Two months into the worldwide lockdown, KiKi Layne sounds warm and upbeat over the phone. She says we just happened to catch her on a good day. “Some days I’m fine,” she says. “Other days I’m like, What is going on? I just take it day by day.”

She brings this same mix of vulnerability and strength to her performance in The Old Guard, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. The adaptation of the graphic novel premiered July 10 on Netflix and is currently perched at the number 1 on the streaming giant’s U.S. charts.

With this movie, Prince-Bythewood becomes the first Black woman director to helm a live-action comic book–based feature of this scale. Layne plays Nile, a marine recruited by immortal mercenaries who are led by Charlize Theron’s Andy. They discover that, like them, Nile is invincible, and together they fight to protect humankind.

Though leaping off tall buildings onto parked cars was a new thrill for Layne, who had never been in an action film before, she was drawn most to the ways in which the role stretched her as a thespian. “I want to have variety in my career, because this industry likes to assume what types of roles an actress who looks like me can play,” she states. “I’m trying to break out of that box.”

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More Black Girl Magic TV We’re Loving This Summer

Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You

After ending her hilarious series Chewing Gum, Coel returns with a darker yet similarly introspective dramedy that unpacks rape culture. She stars in, writes and produces this project—and expands the dialogue to people across the gender and sexuality spectrums in London. Now streaming on HBO.

Katori Hall’s P-Valley

Adapting the show from her own play, Hall immerses audiences in a sizzling strip club drama that’s set in an uninhibited Dirty South. Beneath its seductive exterior are characters waiting for their chance at the American dream, no matter who or what they must sacrifice to attain it. Now streaming on Starz.

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of ESSENCE magazine, available on newsstands now.