Thursday, August 17, 2017
Lakeith Stanfield has been racking up standout performances in some of the most buzzed-about films of the past decade: as the guarded but sensitive resident of a group home for teens in Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12; murdered civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson in Ava DuVernay's Selma; Snoop Dogg in F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton; and the bodysnatched Brooklyn hipster in Jordan Peele's Get Out. He's also a standout in Donald Glover's Atlanta on FX, in which he plays the perpetually stoned and free-associative Darius.
His latest film is writer-director Matt Ruskin's harrowing but unsensationalized Crown Heights, the based-on-a-true-story tale of Colin Warner. Warner was framed as a teenager for a crime he didn't commit and spent 21 years in prison before getting out, thanks to his own efforts and the unfailing support and advocacy of a friend on the outside. In the film, Stanfield gives a powerful but understated performance, richly capturing Warner's warmth, strength of character, and philosophical nature.
In New York this week to promote the film, Stanfield spoke with me about why acting in Get Out was an out-of-body experience, how the internet nurtures creativity, and whether racial justice has made any progress in the United States in the half century-plus since the march on Selma.
Right from the start, you've played interesting roles in movies that got a lot of buzz. Do you just have really good taste, or do you get good advice?
Yeah, well, I'm a member of the Illuminati. [Laughs] I think it's a combination. I have a really hard-working agency behind me.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
A master of side-eye, Aubrey Plaza became, in her own words, “a poster child for irony” for playing such worldly, antiauthoritarian characters as Parks and Recreation's April Ludgate. Lately, though, she's been getting opportunities to explore other aspects of her elastic and intense range. Plaza's characters always radiate hyper-observant intelligence, but that can express itself in very different ways, from April's sardonic ennui, to the uncanny omniscience of Legion's Lenny, to the warped but tenacious ingenuity of Ingrid, the title character of Matt Spicer's Ingrid Goes West.
In the film, Plaza plays a desperately lonely woman who interacts with other people almost exclusively through social media. After following “taste ambassador” Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) on Instagram, Ingrid becomes so enamored of the life portrayed on Taylor's feed that she moves to L.A., convinced that the two will become best friends in real life.
Talking about the film this week at the Crosby Street Hotel, Plaza was quiet and often a bit tentative, seeming as sincere as her early characters seemed snarky. She answered thoroughly and thoughtfully, whether talking about why costar O'Shea Jackson is a natural movie star, how doing TV talk shows is like improv, or how having a stroke at age 20 has informed her work.
Monday, August 7, 2017
After a long but largely uncelebrated career that consisted mainly of minor roles as moms and authority figures in such films as Lorenzo's Oil and Philadelphia, Ann Dowd broke through at the age of 56, playing the harried, self-doubting fast-food restaurant manager in the 2012 film Compliance. That role paved the way for a steady stream of often complex parts in shows like True Detective, Olive Kitteridge, and Girls. This year she's nominated for two Emmys: for her performances as Aunt Lydia, a tightlipped teacher who whips handmaids-in-training into shape, in The Handmaid's Tale, and Patti Levin, a ferociously focused cult leader, in The Leftovers.
Last week, I talked to Dowd, who was in New Hampshire enjoying an annual week-long vacation with her husband, actor Lawrence Arancio, and their children. Radiating enthusiasm, emotional transparency, and an eagerness to connect that stand in stark contrast to Patti's stoic self-containment and Lydia's awkward stiffness, Dowd often slipped into character while talking, sometimes speaking as her own past self and sometimes as one of the women she's played on screen.
You've said that in your 30s, when you were waiting tables while trying to make it as an actress, a voice in your head told you that you'd make it in your mid-50s. Did you have enough faith in that voice to carry you through all those years? Or was it just something that's helped you frame your journey in retrospect, after you finally broke through?
What I knew at the time was that it was true. I had that feeling of: “You've just been given a gift here. Pay attention. Don't despair. Just let it inform you when you go south.”