A Cincinnati native and 2009 graduate of the School for Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA) is making her feature film debut. KiKi Layne stars in the three-time Golden Globe-nominated (and one-time winner) “If Beale Street Could Talk,” which hit theaters nationwide in late December.
Layne, 27, began her academic career at Eastwood Paideia Elementary School (now Woodford Paideia Academy). But an early love of acting would take her on a new path.
“I always thought that I wanted to act,” Layne said. “I was seven when I told my mom that is what I wanted to do, so she got me an audition with the School for Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA). I have been acting ever since.”
Her craft would develop during her time at SCPA, where she spent fourth through 12th grade. Layne credits two teachers with playing an instrumental role in helping to shape her journey: Ms. (Mary) Lenning, her drama teacher, and Mr. (Erwin) Stuckey, her jazz teacher. It was Mr. Stuckey who noticed her strengths in acting, and, while having musical talents, knew Layne had a bright future in the film industry.
“Ms. Lenning was the first teacher to really believe in me in a way that was different. Mr. Stuckey basically told me, ‘Don’t worry about jazz, you need to focus on acting.’”
Layne recalls that after participating in the Corbett Mayerson competition, an opportunity for seniors to receive a scholarship to further their education and artistic practice, Stuckey pulled her aside and encouraged her to direct all her attention to acting. The reason, he told her, was, “that is what you are meant to do.” Layne is appreciative for the time and the investment that her teachers gave her.
“SCPA was the only place that I could study the arts in Cincinnati,” she said. “I am thankful that I had an institution in my hometown that could nurture that excitement and interest that I had in the arts.”
Layne’s journey took her to DePaul University in Chicago. During her time in the city, she was heavily involved in the theater community. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, she landed her part in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Layne plays the role of Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who is trying to prove her fiancé’s innocence while carrying their first child. The movie, directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight” (2016), is based on a 1974 novel by American writer James Baldwin.
Layne was up against 300 actresses for the role.
“Jenkins could have gotten someone with a lot more credits, a much bigger name,” she said. “Thankfully, he chose me.”
Despite making it on the big screen, Layne stays true to her roots. When she is home in Cincinnati, you will undoubtedly catch her grabbing a bite to eat at Penn Station, Gold Star Chili and Skyline Chili — she enjoys both major Cincinnati chili chains. She will likely also have a bag of Grippo’s and Skyline hot sauce in hand.
“Eating is the first thing I do when I come to Cincinnati,” Layne said with a laugh. “I am getting all of this stuff, because it isn’t available in L.A.”
With two films slated for release in 2019, “Captive State” and “Native Son,” Layne has some words of wisdom for current and future SCPA students:
“Acting is a lot of work. Sometimes, with the arts, we underestimate that. Stay committed. And remember that it is extremely important to be in your own journey. I really believe that the path we are on is serving our creativity and serving our talents for the best. Be mindful of comparison. Art is such a personal thing. You must trust that what you are bringing to it is something that no one else can. And that’s a beautiful thing.”
Catch “If Beale Street Could Talk” locally at The Esquire Theatre or Cinemark Oakley Station. Keep up with the great things happening at SCPA at scpa.cps-k12.org.