Judas and the Black Messiah's LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya hold court in EW's exclusive portraits
In Judas and the Black Messiah (in theaters and HBO Max on Feb. 12) Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, the charismatic activist and chairman of the Black Panther Party who was shot and killed by police in 1969 at the age of 21.
“I found out how much Fred meant to me and how much I believe in his ideas, his concepts — concepts that are still here within America,” the Oscar nominee says in EW's latest cover story.
LaKeith Stanfield, Kaluuya's Get Out costar, portrays William O'Neal, the college-age FBI informant who betrays Hampton (making him the Judas of the film's title).
When Stanfield first received the Judas script from director and co-writer Shaka King, he cried for hours “at both the tragedy and the beauty of the story being told,” he says. “I was like, ‘I can’t wait to play Fred. Obviously, that’s who you’re thinking about me for, right? Because I know you ain’t thinking about me for that other dude.’” When King confirmed his fear, Stanfield went straight to Google. “I was like, ‘Damn, I kinda look like this dude.’”
In Judas, O’Neal’s antihero journey drives a three-way cat-and-mouse game between O’Neal and Hampton, O’Neal and himself, and O’Neal and FBI agent Roy Mitchell, played by Jesse Plemons.
"I read the script and it resonated with me, and I really wanted to go on this journey and delve into this time and understand this time," Kaluuya told EW last year. "I felt blessed to be a vessel to allow this story to happen, because so many people have tried to make it happen and it hasn’t come to pass. [Hampton] as a man speaks to my spirit, and because there’s so much information about his death, the idea of making something about his life really drew me in."
Stanfield and Kaluuya have remained close since they first crossed paths at the Armitage house in Get Out. “We’re lucky to be able to share the screen again — and again, it’s gonna be for something that’s gonna move people, that’s gonna be a culturally relevant moment,” says Stanfield. “We’re just getting started in Black storytelling. For real.”
“There’s a parallel between me
and LaKeith,” Kaluuya says of his and his costar’s career trajectories. He adds: “He’s just an incredible talent.”
The deeper Stanfield dived into his role over the course of the film's 42-day shoot, the more he found himself suffering panic attacks in his pursuit of bringing truth to the character. “I think I realized after doing this film how important therapy is,” he says. “Sometimes you get so deep into things that you lose track. We’re very ambitious. We wanna make this thing, make it right and do everything in our power to make sure we’re being honest with the details. But sometimes through that process of playing characters who have been through a lot of emotional trauma, you end up tapping back into your own emotional trauma — and sometimes you’re not prepared to do that.”
It wasn’t uncommon for actors to pull up to set on off days to watch their costars work. “This is the first time I’ve shown up to set when I haven’t been working,” Kaluuya jokes. “But then Ashton Sanders [who plays Hampton confidant Jimmy Palmer] would be filming a cool scene, and I’d call Dom and LaKeith and be like, ‘Let’s pull up!’”
“Sometimes we’d roll up and just be like, ‘Hop in the car,’” Stanfield says of the cast's bonds on set. “Don’t even go back into your trailer. Jump in the car. We goin’ straight to the bowling alley or the dance place or whatever.”
Judas and the Black Messiah comes to theaters and HBO Max on Feb. 12.
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, Ashton Sanders as Jimmy Palmer, Algee Smith as Jake Winters, Dominque Thorne as Judy Harmon, and LaKeith Stanfield as William O'Neal in Judas and the Black Messiah.
“A lot of times with true or mostly true stories, all the life can be sucked out of it,” says Jesse Plemons (right, with LaKeith Stanfield), who plays FBI agent Roy Mitchell. “But this just feels really alive. I was amazed and frustrated with myself that I wasn’t more familiar with Hampton’s story.”
Daniel Kaluuya with Dominique Fishback, who plays Hampton’s partner, Deb Johnson.
Darrell Britt-Gibson as Bobby Rush, Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, and Stanfield as William O’Neal.
Darrell Britt-Gibson as Bobby Rush, Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, Algee Smith as Jake Winters, Ashton Sanders as Jimmy Palmer, and Dominique Thorne as Judy Harmon.
Director Shaka King (low center) on the set of the film.
Daniel Kaluuya's Fred Hampton addresses a crowd.
Stanfield with King on set.
King on the set of Judas and the Black Messiah.
—Reporting by Andrew Lawrence. Additional reporting by Derek Lawrence.
EW's February 2021 covers
EW's February 2021 covers
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