How I Used Google To Break Into Hollywood by LaKeith Stanfield
Film Courage: LaKeith, I understand you used Google searches to break into acting?
LaKeith Stanfield: Yeah…I just got out of high school, trying to figure out what I want to do. Well, I kind of knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to act in some capacity. So I started Googling acting schools, acting stuff, anything that encompassed acting, trying to find a channel in. I just Googled everything and pages and pages of things popped up and then I just filled everything out and then eventually people started answering. And a lot of those were scams and things where I would ultimately end up wasting my time.
So I ended up going back and forth to Victorville, scrounging up change. One time it was a school for modeling and career center? And so they had us get up on the runway, taught us to walk the runway. And taught us all the names of the brands, Fendi, Gucci, Prada. They were names that were of no use to me really. But at the time I realized every other week they had agents come in for people who were inspired to get into acting. So I wanted to get in front of one of those agents. And when one of those agents came through “I want to go in!” Every audition day was Thursday and they said “Well, do you have anything prepared?” And I said “Yes.” I didn’t, but I went in anyway.
And I just did the first thing that came to my mind which was to jump up on the chair and be like…and do some random stuff. And the guy saw something in me that he liked and he signed me to his commercial agency.
And there I learned what it meant to do auditions and fail and learn what it meant to get rejected but be in the room and improve my comfortability over time. So it would prove to be a very important chapter. Although at the time I thought I was just wasting my time. It proved to be really important once I got out there and started auditioning. I felt comfortable because I’d been rejected and I had been through it all already and there was nothing left to fear. So yeah…that was what came of the Internet.
Film Courage: And I understand you didn’t have a car while you were in Victorville?
LaKeith Stanfield: No.
Film Courage: And from what I know I don’t think the bus really runs there from Los Angeles?
LaKeith Stanfield: No. There’s a train that runs there. You’ve got to scramble up some change and take the train.
Film Courage: Okay, but that sounds like it’s several stops. So how are you going on auditions? Or even to this modeling class/school and coming back [to Victorville]? That sounds like a lot.
LaKeith Stanfield: Half of it was just trying to hustle up money just to get down on the train. And some of it was my parents. They would help me every now and again to take me, whenever my bugging them to go…”Fine..Whatever. Again? For what?” Because when you are beginning auditioning you don’t realize how many rejections involved in it. So you get rejected 20, 30 times and you are like “What am I still doing this for? Obviously it’s not going to work.” And it was so much work for us to get down there, they were just like “This is becoming more of an expense than anything.” And so I had to figure out ways to get down there on my own after awhile.
And I missed a lot of auditions because I couldn’t make it. And that was sad because at the time I hated missing them. I would rather get rejected than to miss it, you know?
Film Courage: What’s your advice for another actor that maybe they don’t have the formal training but they know they really want to do this? What would you advise them? What would they be Googling?
LaKeith Stanfield: I don’t know? Now there is probably 900 pages when I Googled acting, probably 9 million now. So there’s much more to weed from. Much more opportunity to get caught up in different things.
I would say stay in school, stay diligent, go through high school, go through college, and try to look through opportunities after having sort of learned all you can learn and situate yourself and be comfortable before you get into acting. Know that there is something else that you could be doing. Know that you have a back-up plan because this is a very difficult, tough game to get into. And it’s tough to maintain even once you’re in. It’s not like just because you booked something you are going to be working forever. So you always have to keep that hustle up and continue to look for new avenues and know that if this doesn’t work, you’ve got something else in the back and if that don’t work, you got something else. You have other alternatives, as well.
And don’t focus all of your energy on acting would be my thing.
Film Courage: Did you ever feel pushback from people, from even other actors who maybe were classically trained and they saw you booking more work and they were like “Well, you didn’t try this technique…” And you could feel that, maybe it wasn’t even spoken?
LaKeith Stanfield: Oh yeah. Totally. It wasn’t spoken and it was spoken in certain parts. But everybody’s got their particular route. One thing I think is important to being an actor is always keep an open mind, always be willing to learn, and don’t reach a point where you feel like I’ve learned enough and now I don’t need to know anything else. Because your talent will take you so far but you need to be constantly trying to develop skills and learning how to access these characters and analyze these stories and tell them in the most authentic way. And while your talent will take you a long way, it won’t take you to the heights that you want to go because there’s a cap, a moment where you’re like “Well, this is just about my talent.” You need to constantly stretch yourself, travel, meet new people, engage in new experiences (fearlessly) and sort of download that information into creating what you want to create.
Every role is different, so what may work for one role, may not work for another and vice versa. So sometimes your talent will be great for a certain role and then for another role you have to reach outside the boundaries of your natural talent in order to tap into it.
Those are things that I find the most rewarding and the most difficult and they cause me to have to get studious and learn all of these things, you know? And get into these different lifestyles and understanding.
So always keep an open mind and I think you can explore and do whatever you need to do. And realize, remember this game is not a competition. It seems like a competition, but it’s not. The only person you’re in competition with is yourself. If you think you can’t do a certain thing, you can’t. If you think you can, you can. You’ve just got to push yourself.
Film Courage: Have there ever been roles that you don’t want to take, for whatever reason? You don’t believe in the project or there is something about the character that you just wouldn’t feel good about playing?
LaKeith Stanfield: Totally, yeah. Characters are realizations from people’s imaginations. So naturally some of are going to fit with your imagination and some aren’t. And some are based off of real people and are accurate depictions and some aren’t. So you have to use discernment to figure out what speaks to you, what’s real to you.
I think when you first start you are going to take anything that comes at you because you’re trying to work, that’s understandable. That’s what I did. I think most actors do that when they are first starting out because they need to work because it’s a job. But once you start to develop the craft you can weed out what speaks to you and what is important.
Because it’s also important to do things that correlate with your frequency, that go with how you are attempting to move. Because if it doesn’t, you are portraying something that isn’t genuine. And then your performance, people are going to see it and say “There’s something that isn’t genuine about that?” So make sure it connects to you.
This is why I think it’s important to expand your horizon and awareness so then more things have the opportunity to click with you. The more broad your horizon, the more chance you are able to say “Oh, yeah. I know what that is.” Rather than living in a sort of vacuum. If something is coming into your awareness, you might be like “Hmmm, that’s too foreign. I don’t know what that is.” And never judge the character.
Film Courage: What did Colin teach you about life?
LaKeith Stanfield: Colin Stark? Playing him [Colin Warner from CROWN HEIGHTS] in this movie he sort of reestablished the idea to persevere in the face of insurmountable odds, continue to push forward and remain steadfast in what you believe in. And the more you do that, the more you may realize what you were attempting to realize.
Break the chains of whatever chains that are on you…there are physical chains and psychological chains. Stay the course and you can eventually break them.
Film Courage: Did you feel pressure playing someone who was very much still alive, knowing that the film would mean very much to them?
LaKeith Stanfield: To an extent, yes. I think that I was lulled by a great team that I was around. Colin himself being in it helped a lot and made me feel that he’s with us in this, so I’m at ease. He believes in the story, he believes in the ability, so we’re just going to move forward in the spirit of that.
Also, I was blessed by his family. He took me into their house and blessed me at this little…sort of like…shrine thing where they blessed me. So I felt like I got the spirit…so we just went from there.
In the spring of 1980, a teenager is gunned down in the streets of Flatbush, Brooklyn. The police pressure a child witness to identify a suspect. As a result, Colin Warner, an 18-year-old kid from nearby Crown Heights, is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Colin’s childhood friend Carl ‘KC’ King devotes his life to fighting for Colin’s freedom. He works on appeals, takes loans for lawyer fees and becomes a legal courier to learn the court system. This incredible true story is based on the acclaimed This American Life piece and adapted by writer/director Matt Ruskin, with Lakeith Stanfield playing Colin Warner and Nnamdi Asomugha as Carl King. In select theaters August 18.
Nnamdi Asomugha – From Football Star To Acting Star [FULL INTERVIEW]
WATCH MORE CROWN HEIGHTS INTERVIEWS
Learn the screenwriting secrets behind successful cinematic stories in the world of film & television script writing.
Paul Castro the original writer of the Warner Bros. hit movie, AUGUST RUSH.He is a produced, award winning screenwriter and world-renowned screenwriting professor. Success leaves clues and so do masterfully crafted screenplays that sell for millions of dollars.