Actors Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback talk ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ genre work, acting

Noah Levine

“Judas and the Black Messiah” hits HBO Max and theaters this Friday. The film follows the powerful and relevant true story following Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), his girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) and FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) in 1960s Chicago. 

The Daily Texan spoke with leading actors Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Stanfield (“Uncut Gems”) and Fishback (“Project Power”) at a college publication roundtable to discuss the film. 

The Daily Texan: How does genre influence the way you tackle roles (if it has an influence in the first place)? 

Daniel Kaluuya: Not the genre. I do feel like I’m in service of the narrative … In certain scenes I am the gas, and in certain scenes I am the (windshield). If it’s raining, I gotta do what I gotta do in order for the car to function. And sometimes you are the driver. I think words are a technology. That really blew my mind when I found out that piece of information … There’s something beneath words that (allows) us as human beings to communicate and converse without words. (If) someone in the caveman times looks at us on f*cking Zoom having all these words and conversations, (they’re going to be like), “What the f*ck?” I appreciate (genre) and I respect it, but I see it as a tool in order to tell a certain story that is tapping into anyone and everyone.  

DT: How did you achieve such authentic on-screen chemistry with Daniel Kaluuya?

Dominique Fishback: We got to meet the (Hampton) family over a seven-hour conversation around a table. Chairman Fred Jr. says, “I wanna go around this table, and I wanna know why every single one of you want to do this film.” At this point, Daniel has to speak about his truth about how he grew up and I have to speak about mine, and so we are hearing each other's hearts. When you are thrust into something so intense in the very beginning you start to develop a trust and an ebb and flow. So we kind of linked from there … I would watch Daniel take up space, and I would journal about it. That journal that (Deborah) had in the movie is one that I carried around and really wrote in. So I would watch him, and he’d be like, “Whatcha looking at?” I’m like, “Nothing.” So I’m seeing how he’s moving, and we’re kind of moving together. We got to know each other on a personal level outside of everything … There were times when I would be like, “Daniel, are you gonna hold my hand or not?” So we really got a good relationship and were able to trust each other and knew that it was bigger than us.  

DT: What draws you to take on specific roles? 

LaKeith Stanfield: If it speaks to me. If something feels right, it feels right. If it don’t, it don’t. It used to be I just wanted to work, but now it’s like if it speaks to me and if it’s not ignorant. A lot of the time they write stuff about Black people that doesn’t really appeal to me. If it feels right, then it’s right.