Chances are you don't yet know the name Keith Stanfield -- but, if my gut is right, one day soon everyone who cares about film will. That day could, in fact, be only a week away, because Stanfield, a tremendously promising 22-year-old actor and rap artist who stole every scene in which he appeared in Destin Daniel Crettin's Short Term 12 -- his first role in a feature -- has an outside shot of scoring a best original song Oscar nomination on Jan. 16 for "So You Know What It's Like," a heartbreaking rap song that he co-wrote, with Crettin, for his character, Marcus, to perform in the film.
Though Short Term 12 and its cast -- which also includes the great Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr. and Kaitlyn Dever -- have not had anywhere near the audience or attention that they deserve, it was very heartening to see that Stanfield received a Spirit Award nomination for best supporting actor for his performance. As a result, he will be in the tent down by the Santa Monica waterfront to attend that ceremony on Saturday, Mar. 2. And very soon, we'll find out if, against all odds, he'll have a commitment on Sunday, Mar. 2, as well. I, for one, would like to see Stanfield at the Dolby -- so he knows what it's like.
The Hollywood Reporter: Growing up, did you go to the movies? And, if you did, were any films or people particular favorites or influences for you?
Stanfield: I like this question -- it's different! My earliest memories are when I was two to four years old and I was watching movies like Jason's Lyric (1994), Menace II Society (1993) and all the different movies that were in my house at that particular time. I was just really fixated on this little glowing box. All of the images that were coming out of there were very influential on the way I interacted, the things I did and really kind of influenced me to be who I am -- all the movies that I used to watch. I grew up watching a lot of different movies. All the kids movies -- The Lion King (1994), FernGully (1992) and all the Disney stuff. After I watched Jason's Lyric so much, I would talk to my mom and say what they said in the movie. She was like, "Where did you get that from?!" You know? I would get a lot of my vocabulary and the way that I came off to the world from those early images. And then I hit a time in my life where I really didn't watch very much of anything at all -- that was, like, right after I came from San Bernardino and moved out to Victorville. I really didn't too watch much of anything. I was, sort of, just in this blank state, which was just as much of an influence on me. So I kind of saw both sides. But, really, when I was younger, I just dove straight into cinema and really was attracted to everything about it.
You'd had such a life-changing experience making the short -- and then had those five years when it was pretty dry. Did you ever get down about that? Did you ever think about giving up acting altogether?
No. My heart and my energy was still in it. This is why I was such an abysmal failure at any other thing I tried to do, I think; I just really wasn't feeling it, I wasn't in it, it didn't feel right and I knew I always wanted to perform. I didn't know how I was gonna do it, but I knew that I was always wanted to, you know? I didn't even know if I would be able to, but I just knew that I still wanted to. For me, life is like an act within itself. Everything I do is an act. Where I'm going is an act. The only difference between being in life and in front of a camera-- To me, there's not very much of a difference except there's a little bit of direction there. But, other than that, I'm in a constant state of acting all the time, so I'm always gonna stay fresh because I'm always doing it in everything I do. I went through a lot of stuff in that five-year span. It was just, like, inspiration to, I guess you would say, reflect or express the emotions that you saw. They were very real. You know, I went through a lot of things that influenced that. So when it came time to deliver, it was just going inside and letting it come out.
And you're a rapper in real life, aren't you?
Yeah. I write poetry and I put it to a beat -- I mean, that's what they call rap.
Right! The Academy, overall, has recognized rap -- it gave Oscars to "Lose Yourself" and "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" -- but some individual members are still resistant to it, and I just wonder what you, as a rap artist, would say to one of them who doesn't see rap as a real art form?
Rap is music, like anything else, and it's multi-dimensional; as much as it's perceived to be linear, I don't think it really is. Rap comes from the streets and the dark places that we sweep up under the rug a lot of the time. And it can be taken and capitalized upon because people want fear, and drugs, and violence and shit. But, really, it's an art form like any other and it can be taken to many different places in its expression, like any other. It's just as multi-dimensional as any other form of music; it's just not perceived that way by the masses. Now, there's a difference between an artist that raps and expresses himself and an entertainer that just does it because it's a way to capitalize off of it. I think that distinction needs to be made because it's not really seen that way. Any time you categorize something and blanket it like that, then you're, sadly, limiting yourself. I had a lot of friends when I was little, "I ain't listening to no rock music! That shit whack!" But they had never really listened to it. They were just saying it's "whack" because it's outside of their comfort zone and they're not familiar with it. But then I showed them some Nirvana and they said, "Oh, shit, what the f--- is this?!" I'm like, "It's f---in' awesome, right?!" Because it's true, and it's expression, and you feel it and you identify with it. And I think it's the same thing with rap if you get into it -- but the real rap. You can't pay attention to all the stuff that's, sort of, already out there for you; you've gotta dig around a little bit and you'll find the joy. This is the kind of music I make. I make music that comes from the heart, comes from a real place. I got this group called "Moors," and that's basically where I'm coming from with that, just really coming with the real heartfelt stuff, you know, because that's just musical expression. Rap is the medium, but rap doesn't mean anything but, you know, rhyming poetry on an instrumental.