it is someone else’s idea of what black is, they better have someone black in that room influencing what that is. I can tell when I’m reading the script if that’s the case, typically by the dialogue alone. When people write for black people, they tend to use verbiage that is completely outdated and inaccurate. We have a certain flavor when we talk, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t speak English. Another this is when exploring other roles, I want to challenge and stretch myself. I want to present myself with something that may not be easy for me to understand but I may be able to break into. Sometimes things don’t immediately speak to me, but as I read into it more and explore more, then it will speak to me later. Also, the budget is a factor. It has to fit my lifestyle. As I get bigger and do more things, my bills get higher. I have to consider that as well. Death Note was a great opportunity to dive into anime and bring it to life through a black vessel. I want little kids to see characters like L and be like, “I can do that too.” I want something they can look up to.

Have you started working on Season 2 of Atlanta?

Lakeith Stanfield: We haven’t started yet. We start in September and it will be out early next year.


Clip – Light Meets Ryuk

Clip – L Confronts Light


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