On February 2, Warner Bros held a virtual summit and press conference for their upcoming release of Judas and the Black Messiah. Unlike typical press junkets, this was designed as a seminar, serving as an educational moment to teach about the history and impact of the Black Panther Party and its influence on everything from music and fashion to social protests in modern times.
One of the highlights of the Judas and the Black Messiah summit was a talk between star Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rey Howery, and comedians the Lucas Brothers who are credited with the film’s story.
While Howery does have a small yet pivotal cameo in the film, Judas and the Black Messiah’s breakout stars are undeniably Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther icon Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as F.B.I. informant, William O’Neal. The film is based on a true story that is rarely taught in public school systems, but whose impact can still be felt to this very day.
Lakeith Stanfield Was In For A Surprise
During the talk, Howery relived a moment between himself, rapper/actor Common, and Stanfield at a past event in which they talked about the bubbling project. Howery explained that, at the time, Lakeith Stanfield was talking about the project as if he was playing Fred Hampton himself. Clearly things were not as they seemed, so Stanfield explained the casting story.
“When I first got the script, for some reason I just assumed that I’d be playing Fred [Hampton]. It didn’t even cross my mind that I’d be playing anyone else. I was never told I was playing Fred, but I guess it was just wishful thinking in retrospect. When I called Shaka [King] we had talked about the story early on. I said, ‘I am really exciting Man. I can’t wait to play Fred.’ I kept talking and rambling and he just let me ramble for awhile. [laughs] Then he was like, ‘Uh…actually I was thinking about you for the role of William O’Neal.’ And then there was just this silence. Like this pause.
I was like, ‘What?’ And at first I was kind of against it.’Naw I can’t play this dude. No way. I hate this guy.’ And that was the case at beginning of the movie, but as we progressed on…after I actually saw Eyes on the Prize extended, I got an indication that a lot of the exterior bravado that he was bringing in the interview was sort of boring and secondary to me. To the…what was in between the words of what he saying. Which to me was like, this sense of regret. And there was this sense of ‘I did something wrong…but let’s not talk about that.’
That was the thing that I felt was more interesting than all that other stuff. So I already went into the character thinking that I’m going to take that sliver of insecurity and try and magnify that to bring this character to life. Really get into what his fears were. Hopefully making him more relatable to me, to make him more relatable to people. But I also didn’t want to risk being too relatable and too emotionally available, I guess, to the audience. To offset the fact that he did some really messed up things.”
This was one of the more humorous anecdotes the actor shared during the press event. Lakeith Stanfield was sure that he was being cast as Civil Rights icon Fred Hampton. Ultimately, he would find that he was being pursued to play F.B.I. informant William O’Neal. O’Neal was a low-level criminal who made the decision to infiltrate, spy, and discredit the Black Panther party unjustly after making a deal with the F.B.I. in return for staying out of jail for his past deeds.
Lakeith Stanfield’s performance in Judas and the Black Messiah is award-worthy, partially because the actor has a definitive viewpoint on O’Neal and he certainly is not a fan of the real-life mole. That perspective informs his performance in so many subtle ways, and his uneasiness in his own shoes is felt every time he clenches his jaw or gives an insecure glance.
Lakeith Stanfield continued and explains how Judas and the Black Messiah director Shaka King helped him through the grueling process:
“So I tried to find the balance with Shaka and it was hard. A lot of time I wouldn’t know if I was going too far or not far enough. Should I make him a little bit more crazy in this moment?’ And Shaka would help me fine tune all those things to find a balance.”
That level of trust and camaraderie can be seen on the screen, as King’s direction is masterful and Lakeith Stanfield delivers an absolutely unforgettable performance. O’Neal is a unique protagonist to frame this powerful story within the Civil Rights struggle and makes Judas and the Black Messiah a must-see when it hits the big screen and HBO Max next week.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS
FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?
Judas and the Black Messiah is in theaters on February 12th, as well as available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release. Are you excited for the upcoming release? What is your favorite Lakeith Stanfield performance? Let us know in the comment section below or over on our social media!