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His lead turn in Boots Riley’s satirical comedy Sorry to Bother You may have set Lakeith Stanfield on a path to Hollywood stardom (he’s just been cast in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out alongside Daniel Craig and Chris Evans), but it could have been a completely different story if it weren’t for Get Out and Star Wars.
Speaking on the second day of the BFI London Film Festival, Riley revealed that at some point in the film’s lengthy development process (a period in which he admitted missing his rent payments for 10 months and having his electricity cut off), the script had ended up in the hands of Jordan Peele.
“[Peele] emailed me and was like, ‘I want to do this,’ and he wanted to play the lead,” Riley told the audience at BFI Southbank on Thursday. “He said that he had planned on not acting, but this would be his farewell piece.”
Unfortunately for Riley, this was around 2015, just before Peele would land a directorial breakout that would make him one of the most in-demand filmmakers in town. “And then he directs Get Out,” Riley continued. “He calls me up and says, ‘I don’t want to act.'”
Eager to help out, Peele asked Riley who he’d like to get in contact with, to which he immediately had one person in mind: Donald Glover. Glover, it turns out, was just as keen to get involved.
“He said, ‘I want to do it!'” Riley recalled. “Then he says, ‘The only thing is I might have this Star Wars thing.'”
The “Star Wars thing,” of course, was the spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story. And Glover did indeed get the call to play Lando Calrissian. “He was like, ‘Can you wait until after, and after Atlanta season two?'” Riley said. “But I said, ‘The money might be gone then.'”
Ten minutes after hanging up the phone, however, Riley got a call from Stanfield’s manager: “He must have been standing within earshot.”
After initially thinking the actor was too young, having seen him in Dope and films where he’s “always playing high school students,” he then met Stanfield in person, which changed his mind. “He was wearing a beard, so it convinced me that he was not 15.”
With Stanfield on board, others soon followed. Tessa Thomspon, who he’d written a letter to a year earlier, suddenly responded, and Sorry to Bother You — which became a critical and box-office hit in the U.S. earlier this year — began taking shape.
Said Riley: “Then we had the team-building montage on a heist film.”
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