Though you may recognize her face from appearances on Abbott Elementary, This Is Us, and All American: Homecoming, Iyana Halley is poised to become a household name with her latest role in Will Packer’s Beast.
Acting 2013, the 29-year-old actress says the project, which finds herself, alongside costars Idris Elba and Leah Jeffries, fighting for survival in the South African Sahara against a disgruntled lion, was a no-brainer to sign onto when she saw the script.
“Besides working with Idris Elba, who is an amazing actor, this script was so suspenseful. Even just reading it, I was wondering ‘oh my god, what’s going to happen? Are they going to make it? Are they going to survive?'”
Audiences were clearly captivated by that same sense of suspense and tension, as Beast debuted at #2 at the domestic box office over the weekend. This is thanks in part to Halley’s breakout performance as Meredith Samuels, eldest daughter to Elba’s character, navigating both the emotional obstacle of their strained relationship and the physical obstacles of their eventual family crisis as “second in command” defending her family unit.
“The journey that my character Mere goes through, she has a real character arc,” Halley said. “With all of that, I knew this [film] would be an amazing one.”
Halley, who says she has always wanted to try her hand at an action thriller, was challenged beyond the limits of what she had experienced on prior shoots, thrust into stunts and physical endurance for the first time.
“I absolutely am not used to action stuff. I feel like this movie really got me out of my comfort zone because I really had to make sure I was working out, doing yoga, and stretching so I could keep up with the scenes. In the beginning, I was really out of breath a lot of the time,” she laughed. “Bal [Baltasar Kormákur], our director, was really big on us doing all our own stunts, so I really couldn’t cheat anything!”
One scene in particular, which she was careful not to spoil, found Halley’s character interacting with the film’s antagonist, the wild lion stalking the Samuels family across the South African wilderness. The actress makes it clear that everything you see her doing in said scene, she actually did.
Aside from the opportunity to push herself, filming Beast gave her the opportunity to learn directly from one of the culture’s most beloved actors.
“Working with Idris Elba is literally like sitting in on a master class,” Halley said. “Everything that he’s doing, I’m just watching and taking notes. Not only is he acting when it’s time to act, but when the camera is not on him, he’s asking questions and learning the whole time. On set, I’m just watching how focused and dedicated he is, and I’m taking my mental notes.”
On top of learning through osmosis, Halley was directly encouraged by Elba, who helped her get over a bout of nerves early into shooting.
“One of the moments that was really amazing to me was a day where I’m feuding with my dad and we get into this really big argument. I was really nervous at first and I feel like I was really getting into my head. And Idris just said ‘it’s okay Iyana. Don’t be nervous, you’ve got this,'” she recalled. “I feel like those words of affirmation really just made me feel more comfortable because he didn’t have to say that.”
Filming for over three months, with what Idris described as long hours with a lot of downtime and in often harsh cold temperatures, the actors ended up forming a true on-set family that found each of them teaching, learning, and playing with one another in the time they had together.
“Being in South Africa for three months, which is a really long time, really bonded us,” Halley said, noting that she and costar Jeffries even resided in the same apartment complex while on location. The fun family dynamic created somewhat of a barrier for the actress to create the tension and resentment that needed to be expressed on-screen between herself and her movie father.
“Because we grew so close in a positive way, I had to find things from other people to plug in and react to,” she said. “Mere and her father have a really up and down relationship, and of course, Idris is not a person that is like his character. He’s way cooler and nicer.”
But, with encouragement from her new on-screen family, Hally was able to push through and deliver an impactful performance that helps drive this exhilerating action thriller.
Beast is in theaters everywhere now.