In this exclusive interview with EBONY, Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) talk updating the classic Richard Wright novel Native Son, bringing the ever-so-relevant story to modern day Chicago.
Sanders, who leads the cast as jaded protagonist Bigger Thomas, discusses how he was able to stay true to the character’s darker elements while maintaining his humanity on screen. Layne, who plays Bigger’s girlfriend Bessie, emphasized the importance of bringing the work of authors like Wright and James Baldwin to new generations.
“One of the dope things about doing these projects is that it introduces people to these writers and to their voices, then you start to get more interested in their other works and what they had to say about so many different issues.”
“What’s so special about these projects in particular is that we’re still experiencing these things,” Layne continues. “Beale Street, that’s from the 1970s, Native Son, that’s the ’30s and early ’40s, but those same issues, we’re talking about, we’re still having the same discussions today.”
Sanders later dives into how the film showcased Bigger as intellectual as well as their decision to implement a more Afro-punk aesthetic to his look.
“I feel like, aesthetically, I kind of already knew Bigger in a way…the costume team already had a lot of the world that Bigger lived in in his style of dress. I already died my hair green a month prior to going out there to shoot without knowing my hair was supposed to be green. It wasn’t as complex as you may think, but I do think it was specific.”
Check out the full clip, including Layne dissecting the “ride-or-die” relationship between Bessie & Bigger, above.
Native Son premieres Saturday, April 6 at 10pm EST/7pm PST on HBO.