Should you read 'If Beale Street Could Talk' before seeing the film? The stars have their say (exclusive)

Hanna Flint

With so many films based on books a question often comes up: should you read the text before or after watching the movie?

Yahoo Movies UK put the conundrum to Stephan James and Kiki Layne, the stars of Barry Jenkins’ latest film If Beale Street Could Talk.

The period romance is based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name and the two stars had contrasting opinions about which way to go.

“I think I’m learning that I prefer to see the film first and then read the book,” Layne explained. “Because then you have images of the actors and the set and all of that stuff and make the world that you’re imagining even more vivid, so I think it’s fun for that reason.”

“I actually like the other way round, “James responded. “I felt with Baldwin I just had to read it before going into the film. I didn’t think there was any other way that I could do it.”

KiKi Layne (Tish) and Stephan James (Fonny) are a struggling couple in the movie (Credit: Annapurna Pictures)

The film is a pretty faithful adaptation of Baldwin’s story about a young black couple whose lives are shaken when Fonny (James) is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and Tish (Layne) is left on the outside while pregnant with his child.

“A couple of scenes [were cut] where Fonny brings Tish home after having her out all night and has to talk to the parents,” Layne recalled. “There’s a confrontation between Officer Bell and Tish by herself when she’s much further along in the pregnancy.”

“There’s the scene where Fonny first asks Tish to marry him in his little apartment,” James added. “So there was a few things that Barry had to cut out.

“He said [of] those scenes, ‘they couldn’t make it into the film but they were in the performance’ and we felt and understood what those moments were.”

The If Beale Street Could Talk stars say whether you should read the James Baldwin nobel before or after seeing the movie.

The two actors, relatively unknown before appearing in the movie, had a lot of kind words for their director saying it was “everything” to appear in his second feature.

“I’ve been a fan of Barry for a while now and I had put it out into the earth that I was going to work with him,” James said. “I just didn’t expect it to be so soon and to finally have something like that to come to fruition, while adapting a James Baldwin novel for the first time ever, it’s kind of a dream come true.”

“I never would have thought my debut feature would be Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight,” Layne continued. “He’s amazing, such a special filmmaker and takes such good care of all of the artists that he invites to be a part of the vision.

“I’m thankful that there are a lot of directors and producers that never would have given this role to someone who had as fewer credits and no name such as myself,” she added.

Barry Jenkins folllows up Moonlight with this James Baldwin adaptation

“So I’m very thankful for the filmmakers out there that are about really finding whoever is best for the part and then trusting that people are going to respond well to that, and the money and profit will come.”

The film has earned critical acclaim across the board with Regina King earning several Supporting Actress nominations, including an Oscar nod for her and Barry Jenkins in the Adapted Screenplay category.

The film has already enjoyed a release in the US and many people have shared their reactions, including ones that suggest Fonny was actually guilty.

James has a message for those people: “He didn’t do it, in case you missed it in the film, he didn’t do it.”

If Beale Street Could Talk is in cinemas from Friday, 8 February.

Read more
Alita: Battle Angel on Time’s Up 4% Challenge
VFX tech invented for Alita: Battle Angel
Joel Edgerton on Boy Erased rape scene