On the other hand, in Crown Heights you play a real person and you’re dramatizing his life story. Does that add an extra weight to a role like that?
Stanfield: If there’s a “weight” to it, I think that can be determined by the audience. As far as the way I felt about playing the character, it was similar to how I feel about going into anything, which is that by the time I touch down on the set I can’t really have many inhibitions. I have to understand what needs to be done or what I figure needs to be done and roll through with that. If I go into it with too many questions as far as what I’ll bring to the role, than I risk being contrived. So I try not to think about that. I just focus in and go.
At what point did you get involved with that project?
Stanfield: [Crown Heights director] Matt Ruskin reached out and wondered if I’d be interested in this story. I think he just had a good eye because I kind of look like a little bit like Colin Warner, so when he sent it to me I realized it was a story I wasn’t aware of and that I should be aware of it -- and that maybe other people should be, too. That drew me in and made me want to be a part of it.
At what point did you meet the real Colin?
Stanfield: Probably a couple weeks before we started shooting. I hung out with him.
Did that inform your performance?
Stanfield: Maybe in some way. I imagine everything I come into contact with at some point influences something. But not consciously because I didn’t really want to mimic him or do anything that he did in particular, or try to be him. What I wanted to do was try to be the character within the confines of the story. Because the story is not his actual life. It’s a story representing his life. So I wanted to represent that character within the confines of that story and use what I knew, but not try to be him. If that makes sense. I wasn’t trying to mimic him. I was trying to listen to his story, gain information, and then work that into the confines of the narrative.
Did you do a lot of additional research for the part?
Stanfield: Oh yeah, we did a lot. There was a lot of court transcripts, a lot of hearing transcripts. We worked with a vocal coach who actually appears in the film. We went through pages and pages of stuff through the case. I watched all his interviews and the documentary that Matt had made and read books, visited prisons. Also, [Colin] invited me to his house and his family invited me to a shrine in the corner of their dining area and they blessed me to move forward. That made me feel reassured as well, like, “OK, now we’re going.”
It’s interesting that both Death Note and Crown Heights are coming out at the same time because they’re very different. When you’re choosing roles, are you looking to work in different genres or is it just a case where if the role speaks to you it speaks to you?
Stanfield: That’s it. If it speaks to me, it speaks to me. I think that’s what it is. We’ve got many different shades and sides to ourselves so whatever I feel is jumping at the time, I will move accordingly.
In this year, you were in Get Out, one of the biggest movies of the year, and last year you were in Atlanta, one of the most acclaimed shows on TV. Has that changed how you move through the world?
Stanfield: Oh yeah. Recognition is happening. It’s a new chapter. It’s pretty interesting, and nice that I can be a part of things that people adore for pretty cool reasons. It isn’t anything I have to be ashamed about, which is nice. I’m not out here acting a fool, and that’s a gift because I just want to work like the next person. When I first started I could’ve easily done something that I could be humiliated about, so I’m grateful that the things that I’ve done I could be proud of.
Have you been offered things where you were like, “This isn’t for me,” and didn't go for it?
Stanfield: Sure, totally. We all are. That’s just part of the game. There are going to be a bunch of things where people perceive you as a certain thing and they want to kowtow to that. It’s just part of life, really. People think a million things about you before you even open your mouth, and that’s just part of it. Totally.
Going forward now are there certain types of roles you’re looking to play?
Stanfield: Obviously there are things that excite me more than others. But the thing about taking roles is I don’t really necessarily go out looking for the role I really want to play next. If that’s what I want to do then I attempt to create my own content. But what I do is I will uncover a nice cool new story because there are brilliant people creating these characters and stories. And it will tell me that should be my next move. It speaks to me in a way where I’m like, “OK, that’s the one.” I didn’t even have knowledge of it before. And I guess that’s always in a state of transition as I grow and experience more things. What I’m interested in evolves.