Laya DeLeon Hayes

Laya DeLeon Hayes is making big strides in the industry.

At nineteen Laya DeLeon Hayes has a resume some could only hope for.

At nine years old, she voiced the titular role in the BAFTA, Emmy and Peabody Award-nominated animated series, Doc McStuffins. She earned her first Games BAFTA in 2023 for her voice work in God of War: Ragnarok and is nominated for a third NAACP award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture. She currently works alongside Queen Latifah and Lorraine Touissant on CBS’s The Equalizer, a remake of the 1980s series. She is also the newest slayer in the Buffyverse, voicing Indira in The Slayers audiobook released last year. All in all, she shows little sign of slowing down!

In her first leading role on the big screen in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, Hayes portrays the troubled and brilliant young prodigy ‘Vacaria’ who believes death can be cured and attempts to cure her brother to alarming results. The Frankenstein retelling blends classic horror with modern social commentary to rave reviews and the film was nominated for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture at the NAACP while Hayes was nominated for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture.

Speaking with 1883 Magazine, Laya discusses the film, the newest season of The Equalizer, horror films and facing online fandoms.

Congratulations on your latest NAACP award nomination!

Thank you! It was just so surreal. The way that I found that I’ve been nominated for things is so funny. For the NAACP Image Awards nominations, I was taking a shower when I found out and I got a text from our showrunner or our executive producer of The Equalizer, Miss Debra Martin Chase – shout out to her! But yeah, we were in a group chat with the rest of the cast and she was like ‘Congratulations to Queen Latifah and Laya on their NAACP nominations!

I love the idea that she knows everything! She probably shut down the wifi on set so that she could tell you herself.

In each of your performances for The Equalizer and The Angry Black & Her Monster, which I call out, you play two very different characters at the same stage of life – Delilah in The Equalizer is this sweet, strongminded girl going through the typical motions of being a teenager. Then Vicaria is well, very different! It must be amazing for a black actress to play such varied roles.

It is, It is such a dream. I get to figure out my capabilities and as an actress, especially a young black actress, the opportunities. The past four years have just shown me that I really can’t limit myself or put myself into a box. The objective is to constantly be challenging myself and to constantly not only change the narrative for myself as a black actress, but also in terms of what our opportunities are as black actors as a whole. But again, because I know how hard people like Queen Latifah and Lorraine Touissant worked so that other black artists could come in and not have to work.

If that makes sense It’s kind of a hard way to say it, but they’ve kind of blazed the trail so that younger black artists can be in this position to make choices, to be a part of this or that project, or to show more variety or to show more range or to pick and choose on what to do.

I booked Doc McStuffins when I was nine-years-old and I had never done voiceover work before. That was like my first real regular series ever, my first consistent working job and voiceover was like this brand new world. And again, all of these things have shown me as well as those actors. Like, I really can’t put myself into a box or be categorized as one thing. And because of that, I feel very, very grateful.

It was rather surreal finding out you were Doc McStuffins. It’s amazing but I know some parents had to watch the show on repeat and hate it! Now, let’s talk about your film – The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.

Is it available in the UK?

Yes, it is! Have I spoiled a surprise there?

That’s so exciting!

Well, I love it. As a horror fan, it’s amazing – gory, scary. Can you tell our readers what it’s about?

So The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is about a 17-year-old science prodigy named Vacaria. That’s who I play. She’s experienced a lot of pain and death within her community. After losing her older brother, she takes it upon herself to do something about it. And in her own words, she chooses to “cure death”.

And within that, there’s a lot of talk about social justice issues and stereotypes. Just the way that I think it all goes into the title, the way that someone who is a young black girl but is also ambitious, very fiery and knows what she wants is sort of categorized or put into a box or labelled as one thing. When she is just extremely passionate and once again knows what she wants and how she wants to do it.

She can’t be categorised for me like she’s a science prodigy, but she’s also a little bit saying she’s like, grieving but also a little off but also she’s just a kid.

Right! But I just think the story of Frankenstein is so interesting. Marnie, our director, when I first auditioned with him, it was so cool to reimagine such a classic story in this way, and for audiences to be able to see it in this way is so exciting and has been very exciting because the book is an impactful and classic story. On top of that, we get to place our perspective in a tale that a lot of people already know. It was super cool reading the script and having that title of the mad scientist and knowing exactly what I wanted to do with that was very interesting.

But I think that’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about the project. I remember reading the script for the audition and I was kind of taken aback by it all – by the title and then the story. I had never read anything like it before. And I couldn’t stop thinking about Vacaria – I spent so much time trying to understand her. She’s a very layered girl, going through a very traumatic period in her life – and even before her brother dies, she’s going through a lot of trauma. She balances being a seventeen-year-old girl who is also trying to mend the relationship with her father and his substance abuse issues and also trying to balance and figure out a lot of things within herself.

We don’t get opportunities and roles like this, especially as a black actress. I mean, I get excited getting an email about an audition period but getting to play a character as layered as Vacaria was something I didn’t want to pass on and getting to play her and getting to know her has just been so wonderful.

I found it was just watching like ‘So, she couldn’t try therapy at first?’ Like we go straight to necromancy before counselling.

Right? (laughs) She’s like ‘let’s resurrect my brother!’

And it just goes to show the extremities of grief, right?

Exactly and we see how she thinks. This story, even though she is going to an extreme and maybe it would be hard to do this in real life, but like what if those barriers weren’t there though? What if this was possible? she’s able to think outside of again what society says she has to do or what she must be, and how she must react. That’s her gift. There’s like a wonderful dynamic between her and her friends and family.

She has a different way of looking at her community and circumstances and how to make it out of those circumstances. She stays on her self-belief she stays on it as she sticks to it. So in many ways it was inspiring even to be able to play her because she is truly relying on instinct and belief in the fact that she can cure death and she’s fully acting on it. And just to have a character that doesn’t have that barrier of overthinking or thinking too much about it was very freeing as an actor to be able to play.

Was it intimidating when you signed on? Frankenstein is a story that’s been told many times in films and I take it personally when people disrespect Queen Mary Shelley – I love this adaptation as well.

Yeah, I was. I was intimidated further and intimidated differently, though, it was the first movie that I was ever that I’ve ever led, like the first time being number one on the call sheet. And so of course you dream about that as an actor. It’s very exciting. But at the same time, I also wanted to give Queen Mary Shelley justice and I wanted to do the story justice as well.

I went into it with a lot of conversations with our director and had a good amount of time to rehearse so that by the first day that we started filming, a lot of those walls were kind of just like taken down. Those barriers were gone. But I think this Frankenstein adaptation is so different compared to the original story.

Oh, most definitely.

I mean, one just starting with the obvious, it’s from a perspective, it’s from the perspective of black people. And also on top of that, there is again, a lot of love in this story. I think even our lead character our Dr Frankenstein-type character, she’s leading this because she loves her brother again, recognising also the family that’s right in front of her. Everything she does, even the crazy, is from a place of love. She wants to glue back together what once was broken. I think our adaptation strikes a chord more so because of how human it is and it very much relates to a lot of the issues that are going on in our country right now and will resonate with people on that level.

It is oddly beautiful in that way. So are you a horror fan originally?

Well, aside from this being my first horror movie, I realised that I hadn’t watched that many horror movies! I had only watched Insidious when I was like, nine, and that traumatised me. The old lady was horrifying.

That old lady is terrifying! But also that family is stupid, I’m sorry [laughs]. No, they were so dumb.

Yes, they were. I also had an IT phase for a while. I think I saw it three times in the theatre. I loved it!

Ooh, Tim Curry or Skarsgård?

I love the 2017 version! It will always have a place in my heart – it’s great, the kids are great. It’s scary. But Tim Curry’s is genuinely a horror movie – that clown was terrifying.

Since you are a horror girlie now, we have to get you to watch more horror films.

I know! It was so much fun being on a horror set and getting to make a movie. What do you recommend?

I would have to get my list together but if you want a hilarious film, I would say Paranormal Activity. I laughed so hard. The Conjuring Universe is pretty good. It’s based on two real ghost hunters. And also just full of people who for some reason stay in the house!

Why do they never leave? Like right away? There are plenty of signs that signs of weird little demons and ghosts up in there.

I do not know, honestly, it’s mad.

I think it was season one of American Horror Story where they were dealing with like, an evil spirit, and they still stayed?

They heard that the house was literally nicknamed ‘murder house’ and were still like, this is where we’ll make our new start.

They could just go! I’ve been watching so many romcoms lately. What I love about romcoms is that I can talk to the TV and pretend I know these people. With serious movies, it’s harder to do that. Horror is also good for talking to yourself.

I do love that because I can sit there, watch a horror film and confidently be like, ‘I’m not that stupid’.

Exactly! It’s like free therapy! I advocate for therapy of course, but also sometimes you can just sit there and yell at a horror film.

That can be the subtitle for this interview – Laya DeLeon Hayes: Why Go To Therapy When Horror Movies Exist? Don’t worry, it won’t be! Aside from being brilliant on film, you are now coming up to Season Four of The Equalizer. I love the show; my mum watched the original series but we both love the new series. My mum would like to adopt your character.

[laughs] Oh, that’s so sweet! That makes my heart so happy. I get two reactions about Delilah – one is ‘Oh she’s so wonderful, I love her’ and the other is ‘she needs to get her booty beat!’

Can you give us some insight into Delilah? Where is she now?

Season four is really exciting. The first episode of season four aired last week over here, and it’s been so exciting to see Delilah’s trajectory from the first season because she started as this moody teenager. She had a lot against her mom and also had a lot of attitude. She was very fiery and privileged in many ways. She didn’t recognize, how wonderful of a life she had.

And it’s been wonderful, especially after finding out McCall’s secret, how her relationship with her mom has started to flourish and how much it’s grown in these past four seasons.

But also on the flip side of that, with Delilah specifically, she has and has had all of this attitude for a very long time and now knows where to place it, which again, we’ve seen kind of in the trajectories in season two and season three of her train and her training with Mel and starting to box or helping her friend Vera at the end of season two. She’s been able to use this gift that kind of runs in her family of helping others and taking more agency in terms of what she wants to do with her life. Now, Delilah’s moving into college years and trying to figure out what she wants to major in, what types of schools she wants to go to, and what type of future she wants to have.

In season four, you’re going to see her take more ownership of her life and make more decisions based on what she wants, even if it’s not what her mom or aunt wants for her. Yeah, that will create friction between her family members. But also at the same time, they’re recognizing that Delilah is getting older as she fully recognizing that she’s getting older and instead of looking at her mom as someone who she just has, again, a lot of anger towards, she’s now looking at her as an inspiration of sorts and wanting to follow in her footsteps.

She’s at that weird point where she’s not really a kid and she’s not really an adult yet, and she’s still trying to figure out who she is for sure. But the trouble that she was getting into in the first season is now good. It’s all based on the type of future that she wants to have for herself and so many things she’s picked up from her mom and from watching her mom. She’s not a normal kid and rather than fight that, she’s going to embrace that.

I can’t wait to see that! And the show is amazing all around. We have these three, black women who are just so happy and living life. So many shows often present black women in a depressing light, so it’s just really refreshing.

Exactly. I think that’s been one of the most wonderful things, too, as opposed to just feeling like Delilah critiques. We get it on the street. It’ll be like, this is a show that’s just very fun. And like when people watch the show, it’s not too stressful for them. We focus and for sure our storylines are different from the headlines in many ways, but when it gets to our core three women, it’s just their family. It’s just their life. There’s not even a conversation or debate about it. It’s just showing the livelihood of three generations of black women in one home, which is the way that so many of us have been raised or are living right now. I’m living with three generations of women in my home right now.

So to be able to portray that on TV and again, it’s all coming from a place of positivity and also success and like helping other people, there really isn’t there isn’t a day where I’m not like, yes, thank goodness that this is a show that I get.

And it’s just so wonderful to watch, especially as a black girl who grew up in a matriarchal household. I have to ask what you probably get asked all the time: what is it like to work with Queen Latifah? What is she like?

Queen Latifah is amazing. She is down to earth and she’s very cool, very cool. I think people are intimidated by how cool she is.

I’m intimidated! I’ve never even met her. Just the vibes, her energy, I’m in awe.

Her vibes are immaculate! And she’s just so kind. I look to her and Lorraine as second mothers. I feel so grateful to not learn from her and to be surrounded by Queen’s talent, but also at the same time she is just extremely kind as a person and has a beautiful heart and is humble and kind to everyone that she comes across the set, which as someone who’s number one on the call sheet, again, that’s a very hard thing to do. She doesn’t have a lot of time, but you never really feel that way when you’re working with her. So it’s been nice to bond and then, especially in these past few seasons, really get to know each other. So yeah, both of those ladies, are my family!

That’s so lovely. Delilah and Robin have such a great and relatable relationship.

A lot of it is so funny. Sometimes I look at certain scripts that we have for the week and I’ll be like, see, me and Delilah on the same wavelength right now! This really must be an age thing. I just had this conversation with my family, but it’s great. I mean, we have wonderful writers who have families and also some who have been a part of like the police force or have done a lot of work in those types of fields as well, who are very educated on all that, so everything is well written.

But then again, on the flip side, they have like really wonderful families so much so that when we are all working together and are on set, there is just that familial aspect. I feel it not only with my cast but with the crew as well. Our producers and showrunners, create that environment on the set for us so that again, it doesn’t feel like a job per se.

Sometimes when I’m sitting at the dinner table in a scene, I feel like I’m sitting at the dinner table with my auntie.

I do hope they let you eat some of that food because everything looks delicious on that show.

They do! When I tell you, the pastries are amazing! My first rule, if I were running a set would be great pastries every day.

I would visit that set every day. You are also killing it in the voiceover world – congratulations on your Buffyverse audiobook! I listened to it – and if you are getting that I am a huge nerd, then yes I am what’s that been like for you?

Being a part of the Buffyverse has been such an amazing experience. Again, don’t hate me for this that I didn’t know very much about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It’s alright, neither of us was born when it came out!

Of course, I knew about the show and I knew about its popularity because I have a lot of family members who are very big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, like they have been a part of the Buffyverse for 20 years now.

I got an email in my inbox very randomly about a year ago now saying that Audible wanted to cast me as this new character, this new slayer named Adira, and just hoping that I’d be a part of it. And I was like, What? Like, I was just shocked. How did they find me? How do they know me? The director ended up playing a game called God of War that I was a part of, and I was able to find my agent with the contact in that way. So again, I didn’t know very much information going on and wasn’t given a very long rehearsal process or prep process.

And then I had a meeting with the director, Casey Weyland, and the writers Christopher Golden and Amber Benson, and I immediately felt so much comfort from them. And we had a lot of fear and jitters going it, of course, because again, it was a world that I didn’t know of and I wasn’t a part of in any way. But the cast members who returned after all this time were so wonderful to work with. They gave me recommendations on which episodes to watch and they were very focused on just making sure we had fun in the studio. Like anything that I wanted to bring, they were very focused on the freedom of being able to play with voiceover, with the words that they had written.

it’s very interesting looking back at it in retrospect, because knowing how impactful this show has been for so many people for a long time, and how big of a deal reviving it was and bringing the original cast together again and again. I got to see just how people were impacted by hearing their favourite characters once more just to see that you made me respect the trust that they had in their actors and appreciate how much trust they had in me as well.

Was it nerve-wracking, especially with the fandom? Because fandoms scare me! Especially as a black woman, a lot of fandoms are hostile towards us.

Yeah, it was but I’ve been there before, with God of War and I’m like the new kid coming in.

It was nerve-wracking specifically for God of War because I don’t think there is I mean, I might be wrong. I’m trying to think before I say it, but I know for sure I was the only black girl who was a part of that cast and has been a part of that franchise. And I remember seeing the original picture printout of the character and I was like, this is so amazing. I was 14, 15 when I did that so it was just so exciting. I remember my friend texted me asking me if that was me in God of War and I was like ‘Oh, wow, it’s been announced?”

Your entire life is other people updating you on your career which is sort of hilarious.

Exactly. I’m like, “Why aren’t they telling me that it’s been announced? Why am I finding out from my friend that I haven’t talked to in four years?” But even when it was announced, like what everybody was going to look like and people were getting they’re seeing their first reactions to it, especially on Twitter, it was such an overwhelming, overwhelming amount of love.

But also with that where it was a lot of hate to end it really, if anything just opened my eyes to once again how difficult it is to be a young black actor or black actor, period, and to try and break into a world that’s kind of been untouched by us. And it’s very showing how closed-minded people are and how still when it feels like we’re taking strides, there are always ones who are going to try and pull you back. I wasn’t expecting that reaction at all, considering this is Norse mythology. I mean, considering it’s also a fictional world that they’ve created and it’s based on myth, I was surprised – like you can accept having a blue character, but you can’t have a black character in that space?

With Buffy, they were kind of prepared for what that action would be because I think they only had one lead black actress, and she was in the second season of Buffy. So, the crew on that were ready and made the environment so comfortable for me and they did that also on God of War. It’s more so just unfortunate but exciting because I’m still at the end of the day, we’re a part of all the conversations and should be, and we’re still creating space and elbow room for ourselves, even when racists don’t want us to be a part of any conversation or space.

I think it was Candice Patton, who was Iris West on The Flash who responded to a racist troll and was like, “Well, I got big bucks to be here!” and you just have that energy.

Exactly! I’m here. I have a BAFTA! They can’t take that away.

Just flex that BAFTA when people want to be stupid. So, quickfire! What are you listening to?

“Magdalena” by Donny Hathaway. I love old jazz, it’s just so soothing.

Watching? I need a romcom rec!

Love Jones! It’s one of my favourite romantic movies.

One dream actress to work with outside The Equalizer?

Only one? During Black History Month [laughs). I’m going to cheat and say two – Viola Davis and Angela Bassett. I met her [Angela] last year and cried like a baby.

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is available on Shudder via Amazon Prime UK.

Interview Michaela Makusha
Photography Chris Fox-Kelly / CFK
Makeup Britty Whitfield
Hair Tiffanie G
Styling Wilfree Vazquez Torres
Dress by Hailea and provided by The Confessional Showroom

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