If ever there was a year for such a cinematic bolt from the blue, it is the year 2020 — and the significance of the moment was not lost on either the director or the actress.
But even before this year of reckoning, Prince-Bythewood recalled in an interview, she and Layne felt excitement during their initial conversations about “The Old Guard,” while acknowledging to each other the responsibility of needing to “get it right,” because of their rare position. During the busy days of working behind the camera while on set, Prince-Bythewood — a veteran of “Love & Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights” — took a brief moment of reflection during a scene in a penthouse, noting to herself that she was helping create a movie with a “dope black female hero for girls, and hopefully boys too.”
But it was at an early test screening of the film where Prince-Bythewood felt the movie’s true potential impact. Afterward, a 22-year-old black woman told her that she wished she had characters like Layne’s immortal-soldier-in-training, Nile Freeman, when she was 12 years old.
“That’s what we’re doing this for,” Prince-Bythewood said. “That [moment] was really amazing and a testament to what Kiki brought to the character.”
Layne’s moment of reflection on set came while filming a scene that takes place on a plane with Charlize Theron, who plays Andy, the intimidating, take-no-nonsense boss who must show Layne’s character, Nile, the ropes of being an immortal. Being on a giant set for a comic book movie, and raising her fists on camera against an A-list star, was a career moment for Layne — one she hopes can inspire other black actresses to strive for similar moments on screen.
“That’s what I think Gina and I bring to anything we attach ourselves to,” said Layne, who had her breakthrough role in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “We’re very much aware of the lack of opportunities and space that has been made to show [black women] represented in that way [in an action movie]. Even for me, thinking back [to the] first week, being on the plane and we’re getting into it … that was a moment where I was just like, [wow], I’m on this [huge] action set and I’m about to [fight] Charlize Theron … and I’m being directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.”
Prince-Bythewood said she was appreciative of the presence of Rucka, who adapted the screenplay for the movie — a comic-writer-to-movie-set transition that is rare in comic book films. One of her top priorities while working with Rucka was to give Layne a full-story to work with as Nile. Prince-Bythewood felt the character’s journey wasn’t fully developed in the comics, noting she eventually “drops out” of the story. Rucka agreed — without pushing back.
“It was very important to me and to Greg to make sure that Nile had a full story, a full beginning, middle and end. A full backstory. Full agency in the plot and in the climax. That great heroic moment at the end,” Prince-Bythewood said. “I wanted that for the film.”
“The Old Guard” comics are still being published at Image, and Prince-Bythewood and Layne are both hopeful for a continuation of their historic team-up on Netflix.
“Hell yeah,” Layne said when asked if she’d be ready to play an immortal once more. “The Old Guard” movie was actually crafted to have multiple installments, thanks to a kicker at the end that features a surprise character.
Prince-Bythewood says sequels will come if the audience response merits them.
“Greg has always envisioned this as a trilogy and where the story goes is pretty dope and pretty epic,” Prince-Bythewood said. “So there’s certainly more story to tell.”