‘It’s not something that’s impossible’

Almost five months into quarantine, KiKi Layne is keeping it real.

The actress, who burst onto the scene in 2018’s indie sensation “If Beale Street Could Talk,” can be found at the forefront of Netflix’s latest action film “The Old Guard” opposite Charlize Theron, playing a freshly ordained immortal warrior. It’s a major leap for Layne, who is determined to kick in as many Hollywood doors as she can.

“I just don’t want to be put into any type of box,” she tells USA TODAY. “Even before I got to working with my agents, I made it clear to them: I need to know that y’all are committed to putting my name into conversations that someone may not have automatically thought, ‘Oh, KiKi Layne could make sense here.’ “

USA TODAY’s Andrea Mandell caught up with Layne, 28, by video conference ahead of the Netflix film’s streaming debut.

Question: First off, I’m sorry to be video-conferencing you from my bedroom.

KiKi Layne: It’s all good. I have people calling me from their kitchens. I’m just like, whatever works.

Q: What was it like to step into your first action film alongside Charlize, an action veteran?

Layne: I’m still adjusting to working on film, period. So the action part of it was just an added thing of, “Oh my goodness, girl, what have you gotten into?” But I’m grateful that my entry into it was alongside Charlize. To be able to be working alongside a woman who has been such a force in showing what women are capable of in this genre, that was something for me to absorb. She’s a beast, man.

Nile (KiKi Layne, left) and Andy (Charlize Theron) throw down in
Nile (KiKi Layne, left) and Andy (Charlize Theron) throw down in

‘Mom, honk!’ Charlize Theron talks ‘The Old Guard,’ how she’s talking to her children about the protests

Q: Is there anybody that you looked up to in this genre before you stepped into it?

Layne: For me, my biggest inspiration just career-wise is Will Smith, actually. He is someone who has done it at all, all different types of roles and genres, TV, film … that’s what I’m interested in.

There’s a lot of areas where I have not seen myself represented. And it has definitely had its moments of feeling discouraging, but at the same time, because I can see all of these white actors doing it, it’s not something that’s impossible. It just has been made to be a bit more difficult for someone who looks like me. But there’s no reason for me to not go after it with every single thing that I have.

Review: An immortal Charlize Theron walks tall and carries a sweet ax in Netflix’s run-of-the-mill ‘The Old Guard’

Q: You burst on the scene after the Toronto International Film Festival debut of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” How has your experience morphed in Hollywood the past few years?

Layne: This call to action is expanding beyond just calling systems out for police brutality. Now, all of these different industries and organizations, schools, businesses, all of these things are being put on blast. Conversations are being held in a way that is, I’ll say, more aggressively saying to Hollywood, “You have to be held accountable for your representation of Black people and persons of color and other minority groups,” because it’s ridiculous.

We’re taking control and saying, “You know what, if you’re not going to tell our stories in the right way, we will.”

Q: I realize that a platform like yours is very beneficial, but is it also a heavy burden at times?

Layne: Honestly, what was a little frustrating when everything really started to take off (following the death of George Floyd) I kind of refer to it as kind of activism shaming, when people decide for you what your activism should look like. And if it doesn’t look like how they want it to look like, then you’re a part of the problem. That really got to be frustrating for me. I was just kind of like, I know that we are not reducing the work of some of these people or organizations to a post on social media. But for a while, that’s what it felt like.

For me, anybody who follows me on Instagram, y’all know I come and go. That’s not where I use my voice. I use my voice, my influence, my active self in the work. It’s in the things that I go after. It is in the conversations that I force myself into, the rooms that I force myself into, the walls and barriers that I am so focused and determined on breaking down.

Q: How have you taken care of your mental health during all this?

Layne: I was quarantining by myself (in Los Angeles) and it got to a point I’m like, “This is no longer good for my spirit.” I went back home to Ohio. Why am I sitting in my apartment in LA by myself when I can be with my family? Especially because with the way the industry works, we spend so much time away from our loved ones.

Q: Do you know what the bar is for Netflix deciding to make an “Old Guard” sequel? It was clearly set up to be a franchise.

Layne: I guess it just has to blow up on Netflix? Everybody and their mama and their cousins got to watch it and then we will be coming back for No. 2. I’m like, fingers crossed, because I really want to.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘The Old Guard’: KiKi Layne is aiming for a Will Smith-style career