“I would never wear shoes like this in Victorville,” admits 23-year-old actor Keith Stanfield, gazing down at the tasseled caramel wingtips he's paired with blue-striped socks, a green leopard-print button-down and a quilted jacket. “These would be weird. But I'm learning it's all about self-expression.”
The last two years have been a whirlwind, fashion included. In 2013, Stanfield, then a door-to-door cable TV salesman, landed his first feature role in the critical darling Short Term 12. He was eighth billed but made an impression as a shy, 17-year-old poet scared to age out of foster care. Stanfield isn't as quiet, though his voice is so thoughtful one could make that mistake. At the Indie Spirit Awards, director Ava DuVernay said she loved his performance. She promptly cast him as murdered activist Jimmie Lee Jackson in her feature Selma.
Over the next year, Stanfield will be impossible to avoid. He's shot two art-house flicks with James Franco, been a heroin-addicted trumpet player in Don Cheadle's Miles Davis biopic, puffed up as a swaggering Blood in the Sundance hit Dope, puffed other stuff as Snoop Dogg in the N.W.A salute Straight Outta Compton and is spending spring as an FBI agent in Oliver Stone's Snowden.
Stanfield beams at his fortune. He's written his life story in tattoos that start at his knuckles and stretch to his ears. Among them are a snake (“Scoliosis runs in my family”), an Eye of Horus (“I was struggling with what religion meant to me”) and three bands that read 666. “Part of my journey is coming into contact with my demons,” he explains.
“No one in my family ever told me, 'You're crazy,'” Stanfield says of his acting dreams. Growing up adrift in the Mojave desert gave him both the itch to create and the frontier stubbornness to follow his instincts. When his friends bumped gangster rap, he blasted Disney soundtracks and Slipknot. “People were, like, 'Turn that shit off!' but I thought it was energetic and interesting.” At karaoke, he sings Minnie Riperton. “You can have some real fucking fun with that.”
It's strange being a talent on the cusp of success. Stanfield's friendly with Oprah and Dr. Dre, yet for now bunks in a crowded townhouse in North Hollywood with a fluctuating number of dudes. Among them are his best friend and manager, and his older brother, Garrett, an environmentalist, vegan and musician.
Stanfield's a singer, too. Like him, his band, Moors, refuse to be categorized. Their EP pulses with a hazy, electronic intimacy, and the art is all soft pink florals — it's 180 degrees from Snoop Dogg and the Doggystyle cartoon cover Stanfield jokingly blames for warping his childhood sexuality.
He's aware that playing Snoop Dogg means stepping into big shoes — literally. Though Stanfield is 6 feet tall and slender, Snoop is a towering 6 foot 4. On the set of Straight Outta Compton, wardrobe had to construct a pair of platform Converse. “I couldn't walk in those motherfuckers,” Stanfield laughs. “I'll never wear heels again.” He pauses. Why limit himself? “Well, someday I might get a little funky.”
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