The Hollywood Portfolio Film

LaKeith Stanfield, Lifelong Disciple of the Absurd, Finds Inspiration in a Game of Peek-a-Boo. Here's Why

All clothing and accessories by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

Every good story starts with a decisive action. For actor LaKeith Stanfield, it was a Google search.

As a teenager living in the sleepy valley town of Victorville, California, the 32-year-old actor sought out any opportunity to get himself in front of a camera. “I was playing the law of averages, really,” he says. One day, Stanfield completed an application for the infamous early-aughts John Casablancas Modeling and Career Center. Seventeen years later, the Oscar-nominated actor is one of the mall kiosk chain’s greatest success stories.


If the Black-surrealist-horror-comedy genre were to designate a patron saint, it might be Stanfield. He had a scene-stealing turn as a tortured neighbor in Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), starred as a call center employee who finds success only when he adopts a “white” voice in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (2018), and added a dose of surreality as a starry-eyed stoner in Donald Glover’s television series Atlanta (2016–22). Stanfield’s mind hums at a frequency that sets him apart, allowing for uniquely free-associative thought and excellent comedic timing.

He is also the rare Black man granted ethereality in Hollywood stories, embodying characters marked by their mystical wisdom and idiosyncratic responses to the world. Has there ever been a more persuasive, concise, and tender piece of advice than the one Stanfield’s character whispers to the only other Black person at an all-white garden party: his electric, terror-stricken, “Get out”?


Earlier this year, Stanfield starred in The Book of Clarence as a lowly debtor in the New Testament era. When Clarence notices how much business this Jesus guy seems to be drumming up, he casts himself as a competing messiah to get in on the action. “It’s a challenging role—or roles,” the actor tells me. (Stanfield plays both the titular character and his twin, Thomas.)

Stanfield is wiry and restless, shifting his phone several times during our call to find the best lighting in his verdant Los Angeles backyard. “I was challenged in a way that feels good to move through, but it was also something that feels impactful and meaningful to me and my people,” he says. It is this dedication to capturing the spikiness of a life that makes Stanfield stand out: his desire to revel in the multitude of Black masculinities, disentangle childhood traumas from adult transgressions, and chronicle rags-to-riches stories. It’s no surprise that next, he plans to try his hand at directing and producing these kinds of knotty narratives.


Despite the gravity of this undertaking, Stanfield remains a devotee of the absurd and offbeat. Playing peek-a-boo, he says, has been one of his greatest sources of inspiration recently. (Stanfield has three children, but declined to share with whom exactly he plays peek-a-boo.) “Being caught off-guard can be quite funny—I don’t think that has changed since I was little,” he says. “That’s what made Atlanta so funny—it was an opportunity to juxtapose these things that just seemed absurd, but there was something in there that rang true. What is funny is what is true."


Jazmine Hughes is a National Magazine Award-winning writer based in Brooklyn, New York, and Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.

CASTING BY Tom Macklin
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANCE BY Alizabeth Bean and Cody Rogers 
STYLIST ASSISTANCE BY Andrew McFarland, Laura Cheron Haquette, and Arianna Thode
GROOMING BY Autumn Moultrie
PRODUCTION BY Giulia di Stravola
DIGITECH BY Victor Prieto
SET DESIGN BY Romain Goudinoux
VIDEO BY Larry Armstrong

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