'If Beale Street Could Talk' Star Kiki Layne Does Tarot Every Damn Day
The lead actress of Barry Jenkins's Oscar-nominated new film says that the cards told her to stick it out in Hollywood.
Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
As any struggling actor will tell you, breaking into Hollywood is no easy task. Kiki Layne makes it look easy. When I join the Cincinnati-born newcomer on the sofa at a plush London hotel, as she promotes her first film, she’s as composed as any megastar on their umpteenth junket. You’d never guess that If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’s captivating follow-up to Moonlight, is her screen debut.
It almost didn’t happen for Layne—she almost moved home to Cincinnati after seemingly getting nowhere in Hollywood. Then a friend gave her a tarot reading that advised the budding actress to stick around. “It was a pretty big spread,” she tells Broadly about the reading, “but overall the message was just that there was a lot more waiting for me in LA.”
A few weeks later, she got the audition for the role of Tish, the lovestruck protagonist of If Beale Street Could Talk. Tish narrates the film, based on a book of the same name by James Baldwin, and we see the world of 70s New York through her eyes. It is Tish’s agony that we feel as her childhood friend and sweetheart, Fonny (Stephan James), is locked up for a crime that he did not commit. “I had never seen a love story like that for Black people,” Layne says of the film’s two star-crossed lovers. “They’re soulmates.”
When Layne got the call from Jenkins, she knew immediately that the role was going to change her life. “I knew how special it was going to be,” she explains. “It’s his followup to Moonlight, it’s a James Baldwin adaptation—I knew that would be the thing that would send me down the path I wanted to be on.”
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Layne is magnetic in the film; you believe her utterly as the young girl who slowly sheds her natural shyness to blossom in a love affair that changes her life—and you believe her as she grows into the tormented young woman whose partner is crushed by the brutality of incarceration. Baldwin, Layne says, “speaks to the truth of real issues that we’re still dealing with today, even though he wrote the book in the early 1970s.”
If Beale Street Could Talk is nominated for three Oscars this year, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, and Best Supporting Actress (Regina King as Tish’s supportive mother). There’s already talk of this being a snub for Jenkins, who won Best Picture in 2016 for Moonlight, but Layne is smart enough to know the Academy recognition doesn’t determine whether a film lives or dies. As far as she’s concerned, If Beale Street Could Talk is already in the history books. “While filming I knew it was something special and could be something powerful, but when I watched it, that’s when I knew, oh wow, we needed this,” she says.
It’s also Jenkins’s first period film, shot with the same beauty and attention to detail that Wong Kar Wai, one of his favorite filmmakers, lavishes on historical Hong Kong. But at Broadly, we are suckers for nostalgia for a different time. If you, like us, lived through the early 2000s rather than the 70s, you might remember the Myspace surveys that were all the rage when we were growing up. These unquestionably reigned supreme as the ultimate way to get to know someone—from the most mundane everyday questions to the most intimate—so we treated Layne to a round of questions taken from various iterations of these quizzes.
Last beverage you drank?
Last song you listened to?
“Don’t Judge Me,” Janelle Monae. I got to meet her at the Golden Globes—we were seated next to each other. I did good, I didn’t fangirl as hard as I could have. But I do love her.
When was the last time you cried?
Last night. Honestly, exhaustion. I was just really really tired. Then with the Oscar nominations coming out—of course [I was] celebrating, but the truth is I wanted Best Picture. But I mean, we’re going to turn up like crazy for Barry, Nick, and Regina! For a film like ours [to get three nominations], I’m beyond happy. That’s going to get more people to see it. I’m thankful for that recognition. This is such a special film, but it’s also such a quiet film, it’s so intimate, it’s so real and there’s so much passion and heart that we put into it.
Are you already talking about what’s going to happen at the Oscars party?
Oh yeah. Oh, we know how to party—Beale Street knows how to have some fun.
Have you ever dated the same person again after breaking up with them?
Yeah, I had one of those on and off, on and off [relationships].
How did you extricate yourselves from that?
We finally had to be honest with each other and be like, “this is not serving either of us” and loving each other enough to know that and do what was actually best for us.
That’s so mature. How old were you at the time?
I was 20, 21—somewhere around there. Like, right around college.
What did you do for your last birthday?
I had a fish fry! My mom and my brothers and their wives were in town. Usually if I’m back in Cincinnati we have a fish fry and my mom and I did the same thing and I invited a bunch of LA friends over.
Aside from social media, what is the website you visit the most?
Honestly? Google. That’s not interesting, but that would be it—Google and Instagram, that’s basically what I do.
Do you have any nicknames besides Kiki?
Keekster, Keeks, Ki—my nickname has nicknames.
When did you decide to go by Kiki?
My mom knew we were going to call me Kiki by birth. I think she had the nickname before she had my name, and she then found the name that would allow that.
What do you do when you’re upset?
I pray and call my momma.
Have you stayed up for 24 hours or more?
Oh yeah, definitely.
What’s your record?
Definitely not more than 48 hours. But I’ve definitely stayed up for 24 hours before.
Do you identify with your zodiac sign?
Sagittarius? Definitely. [They're] are really fun and warm once you get to know them. Most Sagittariuses start off really reserved. You gotta check people out, see what they’re about, and then once we decide you’re cool, then that’s when we become super fun and really outgoing. But first we gotta make sure everybody’s cool.
Do you believe in psychics?
As someone who does tarot and is a very spiritual person, yeah—though I don’t think I would ever go to a psychic reader. Even though there’s an element of that in tarot, for some reason it’s a little different to me.
Do you do your own tarot?
I’m still teaching myself. I started doing it like a year ago. The thing about tarot—maybe this to me is the difference between it and working with a psychic—to me it’s clarifying the things that you already know. I don’t feel like any tarot reading I’ve done or received was particularly surprising. They always speak to things that you kind of felt already. The cards clarify it and give you more of a sense of direction about what path of thinking to continue on.
When was the last time you did a reading for yourself?
Last night. I try to do them at night, just as I’m reflecting on the day and just to get some last thoughts on what to reflect more on and what to think about more as I head into the next day. I mean, sometimes I fall off, but [doing it every day] is my goal!
Where would you go if you could go back in time?
I was here, but I want to go back as an adult to the early 90s. Just because so many of the artists I love aren’t here with us anymore, and I would love to have the opportunity to see them perform live. Aaliyah is my favorite singer. Whitney Houston, Prince, Michael Jackson—that was such a good, good time for music.
What is your biggest insecurity?
Personally, I have in my head that my feet are big. I’m a ten and a half.
Is it that big?
I mean, people act like it is! [laughs] I don’t know. See, that’s what insecurities are. It’s kind of those things where you’re like the only person who’s really questioning it and everyone is like “whatever, those shoes are cute.”
What’s your go to karaoke song?
I love “Drunk in Love.” That’s a fun one. Especially if you’re doing karaoke drunk, then it’s like, woo!
Have you ever been in a physical fight?
If you had a different job, what would it be?
I’d be a teacher. Probably drama or English.
Is there any song that immediately makes you cry?
It’s this song by Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” It makes me very emotional. It was part of this soundtrack playlist that one of my teachers at DePaul [University] put together for a show that we did. It was one of the first shows I did there. That teacher passed away unexpectedly from cancer, and so it makes me think of her and how she affected me as an artist.
If Beale Street Could Talk is released in the UK on 8 February.