[Interview] Bomani J. Story + Laya DeLeon Hayes for THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER

[Interview] Bomani J. Story + Laya DeLeon Hayes for THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER

In Bomani J. Story’s THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER, inspired by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) is a brilliant teenager who believes death is a disease that can be cured. After the brutal and sudden murder of her brother, she embarks on a dangerous journey to bring him back to life.

For the release of THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with writer/director Bomani J. Story and actor Laya DeLeon Hayes. During their interview, they discussed everything from how Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” provided a jumping point, how Vicaria’s fascination with death fueled interest, and which scenes proved to be the most memorable.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Bomani, to start things off what inspired you to do your own adaptation of “Frankenstein”? 

Bomani J. Story: I read the book and got really horrified by it. The themes really resonated with me and I was surprised how relevant the themes were still. It started with the book and also just in my own household with…I have two older sisters who shepherded me and mentored me throughout my life and that was a huge part of why I wanted to tell this story in this way. They were kind of my muse, you know? They were very gracious and allowed me to utilize some elements of them in this story.

Laya, can you tell us a little bit about your character Vicaria and what drew you to this role? 

Laya DeLeon Hayes: Vicaria is a 17-year-old prodigy, basically. She is a mad scientist with the objective to cure death. After seeing the very recent and sudden death of her brother Chris, she wants to cure death by bringing the dead back to life. Our movie kind of focuses on a lot of internal messages within that. But what drew me to Vicaria was that obsession with death, that obsession with the fragility of life. As a 17-year-old Black girl, you don’t get many characters that are as compelling or layered as Vicaria was and is. From the very beginning, from the moment I read the script and I even read the character description, I felt a connection to her and I felt something in her that resonated with me.

After the first audition, I was just like I want to be a part of this. I could not stop thinking about playing her and bringing that character to life. I think what really drew me to her, as I said, was just that fascination with death and also the fact that she is a 17-year-old girl who is also very vulnerable and she’s trying to put the pieces together for her family. She’s yearning for love and for family throughout the film and that was also something that I could relate to as well.

For you Bomani, in terms of bringing Vicaria to life with Laya did you both work together in doing specific research to get a better understanding of the Frankenstein lore?

Bomani J. Story: [Laya] did a lot of research on her own. Some of it I was very surprised with [Laughs]. I didn’t tell her to read the book she went and did that s*** on her own [Laughs]. So, Laya did her own research but when we were rehearsing together and [going through] the audition process, she really would smack it out of the park. Her willingness to dive in, no questions asked…she had questions but we used it as an exploration until we finally discovered what it was that we were getting at.

Courtesy RLJE Films

As someone who wears glasses, I enjoyed how much focus was placed on their importance. Even when Vicaria wears them cracked, it’s as though she’s wearing them as a badge of honor. Can you talk about the importance of that? 

Bomani J. Story: It feels right. Sometimes with these pieces, you’re doing things and there’s not a huge explanation for it. It’s more of like, this feels appropriate, you know? When I was looking at her character, I just felt like she has other things she’s worried about. She was like, I just need to fix [what she created] as quick as possible, and then I’ll get [to my glasses] later. I have other things I’m dealing with right now that I want to take care of. To me, it was a reflection of her character. I just didn’t feel like she would spend time going out to do these things, she had other things on her mind.

Laya, do you have a favorite scene or one that was most memorable for you? 

Laya DeLeon Hayes: Oh my gosh yeah. There’s a couple. A big highlight in the movie is the one with the teacher. The synergy on set was just so right that day and working with that actress, it was like we were able to play off of one another. Also, we had a great stunt coordinator there that day too which also played into how high those stakes felt for Vicaria. My name is Laya DeLeon Hayes, I’m half Filipino so you get that Spanish descent in the middle name as well and know that feeling of having your name mispronounced so well and wanting so badly to say something. And what Vicaria does is just what every person really feels in that instance, especially when they’re disrespected, cause it comes from a different place.

Another one that’s sticking out in my head right now is the dinner scene with Chad L. Coleman (“Donald”), Amani Summer (“Jada”), and Reilly Brooke Stith (“Aisha”). We all were around the table towards the end of filming and it was so hot. We were filming in North Carolina in the middle of June. We were all having soul food dinner together, hot Mac and Cheese and everything [Laughs].

Towards the end of filming that scene, Bomani let Chad improv and let all of us just kind of be free and feel anything in the moment. It was one of the most fun and rewarding scenes to be able to do. I felt so fulfilled afterward cause there were very horrifying things that are happening while that dinner scene takes place but there is that glimmer of hope, that glimmer of life, and again, it just goes to show in that movie that life can be taken away from you so quickly. We know what happens right after that scene too, you know? So that was one of my favorites to film and I’m sure it’s gonna be one of my favorites to see.

As we have discussed, THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER is a very layered film. Is there anything you hope people take away from it upon seeing it? 

Bomani J. Story: I hope it resonates with audience members. To me, a movie is an emotional experience and I hope that it’s able to take them on a ride – they get grossed out, they feel warmth, they get a little shock here [Laughs]. And also, some thoughts in their head while walking away from the film. Most importantly, I hope that they start thinking about the dehumanization of people because I think that the world would be a better place without dehumanization. I feel like it can hurt people and makes people hurt more people, you know? I hope that they can take that away from here and they can also just change someone’s mind before they open their mouth and start treating someone like they’re less than human.

THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER will be available in theaters on June 9, 2023, and it will be On Demand and on Digital on June 23, 2023. It will also stream on ALLBlk and on Shudder at a later date. For more on the film, check out our review.

Shannon McGrew
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