Interview by Hassane Soumahoro
When I connected with Laya DeLeon Hayes for our discussion, the room filled with her infectious energy. Her vivacious nature, combined with the insight she shared about her experiences and aspirations, made it a truly engaging encounter. Our conversation centered on her background, career motives, and her upcoming film, "The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster," set to hit the theaters on June 9th.
In 2021, Laya drew attention for her compelling performance in CBS's popular series, "The Equalizer." She played the role of Delilah, Robyn McCall’s (Queen Latifah) daughter. As has been the norm in her career, Laya didn't disappoint. Her performance contributed to "The Equalizer" bagging the prestigious AAFCA TV Honors "Best New Show" award. This isn't her first brush with accolades; she's voice acted in God Of War: Ragnarök, guest-starred in Grey's Anatomy, and won the NAACP Image Award for “Character Voice-Over Performance” in 2020.
Yet, for Laya, these achievements represent just the start of her journey. She shared, “I don’t feel like I've reached my pinnacle yet. I am always striving to be better. I hope to continue growing, evolving, and ensuring my craft always improves." It's not just words; she explained her dedication to her roles involves mental preparation, meditation, creating character-specific playlists, and hours of discussions with the director to ensure she can fully embody her character.
Reflecting on her beginnings, Laya’s smile widened. "I started when I was nine years old, having caught the acting bug while still living in Texas," she shared. Her recounting of early experiences – from school plays and recitals to dance performances – was laden with sincere appreciation for her journey and those who've supported her. Her parents, in particular, instilled in her a robust confidence that allowed her to persevere, regardless of the obstacles.
Now, she's channeling that confidence into her lead role in the film "The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster." Laya confessed the title initially horrified her, but after reading the script, she grew to love it, understanding the deeper meaning behind it. She spoke passionately about how the title challenges racial prejudices and the way society often stifles Black women’s emotions.
In her own words, “Anger is a privilege that black people aren’t able to fully indulge in.” She hopes that the film will help reclaim the term, piquing people's interest and sparking change.
Diving deeper into her career, Laya discussed her diverse roles and how these experiences have shaped her approach to acting. "It’s shown me that I should never limit my capabilities and constantly work hard on challenging myself to become better every day," she explained.
Her advice to young aspiring actors resonated with this sentiment, as she encouraged them to immerse themselves in their passion, focus on training and development, and continuously hone their skills.
Discussing her upcoming film, "The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster," Laya shared her preparation process for the emotionally intense role of Vicaria, a teenager who challenges the concepts of life and death. This involved reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in-depth research, and developing Vicaria from the inside out.
When asked about her expectations for the audience's response to the film, Laya shared, "There are certain elements in this movie I hope people will find relatable and empathize with, like dealing with grief on a variety of levels and the idea of overcoming the challenges that come from the environment a person grows up in. I hope our audience is able to humanize every character in this movie, even the ones that are perceived as ‘monsters.’"
She also elaborated on her wonderful experience working with the film's writer and director, Bomani J. Story, to bring this complex narrative to life. Despite facing unique challenges while
filming on location in Charlotte, North Carolina, Laya found the experience to be incredibly bonding for the cast. When not on set, she cherished the opportunity to spend time with her family who live in the area.
Her experience extends beyond film and television, with a successful stint in the video game industry that saw her winning a BAFTA Game Award for her role in “God Of War: Ragnarök." Working in this different medium, she found the need to engage her imagination in new ways, providing yet another opportunity to display her acting range.
Voice acting has also been a significant part of Laya's career, in which she primarily uses the same approach as her on-camera work. Her process involves meticulous research and in-depth character analysis to understand who they are and who they will become.
Laya shared her passion for theater, movies, and creating films and videos, and her future aspirations include developing, writing, directing, or producing her own projects. However, her immediate goal remains to become one of the world's best actors.
Reflecting on the evolution of Black characters in film, TV, and animation, she remarked positively about the change she is witnessing. Having been a part of numerous projects with Black leads, she feels that the narratives are finally being told the way they should be. "We’re yearning for representation and it feels like now we’re starting to see positive change. I hope to see us in more spaces where we are the decision makers and telling stories that don’t put us in a box," she shared.
Returning to her role in “The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster,” Laya voiced her excitement about representing such a powerful Black character, especially considering the contemporary social climate. "We don’t see characters like this often. I always yearn to play characters that are as nuanced as Vicaria, ones that show an array of colors and show our humanity," she expressed.
Finally, when asked about her dream role, Laya surprised us by revealing her desire to portray Black Wonder Woman and participate in a Jane Austen/Bridgerton-type period piece. As our conversation concluded, one thing was clear: Laya DeLeon Hayes is a rising star, driven by a passion for her craft and a desire to challenge societal norms through her work.
As our anticipation builds for the premiere of "The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster" on June 9th, we find ourselves eagerly looking forward to witnessing the change Laya hopes to bring to the world of cinema.