What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring the actor and rapper Lakeith Stanfield.
By now, you’ve probably heard the name Lakeith Stanfield, the magnetic 26-year-old actor whose biggest credits are last January’s Oscar-winning feature Get Out — in a role that taught America the meaning of the sunken place — and Atlanta, Donald Glover’s critically acclaimed series on FX. This summer, Stanfield plays lead in Boots Riley’s brilliant Sorry To Bother You, opposite the equally enthralling Tessa Thompson. The movie is a blast: One part anti-capitalist screed, one part race treatise, one part love story, and one part sci-fi body horror. (Yes, you read that right. The twist in the movie’s third act is unmissable.) The racial politics of Riley’s script are fascinating; the whole film revolves around a telemarketing firm, where Stanfield’s Cassius Green is schooled by an elder (played by Danny Glover) to use his “white voice” in order to log more sales. It works. Naturally, Green’s white voice comes out as an overdubbed David Cross.
And Stanfield ably carries the cast — Cassius Green’s transformation from nebbish nerd to Always-Be-Closin’ salesman is as delightful to watch as it is funny to see. It might be because he does, in fact, see some of himself in the part; he, too, is on a journey of self-realization, he tells The Verge.
These days, Stanfield travels frequently between Los Angeles, where he lives, and New York, where he makes time for journalists like myself. I stopped by the well-appointed basement of the Lower East Side’s Crosby Hotel to ask Stanfield a question I’d wanted to know since the last time I interviewed him: What, exactly, does a movie star carry around with him in 2018 A.D.? The answer lies in a zippered Adidas fanny pack.
Stanfield: So we’ve got my mandatory Coca-Cola bottle. You always got to have it. Never know. You’ve also got some Raybans here. Gotta keep the sun and the haters blocked. We also got two keys here for the hotel room, in case I lose one, which I always do. We have a cup here for the Coca-Cola, just in case. Trident, keep it nice and fresh; some Chapstick, keep them lips crackin’; a phone, because duh, I’m an android, AND — but I use, uh, iPhone. [laughs] A passport, because you never know when you gotta show these motherBOOPs who you are. [Editor’s Note: he censored himself, that “BOOP” was literal.] A charger for the phone. Some headphones for the phone, which is going to use a charger. A bottle of Voss, [to] keep them thirst-buckets off you; and a nice little fake Balenciaga.
The Verge: What do you need the most?
Nothing matters when your lips are chapped.
Do you have any chapstick stories?
Oh yeah. One time I dated a chapstick. I put a little mini wig on it... and we had to have our own relationship because, to be honest, I felt lonely, and I don’t really want to talk about it.
Stanfield: I’ve upgraded to a shitty iPhone 8. And... the thing about iPhones [that’s] cool is that you can keep upgrading, but it’s still gonna be an iPhone. So I quite love it. Actually, I had the [iPhone X] for Animojis. But then I just... I got very confused about swiping. So I just went back to touch[ing] things with fingers.
But the fake Balenciagas. Where are they from? Tell me about them.
You have to have a pair of shoes on you that resembles something that they’re not, so that way you give off something that you aren’t.
So you’re not a Balenciaga guy.
I’m just not cool.
You’ve been in a lot of TV and film lately. What do you bring to set?
Everything you see here in the fanny pack. And some sweats, so I can easily switch in and out of wardrobe. Sometimes which consists of very nice Cosby sweaters.
Is it different for say, Atlanta...?
Stanfield: [stylist brings him a shot of whiskey in a glass] Thank you, baby.
Stylist: You’re welcome.
Stanfield: [pouring Coke in the whiskey] Continue.
So is it different on TV sets and film sets, or are they the same sort of layout?
Same layout, except when I’m on Atlanta. I bring a fan because it’s usually very hot out there. And sometimes I like to have a fan — meaning a fanatic. A fan of mine with a fan, so that way they can cool me off.
Cool. Do you carry more stuff now than you did before?
No, I just think I carry it different. Now it’s in my nice little pouch. It used to be on my back and a stick.
Do you feel like, when you’re carrying stuff around in your pouch, that that’s kind of like your home on your back? Like, is this all you need?
Well my foot is cold, and it’s getting colder by the second. So whatever we’re doing here with this photo, I hope we can speed it up a bit, you know what I mean? No, um — what was the question?
I mean, this is this your home wherever you go?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes. I am a vagrant, and I like to frequent gas stations, and so I want to make sure, when I get there, that I have all my essentials. And all you see here represents that.
Do you have any products you keep at home that you like especially?
Yes. I have... a Harriet Tubman twenty-dollar bill, which is framed and is sitting on my mantle.
How’d you get that, and also, why do you have it?
Well... I don’t know how Donald [Glover] got them, but he gave me one. And yeah, it just stays up there, nice and safe, away from Trump’s wrath.
What does it mean?
It means that there’s a beautiful black woman on a dollar bill, buddy! I got that thing. So if don’t nobody else got it, I got it.
Do you have a skincare routine?
Nope. I just wake up and go.
Not even a cleanser?
Nope. We out here keeping it raw, man.
Do you have any other electronics that you really like?
Yes. I have a DJI drone, it shoots in 4K. And I actually have three of those.
What do you shoot with it?
Nothing. I just like them.
You just like having them around?
I try to fly ‘em around, but there’s a lot of buildings and stuff, so I just leave it alone. But it’s cool.
So what are you into lately?
Deep. In too deep.
Tell me about making Sorry To Bother You. How’d you get attached to the project in the first place?
So I met Bootsie at Sundance, and I was dancing around the snow, and he came up to me. And he had an afro and a peculiar scent, so I walked away from him. And he kept following me with these pieces of paper, so I imagined there must be something on ‘em worth discussing. I thought he was gonna hand me a pamphlet talking about joining a job union. But no! He gave me the script. The script was called Sorry To Bother You, but I wouldn’t have known that, because it didn’t have a title page and the format was all messed up, because he never wrote a script before. But I didn’t know that, either. I just thought that he might be some insane person. And once I got into reading it, I realized that yes he is, but the good kind of insane. The kind of insane that writes stories that I want to do. That writes stories I’ve been waiting to do my whole life.
What was it like working with all the other actors in the film?
Yeah, a lot of ego. Annoying! No, it was really cool. Everyone was so cool, and brilliant and great, and I’m so happy to have this group of people to work with. They really trusted me to put this film on my shoulders, and I really appreciate all of ‘em.
Can I ask you about the overdubbing?
We just said the lines. Well, we didn’t actually say them, we just like flapped our lips to whatever words we was supposed to be saying. And they came back and filled it in.
Was it weird watching for the first time, seeing those parts?
Nah, it was cool. It was cool. I think I’ve realized that when I speak, I don’t move my mouth very much. It’s just like words come out but my lips aren’t moving. I could be a good, like, ventriloquist.
You ever tried that?
Nah, but I should.
How has the press tour been?
Well, this is my favorite interview because we’re doing stuff.
[jumping down on the floor by his stuff] I just wanna make sure people know it’s mine.
So where have you gone with that passport in the last... I don’t know, month?
Let’s see... the Czech [Republic], Japan, to Dubai... to Poland, to Berlin, to Leipzig, to India.
Yeah. [pauses] No, I haven’t been in any of those places.
Nah I just been chillin’. Back and forth, here to New York, or here to LA.
What’s your favorite part about traveling?
Seeing new people and new things... and... [photographer reaches for his glass] Don’t touch my glass. [he takes a sip, indicates he’s joking, laughs] Experiencing new things. Seeing the world from a different perspective, and realizing just how everything is connected. Like people get mad about money no matter where you are on the planet.
Go on. What do you mean?
When they don’t have it, they get mad. I remember I was in a cab in Berlin and I didn’t realize that the cabs there don’t take cards; they only take money. So I pulled my card out to swipe and pay the guy, and he started cussing me out in German. It was [German accent, unintelligible gibberish]. And I didn’t know what he was saying, so I couldn’t be offended. I was like, huh?, kind of looking at him like a dog with their head tilted to the side. I think this made him more mad. So he reached in the back seat and slapped me. [pause] And that’s the end of that story.
You didn’t slap him back?
No, I just got out the car. Nah, I’m just kidding, the slap part didn’t happen. But he did cuss me out. In German. This is after I paid him.
Oh, after you paid him, he cussed you out?
And I had bought a TV, because... I don’t know why I bought a TV. But I had this TV in the back seat, so I had to grab the TV and walk it back home.
It was tight.
So I feel like the movie is all about... it feels very socialist, very leftist. It’s about the dangers and evils of capitalism.
Is it weird that, you know, it’s a Hollywood production, and it’s about how money is bad?
No... because I don’t think it’s about how money is bad. I think it’s kind of about how money itself is not necessarily the issue, but the way that we can become overly obsessed with it, or the way that we can allow it to make us do crazy things. Money itself is quite good. It’s just energy, currency, energy transference. But when it gets in the wrong hands, and too much of it is given to crazy people, crazy things start to happen. I think the reflection of where we are now, and a reflection of the evil things that occur in the movie with the people that have money, is more a reflection of how humanity can be sometimes, rather than the money itself. Trade is good, I think.
So, the message was not money and power corrupt?
I don’t think that was the message. I think that that is something that could be derived from what you see in the stories — that’s a reality — that it can corrupt, money and power. But I don’t think that it is the overall message of the story. I think the message of this movie, like most of my movies, is [unintelligible hooting].
That’s exactly what you said last time I asked you about a film. Syllable for syllable. Anyway, do you see yourself as Cassius at all?
Yeah. I see myself as having gone and am going through a journey of self-realization, and searching, and attempting to always put myself in a better position than I was [in] yesterday. Just try to be a better person every day. As you can tell by the things in my pack here, I’m on a mission to save the world.
What’s the most effective thing in the pack that could help you save the world?
Chapstick. I buy it.
Good, You should, because it’s cheap.
I have mine in my pocket. Wasn’t it DJ Khaled that said “why be rough?” That was his philosophy?
You know what...?
Why be rough when you can be smooth?
That guy’s got the answers, man. Sway, get out the way. And his kid is so cute. It’s the cutest thing I ever saw. I think I just a saw video of him being in a pool. It was so cute, and it’s so, so smart. I mean whatever he’s doing to make his kid that smart, like, please, I need to know.
Any other products that you like that you’d like to mention?
I really like that Pro Styl gel. When you curl your hair up with the sponge thing and you put the Pro Styl in, it sticks. All day. And uh... [reaches into plastic bag that’s been sitting on the table this entire time, reads label on item] Dove deodorant. Oh, we should have put this in there. And... daily pore cleanser.
So you do have a cleanser.
Oh. [pause] Tight.
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