LaKeith Lee “Keith” Stanfield
Lakeith Stanfield is a burgeoning actor and rapper known for his role in both the short and feature film versions of Short Term 12. Stanfield has also appeared in Selma and Dope and stars as Snoop Dogg in this summer’s N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton. He will appear in Don Cheadle’s upcoming Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, as well as the Oliver Stone film, Snowden, alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. Stanfield and producer HH have released one eponymous debut EP under their indie rap project MOORS.

Destin Daniel Cretton
Hawaiian screenwriter, director and producer Destin Daniel Cretton is known for his successful 2008 short Short Term 12 which won the Short Filmmaking Award at Sundance 2009. In 2013, Cretton adapted Short Term 12 into a critically acclaimed feature-length film of the same name.

Short Term 12
An extended version of the eponymous short, Short Term 12 is a feature film written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton based on the auteur’s work experience in a group home for troubled teenagers. The recipient of extensive critical acclaim, the film premiered at the 2013 South By Southwest festival and won the Grand Jury Prize for best narrative feature.

Keith Stanfield and I first worked together about seven years ago when he acted in my thesis film for grad school. As a 16 year old with no acting experience, he was one of the most authentic performers I’d ever met. Since then, I’m happy to say that my admiration for him has only grown, both as an artist and a human. Watching his personal and professional success over the past few years has been such a joy, and it couldn’t be happening to a better soul. He’s an observer of humans, a fearless and vulnerable poet, a deep thinker, and a dude who knows how to be silly and have a good time. I never pass up an opportunity to hang with Keith, especially if wonton soup is involved.

Destin Daniel Cretton: I’ve never done an interview before. I wrote down some questions on these crappy sheets of paper… Maybe before we start, can you describe the setting we’re in for people who are reading this?

Lakeith Lee Stanfield: We’re in this restaurant in Chinatown, New Dragon Seafood. There are these nice ornaments hanging up around. It’s nice and comfy. And I get my all-time favorite food, wonton soup. That really sold me on coming to this place ’cause I don’t care where I’m at, what I’m doing—I can always have wonton soup.

DDC: Where does that come from?

LLS: I dunno, I just love it man. I find these meals that I really like since I’ve been out here in LA, like wonton soup. Kale salad is another one. I forget what that fish is called, but there’s some majestic fish that I really like too.

DDC: Part interview and part food critique. I just googled “best wonton soup in LA,” and this was one of the places that came up. So we’ll see. Where are you from?

LLS: I come from San Bernardino; I was born there in 1991. Then I moved to Riverside. It was me, my mom and my two brothers, and we lived with my auntie for a couple of years. My mom met a dude out there and had two more kids. My auntie was really old fashioned, so we were all running around in overalls and prayed and had Sunday dinner. We were raised by all women—no real dudes in the house—so the women had to play both sides and were strict. We had a really structured life. Then when I was about six or seven, we moved back to San Bernardino, and all that structure kinda fell away. I don’t know about the rest of my brothers, but I was on my own. It was a pretty bad environment and ghetto, but for me it didn’t feel bad because it was what I knew. I was like, “I guess I gotta roll with it.” But looking back, it was definitely not the optimal situation for a young kid. I just remember getting into fights everyday and hearing gunshots in the neighborhood. And we were poor and didn’t have much food, so we would be scavenging and running about, playing in the trash cans. When I was 14, we moved to Victorville.

“I do know that drawing on the things in my past
that have been sort of scary and crazy
and hard for me… I try and bring that level
of seriousness to my roles.”
— Lakeith Lee Stanfield

DDC: Did you lose friends with that move or anything?

LLS: I would say I lost knuckleheads, man. We were all young and dumb and not good for each other, so I was definitely hanging around with crowds that I felt I had to be cool around. I had to live up to their idea of what was cool, so I tried to do that, but in the back of my mind, I always thought, “This is so stupid. Why the hell am I doing this?” Going to Victorville really gave me the platform to reassess all that shit and start new. I was still dumb and doing dumb stuff, but I didn’t get into as much trouble. I always wanted to act. Ever since I can remember, I just wanted to perform.

DDC: What was your first artistic expression that you can remember?

LLS: The first that comes to mind—this is why I respect my auntie, who gave me a lot of confidence early on—she would allow us decorate socks and to do these little puppet shows on the side of her bed. She would invite other family members and her friends to watch us do these them, and looking back I know they couldn’t have possibly cared, but the support that they gave meant so much. I remember looking up and they would all be clapping, and I felt good about being able to be free and expressing.

DDC: As a kid, what did creativity do for you in dealing with the world around you?

LLS: I wanted to know everything, and I think not understanding and the mess of trying to understand became my little creativity. My art was me trying to qualify all these crazy things in the world. I grew up really hardcore Protestant Christian, so there were a lot of rules and a lot of different tenets and traditions and I always thought, “Well why? Why do we have to have Sunday dinner? Why are we praying? Who are we praying to?” A lack of satisfying answers has always been my driving force in creativity. I’m not satisfied with general answers. I’m always looking to dig a little bit deeper.

DDC: How does the place you came from influence what you currently do creatively?

LLS: This crazy thing goes around where people are like, if you’ve gone through something kind of traumatic or messed up, that it informs you as an artist, and it makes your artistry that much greater. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment. But I do know that drawing on the things in my past that have been scary and crazy and hard—the level of seriousness when your mom is in a fight with your dad, and you’re standing there watching it, and everything is happening in real time so quickly—I try and bring that level of seriousness to my roles. That feeling of urgency. And all of the great times spent with family and the really cool beautiful things that happened in my younger life, those things help me remember to just be immersed in something and really enjoy it and enjoy yourself.