Actor and rapper Lakeith Stanfield has explored socially relevant themes in Selma, Get Out, and TV's Atlanta, but Boots Riley's Sorry To Bother You goes one step beyond. In this absurdist black comedy with a wild sci-fi twist, Stanfield portrays Cassius “Cash” Green, a struggling telemarketer who quickly rises up the ranks by channeling his “white” voice. Abandoning his picketing co-workers in favor of a lucrative promotion, he inevitably heads into a moral showdown with coke-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and his exploitative white corporatocracy.
TOSF: Sorry To Bother You is both hilarious and dark. The audience will probably be confused about what to feel.
LS: Which is good. When I first read this script, I was confused about what to feel about any of it. You may have to see this film two or three times to find out where you stand.
How much did you relate to these characters?
Quite a bit. They’re all essentially aspects of Boots and his internal struggles. Everybody was real because Boots was honest enough to give his journey that integrity.
This has to be the only live-action movie in recent memory to have additional voice actors for the leads—in this case, the dubbed “white” voices.
Patton [Oswalt] and David Cross were such good sports. It was great because we just lip-synched everything [on set] and didn't actually make sense. We knew [David and Patton] were going to come and do the voice, but we didn't know they were going to be as silly as they were.
This is your third time working with Tessa Thompson after Selma and Jay-Z's “Moonlight” video. Why do you click?
I don't think we take ourselves that seriously. We're here to serve the story and we're not really ego-driven, so it's all good. We're supposed to be in love [in this movie], so we fall in love and we make it happen.
You’re also a rapper but in one scene your character very much isn't. What was that like?
It's so disturbing to have a group of white people screaming “Rap!” at you. “Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap!” It went on so long.
Did playing Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton enlighten you?
It was dope. I wasn't really into Snoop's music because I didn't know much about him. I’d seen his Doggy Style album when I was young, and it confused me because there was a dog and it was sexy and it was weird. I was too young to be looking at that. When I was two I cussed my mom out. I'd been watching so many movies with cussing in them. I was like [adopts high-pitched voice], “Fuck you!” It's because I'd been watching so much of this stuff, so I was able to understand Doggy Style at that age.
You’ve taken on really interesting roles in your career, from Short Term 12 to The Purge: Anarchy, and of course, Get Out. Has it been luck or purposefully picking the right roles for you?
It’s a combination, I think. In the beginning, I was just trying to work and had the opportunity to do that with some really cool people straight off the bat. Lately, I've been trying to do things that I feel just speak to me or where the character goes on a journey. I was initially [wary of playing] Darius [in Atlanta] because I was like, “Where the fuck is this guy going? Like, what is this thing?” Then I realized that Darius was going where no-one else has gone. That opportunity to jump into the mystery of him was what I needed.
Lastly, have you ever had a job as wearying as Cash's telemarketing gig in this movie?
I was a sign twirler for a day. It was in a storm and I was like 90 pounds, and the storm was taking me every which way. It was probably a good advertisement because I was blown all over the city with this sign.
Sorry To Bother You is in cinemas now.