KiKi Layne was destined to be here. When helping a friend prepare for an audition in Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk, the Cincinnati native stumbled across the opportunity of a lifetime and hasn't slowed down since. Beyond lighting up screens as Tish in the James Baldwin adaptation, KiKi has starred in HBO's take on Richard Wright's Native Son and is now ready to bare her range in the newest Netflix original, The Old Guard (July 10).
In the action film, directed by Love & Basketball's Gina Prince-Bythewood, KiKi takes on the role of Nile, a U.S. Marine whose world takes a drastic turn the moment she discovers she's immortal and collides with an intimate camp of mercenaries wielding the same superpower.
It's KiKi like we've never seen her before, yet the exact shot she's been longing to take.
"There is so much that Black women have to offer and are capable of, and Hollywood does not always make space for that--and the world in general," she tells xoNecole. "I would hope that, wherever my career goes, that even just a handful of Black women can feel encouraged to not accept those limitations, to not accept those boundaries, to not believe that those things can keep us boxed in."
In this xoChat, KiKi dishes on the role faith plays in her career, lessons learned on set, and her undying commitment to represent the fullness of Black women on screen.
xoNecole: When people think of you, they think of your breakout role as Tish in 'If Beale Street Could Talk'. As sudden as your success in Hollywood seems, some people might miss that you set your eyes on becoming an actress long before that moment. When did you embrace your calling as a creative?
KiKi Layne: Oh, that was when I was a little girl. I always knew that I was going to act and be in entertainment. I started going to a performing arts school when I was seven, so I've just been interested and committed to it since then.
Do you remember what those first moments in Hollywood were like for you?
My first few months were extremely tough because I didn't really have things planned out in a way that someone should when they move across the country (laughs). I was starting to feel discouraged in terms of questioning what had brought me out there and thinking maybe I had made a mistake and should have waited until I had more stuff together. Then, it was only a few weeks after I had a really bad night--maybe two weeks after that--that I got the audition for Beale Street.
"I was starting to feel discouraged in terms of questioning what had brought me out there and thinking maybe I had made a mistake and should have waited until I had more stuff together. Then, it was only a few weeks after I had a really bad night--maybe two weeks after that--that I got the audition for Beale Street."
Last year, you were honored at ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood where you spoke on the power of representation. Growing up, what shows and stars did you turn to when you desired to feel seen?
The first person that popped in my head was Brandy because she was so big in music and with Moesha. Then there was the movie Cinderella that she did with Whitney Houston. I used to wear my hair in braids--Brandy was definitely a person I saw myself represented in in a big way. Then, I fell in love with Angela Bassett. Those were my biggest [influences] growing up--and Aaliyah, but that's just because I love Aaliyah (laughs).
Your latest movie, 'The Old Guard', deviates from the first two films that we’ve seen you in ('If Beale Street Could Talk' and 'Native Son'). In it, we see you grace the screen as Nile, a U.S. Marine who discovers she’s immortal. What drew you to this project?
The first thing that got me excited about it was the opportunity to work with [the film's director] Gina [Prince-Bythewood]. Then, once I got to read the script and the graphic novel, I was excited because it was an opportunity for me to do action, which is something I was always interested in. Gina was very committed to offering these real moments of genuine groundedness, and even though we're playing these characters with these really cool abilities, they're still very human and relatable, so it was exciting for me to take on both aspects of that: playing this very physical, kickass character but still being able to bring the vulnerability that people know me for.
What was your biggest takeaway from your time on set with Gina?
What I loved about what Gina did for this project, and she made this clear the first time that I met her, is that she wasn't going to let the heart of these characters get lost in the action. That's one of the things that she does such a great job of in her work. To see her being fully committed to that and come to the table knowing that that's what she wanted to do and that this was a gift that she had and being confident in that, that was definitely something that I appreciated about working with her. She didn't lose herself in the fact that she was on this big, action set.
"What I loved about what Gina did for this project, and she made this clear the first time that I met her, is that she wasn't going to let the heart of these characters get lost in the action. That's one of the things that she does such a great job of in her work."
KiKi Layne pictured with 'The Old Guard' director Gina Prince-Bythewood and co-star Charlize Theron
There are so many themes running through 'The Old Guard'. One that stands out to me, which actually pops up in the trailer but hits harder when watching the movie is, “Just because we keep living doesn’t mean we stop hurting.” What is one lesson that you personally hold close?
What are we doing with the time that we've been given? You see these [characters] who have so much time, and even they're struggling with what they're supposed to be doing. What is it serving for them to still be here? Especially with all that's going on now, what are we doing with the time that we have? If you're alive in this time right now, what does that mean?
Where do you see yourself most in Nile, and in what areas did you have to stretch yourself the most to tap into her world?
Definitely the biggest stretch was the physicality (laughs). All the training. Hours and hours of training, that was very different for me. Something that I connected to her with was her faith. That was definitely something that I saw, and I knew exactly what that was and also her love of family.
How does faith show up for you in your career?
It's the root of it. It's the root of my life. I feel like faith is super important. It helps me to not put so much pressure on myself, to trust that if it's meant for me, then it's going to be mine and to believe that my name has already been written on certain opportunities. When I don't get something that I really wanted, faith helps me to move forward and not get stuck on why I didn't get a part. I'm able to say, through faith, "That just wasn't meant for me, and there's something that is really right and special and great for me on the way, so now I have to channel my energy, intentions and prayer into getting prepared to receive whatever that is."
"When I don't get something that I really wanted, faith helps me to move forward and not get stuck on why I didn't get a part. I'm able to say, through faith, 'That just wasn't meant for me, and there's something that is really right and special and great for me on the way, so now I have to channel my energy, intentions and prayer into getting prepared to receive whatever that is.'"
What does it mean to you to share your art in the midst of the ongoing fight against systems of oppression that deplete our community?
A big part of it is representation. If someone has only seen a Black person being portrayed in very limited ways, they're going to make assumptions based off of what has been fed to them through TV and film. That's why I'm super committed to pushing against what has been the norm of how we've been represented in film.
For more of KiKi, follow her on Instagram. Netflix's The Old Guard is now streaming.
Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
Shanice Davis is a writer from New York, dedicated to illuminating women of color and Caribbean culture with her pen. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @alwayshanice.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
What We Know About Gabrielle Union & Keith Powers' Romantic Comedy 'The Perfect Find'
Gabrielle Union serves as a giant, wearing many hats for the culture. She's an advocate for believing in your child unconditionally. She speaks up for equal opportunity in work, justice, and equality. And now, she is showing the girls that 50-year-olds can, in fact, do it better in her latest film, The Perfect Find.
The actress dropped a few screengrabs of the film on her Instagram, leaving the fans squealing after noticing Keith Powers as her love interest (and who happens to be 20 years her junior). "It’s almost time! First look at my new movie, THE PERFECT FIND, coming to @Netflix on June 23! @NetflixFilm#ThePerfectFindNetflix#Tudum," the post was captioned.
But what can we expect from Netflix's newest romantic comedy? Here's everything we know about Union's new film, 'The Perfect Find.'
In the film, Keith Powers plays Gabrielle Union's boss' son.
Map that one out in your mind.
After being fired from her high-profile job and losing her long-time boyfriend in a chaotic way, Jenna (Union) is forced to move back to New York City in an attempt to revive her career. Things get a bit messy as she finds herself working for her frenemy, Darcy (Gina Torres), but also falls for her younger, charming coworker, Eric (Powers), who also happens to be Darcy’s son. Jenna is then faced with the decision to risk it all on the secret romance, and see if there can be a future with Eric despite their age and generation gap.
“Rom-coms are back,” director Numa Perrier teases to Netflix’s Tudum. “This is the movie. You’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry and it is very sexy. We will have our chemistry, we will have our sensuality, we will have all the things.”
When it came to selecting Powers as her love interest, Union says it was a no-brainer.
Courtesy of Netflix
“Everyone was like, ‘Okay, that might be a slightly younger person that people might throw it all away for,’” she told Vanity Fair. It also helped that Union and her husband, Dwyane Wade, were fans of how Powers and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Ryan Destiny, handled their relationship publicly.
“We were openly fanning about Ryan and Keith and just loving how they moved through Hollywood, how they handled their relationship, how they handled the public love. It was just kind of a natural progression of a friendship that already existed, but it comes out of respect. He has an enormous amount of respect for Dwyane, I have an enormous amount of respect for Ryan, and it just made working super easy.”
The movie also stars Devale Ellis, DB Woodside, Janet Hubert, La La Anthony, Niecy Nash, and Gina Torres.
Perrier gives flowers to the cast, revealing that Torres is a scene-stealer as Eric’s mom and Darzine e-zine founder Darcy Hill and so much more. “She’s so magnetic, she lights up every room,” Perrier says. “We wanted her to just be an absolute New York fashion woman who’s bold and unapologetic and takes up all the space in the room. That’s who Gina Torres is. We don’t get to see her like that a lot because she plays very buttoned-up characters, but she really got to let go in the role of Darcy.”
Perrier similarly praised Hinds and Anthony, who plays Billie and Elodie, Jenna’s best friends and chosen family. “The three of them together, you feel like these are friends that have known each other and are supporting each other through every good and bad decision that they’ve made,” she says. “You feel that realness.”
Union says the film offered her the opportunity to tell a story that resonates.
Courtesy of Netflix
“[It] really sparked something inside of me about older women and how we can oftentimes disappear from society, almost, in terms of people looking at us as like we are past our prime,” she revealed. “That we carry no value, that no one sees value in a woman over 28, much less over 35, much less over 40, but baby, I’m thriving. So I wanted something that spoke to that that I hadn’t done before. Which is tough, because I’ve done a lot of rom-coms. This one is new. I’m thrilled.”
The film is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Tia Williams.
Union was busy producing a rom-com for another A-list actor when she was inspired to make her own. Her production company, I'll Have Another, had recently optioned Robinne Lee's The Idea of You, "a very specific story to an aging white woman," Union tells Vanity Fair, "I knew it wasn't something I could just shove myself into because it really wasn't the right story for me…. We got Michael Showalter and Anne Hathaway and Cathy Schulman, and it was up and running."
The movie left Union with a desire to do the same for the culture. "It made me be on the lookout for a story that made me feel the same way, basically," That's when she was presented with the idea of bringing Tia Williams's 2016 novel, The Perfect Find to the big screen, a book suggested to Union by producer Tommy Oliver. "I'd already read it. I love that book. I love Tia. She's the shit. We have mutual friends. I'm like, Oh, my God, why didn't I think of that?"
Grab the book here!
Remember when Dwyane Wade surprised Union on set with the sweetest over-the-top romantic gesture? This was the set.
Wade sent a group of singers, dancers, and musicians to serenade Union with some of her favorite songs and also hand her a bunch of gorgeous white flowers. D'awwww!
Filming for The Perfect Find started in June of 2021 and lasted only seven weeks, officially ending by August. The film will be released on Netflix on June 23. Will you be watching?
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Featured image courtesy of Netflix