On October 9, The New York Film Festival hosted the US premiere of “If Beale Street Could Talk” at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.
This marked the first time that the festival presented a screening at the theater. The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and based on the classic novel by James Baldwin. Beale Street is the story of Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover’s innocence while carrying their first-born child to term. The film was shot almost entirely in New York City in the fall of 2017 with production taking place in various Harlem locations.
Check out our exclusive red carpet interviews below:
The Knockturnal: Talk about when you found out you got the role. What was that call like?
KiKi Layne: Oh, it was crazy. Barry called me first thing on a Monday morning to tell me that I got it, and I just remember trying to rush him off the phone so I could go crazy and call my momma and scream and cry and all that.
The Knockturnal: There are so many powerful scenes and so many powerful messages. What’s a big message you hope people take away when they see it?
KiKi Layne: I hope that people take away the power of being connected. What does it mean? Those people that you are connected to and loving on and receiving love from, and how that can give you so much strength.
The Knockturnal: You have so many tough scenes and so many beautiful scenes. What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
KiKi Layne: I think the most challenging scene for me was the scene where he gets really upset with me after we leave the grocery store. That was a tough one, I think, for both of us actually.
The Knockturnal: Talk about working with Barry and his direction. What did you learn from him while doing this?
KiKi Layne: I feel like Barry is such a sensitive director and artist that he just really knows how to speak to each of us in a way that works best for us as individual artists.
The Knockturnal: Speak about collaborating with Barry and what you admire about him.
Stephan James: I can’t say enough good things about Barry Jenkins. The possibility of partnering with Barry Jenkins and James Baldwin, that sort of a marriage was something that was so exciting to me. I’ve been a huge fan of Barry ever since I saw Moonlight and went back and watched his first film, Medicine for Melancholy, and I always knew I was going to work with him. I didn’t know it would be so soon, but I’m grateful that it’s in this and that the time is now.
The Knockturnal: The film feels very current. Can you speak about that?
Stephan James: Yeah, that’s the special thing about James Baldwin is the timelessness in his writing. The fact that some of these things are still resonating today … These subject matters that we have never really seen told on screen in this sort of a way before, these themes whether they be mass incarceration and the effects of that on a man or a family, and then black love, that idea of love that we don’t really get to see too often. Those elements really excited me.
The Knockturnal: He’s a very complicated character. Can you speak about getting into his head and going to those dark places?
Stephan James: For me, one of the biggest tools I had for research was Kalief Browder. He was a young man who was incarcerated at 16 for a crime he didn’t commit, and sort of the things he had to go through. I watched his documentary and his story, and remember being so deeply affected and scarred by his pain and literally having his face scarred in my memory and wanting to bring an element of that. I felt that if I could bring just a piece of that to my performance, into this story, I’d be doing him and all the other Fonny’s and all the other Kalief’s justice.
The Knockturnal: In this movie, your character holds her sister down. Talk about the importance of sisterhood and why we need to project that out into the world?
Teyonah Parris: I think sisterhood by blood, sisterhood by oath, by showing up and being there for someone is so important. Particularly in the African American community, be that sisterhood, brotherhood, whatever it is … just that bond and lifting each other up and standing there with one another, holding each other accountable, having your tribe. That’s so important. People who will tell you when you’re wrong, people who will lift you up, when the world is trying to beat you down. That’s so important and I’m so happy to be a part of a movie where you see that within the family structure, and within the relationship structure, that they are holding each other down, they’re not gonna let one another fall no matter what may come their way.
The film hits theaters exclusively in NYC on November 30. It will expand on December 7.