Interview w/ Keith Stanfield

‘We All Experience the Same Things in Varied Forms’


Keith Stanfield’s visceral, fist clenching, baritone reverberations in director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 have been tenderizing audience’s aortas since the film opened earlier this year. The young thespian is not only hugely talented, but he possesses indelible charisma (to see him at a Short Term 12 Q&A is to understand the breadth of his intelligence and wit). Not only is Stanfield garnering attention for his electric performance, but he is also in a hip-hop group under the moniker of Moors. The lyricist and actor gave us a window into his creative process in the interview below.


ROBERT PATRICK: Indiewire and a few other outlets are whispering that your verses in Short Term 12 could be a contender for Best Original Song at the Oscars this year. What was your immediate and long-term reaction to that kind of buzz?

KEITH STANFIELD: I dont really know how I will feel as far a the long term goes. Right now it doesn’t affect me one way or the other.


RP: When I interviewed director Destin Cretton, maybe a month ago, he mentioned that almost every interviewer asked him about your lyrics in the film. Did you expect this kind of universal reaction?

KS: No. It’s beautiful though. It kind of solidifies the idea that we all experience the same things in varied forms.


RP: You came down to San Diego, during a screening of Short Term 12, to participate in a Q&A. I was in the crowd, and you received some bizarre responses. One lady assumed that you were, in fact, your character in the film. You dealt with it well, and the audience loved your response. How do you go about dealing with the unexpected nature of these sort of events?

KS: Oh you were there? Awesome. I like SD a lot. It was my first time being there. It’s a beautiful place. I dig Q&As because I’m trading ideas with humans, so naturally things will occur that are unexpected. I just have a pretty chill time dealing with the changes. I look at most things like swimming (which I’m getting better at) and just roll with the waves.


RP: Listening to your project, Moors, on Soundcloud, it’s easy to recognize your lyrical prowess. “Asphyxiation”, your featured song on the site, has a down-tempo, introspective beat with some pulsing, intelligent rhymes. With that said, I couldn’t quite pick-up your influences, which speaks volumes for your originality. What artists motivate your sound?

KS: I’m sure most of the great songs I dig have influenced me, although going into Moors I’m not consciously aware of them. The main thing that influences me are experiences and my role in ’em, but vicarious experiences can be just as powerful, sometimes more [so]. I saw one of my friends got roughed up pretty badly by the police in my neighborhood. I went home that night and started writing. One time I was watching a Tupac interview where he was eating pizza and smoking a blunt, and the passion that he had in that instance alone was enough to get me to start writing some shit. I never know where influence comes from directly, sometimes [they come] seemingly out of nowhere.


RP: Your producer is clearly pretty talented. On the “Asphyxiation” beat, I heard shades of Blockhead, Aesop Rock’s beat-maker. What did you guys talk about when crafting the sound?

KS: We didn’t talk much at all. It’s funny as fuck because sometimes it’s as if we communicate telepathically. This doesn’t happen all the time, but he will make a sound at the PERFECT time and send it to me. And his music will bring things to the surface, or Ill send him lyrics and he will craft the the instrumental around them. When this happens we find our gems. It’s a trippy link that seems to fall in place on its own.

RP: What’s next for Moors? Are we looking at an LP, or something that’s downloadable?

KS: We don’t know; we’re swimming remember?


RP: You talk about how you love acting. What role would you most like to play in the future? What kinds of films interest you?

KS: Porn. Nah. I would love to play anything that really challenges me, or that I’m changed by in some way, you know? Something that causes me to view things from a perspective I’m ignorant to at the moment. It can be from any genre. Even though I don’t watch a lot of movies, I like all films that do resonate with me (any type). I guess I don’t like very many horror films as of late; they seem boring and poorly thought out for the most part.

RP: Short Term 12 is a favorite film for a lot of people this year. So, I have to ask, what is your favorite film of the year? Your movie excluded, of course.

KS: Spring Fuckin’ Breakers!


RP: A lot of outlets – mine included – think that you’re definitely going to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Are you even thinking about award season at this point? Is that something you’re concerned with?

KS: Not really. I’d appreciate it, though. That’s nice of you guys. Thanks for the positive energy!


RP: Finally, what is your experience with San Diego? Did you do anything cool when you came down here? Taco shops? Beaches? General mayhem?

KS: I was fortunate enough to be in the really nice parts and loved it. La Jolla beach is a beautiful and inspiring place with large bodies of water and tall bridges with suicide prevention signs on them. Apparently not everything is peaches and cream there, just like every other place you can go, but it sure is nice.


For more, you can check out Keith Stanfield’s work with Moors or head on over to the Short Term 12 website.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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