The Old Guard is a fast-paced, high stakes superhero film rooted friendship and the choices that not only define life as we now know it but for years to come. From the comic book series written by Greg Rucka (Stumptown), Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), puts her unique spin on and expands the tale of our heroic immortals.
Led by Andy (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road), we round out the crew with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts, The Danish Girl), Joe (Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli, Martin Eden), who have survived for centuries, fighting on behalf of mankind, narrowly escaping death with each mission. They have a spiritual vision that leads them to Marine and newcomer Nile (KiKi Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk), who only learns of her immortality through death.
Sometimes called soldiers, other times called mercenaries, these immortals try to use their superhuman abilities for the good of the world. When a seemingly easy mission falls apart revealing a betrayal, they have to look towards each other to get the strength to rebuild and determine what they want to fight for now and in the future.
The Beat spoke to Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & star KiKi Layne about the vision for this film, how music played an important role and why Nile was and is such a worthy and necessary Black heroine.
On the importance of showcasing Nile’s agency, determination, and the creative expansions showcased with this character, in particular, Prince-Bythewood shared:
“I love Greg’s book so much, but one thing that was missing was the full arc for Niles’ character. So, when I came aboard, that was the immediate thing that Greg and I went to work on, expanding Nile’s character, making sure she had a beginning, middle, and end. We wanted to elevate her family, her backstory, and give her those heroic moments throughout that were integral to the story in the plot.” She continued, “I love Nile and it was all of the things that Kiki brought to that character-her innate toughness and vulnerability, that made her the hero that I wanted to see.”
On the vulnerability and quiet strength that drew her into the character of Nile, Layne added:
“For me, I was just immediately happy to hear the vision that Gina was committed to. This was an opportunity for me to play a character that has a lot of depth, a lot of complexities, and that often is lacking for us as Black women. So, to have this character in an action film made it even more special. To be able to show strong physicality and ass-kicking, but also show her internal strength as a result of her vulnerability.”
“While a lot of us cannot relate to discovering you’re immortal, everyone can relate to loss, grief, and loneliness. To be able to have that in an action film made it even more special to show this kind of strong physicality and ass-kicking, but then at the same time show that internal strength as a result of vulnerability and going through things that a lot of us can relate to. Those are the things that made me excited about being able to play that type of black female character.”
On going from a Marine where a lot of her choices are defined for her to an Immortal with a whole new level of freedom given through a kismet meeting with Andy and what choices that meeting unlocks, Layne told us:
“For Nile, it comes down to purpose. Being in the Armed Forces and going out on those missions had a purpose. For Nile, it’s all about a greater sense and understanding of what she’s fighting for. So, when Andy shows up and demands that Nile comes with her, Nile is asking what are they about. Are they good guys or bad guys? Why do they fight? Why should she join them? Nile still has her family, unlike Andy, so she needs to know the purpose behind their group and their choices, before giving all of that up.”
On the weight, joy, and pride of being the first Black woman to direct a superhero feature film, Prince-Bythewood told us:
“There’s pride in that this has been a two-year journey, and a lot of that journey, I was in a sustained fight for my vision. There’s also the pressure that I cannot fail because it hurts the chances for other Black Women to have this opportunity. So, there’s pride in being able to look onscreen and see my vision come to live, to see the film I wanted to make. And while I shouldn’t be the first in 2020, I am grateful that I got the opportunity and I am going to hold the door open and pull some others behind me because there are so many dope women out there who want the same opportunity, have the same skills and desire, and just haven’t gotten the chance. The biggest pressure I felt was not to mess it up for everyone else.”
On how music influences her work, the strategic choices she made for pivotal scenes, and what she wants the audience to hear and feel alongside those dope visuals, Prince-Bythewood shared:
“In terms of music, music is everything to my process. I write to music, I direct music, and I edit to music. I love songs for scores and songs that can speak to a moment and can elevate a moment without overtaking it and doing the work. So, I’m very intentional about the songs that I chose for this film. I wanted a lot of times for the songs to be almost counter to what you would expect in an action scene because I wanted the action to feel character-driven and emotional.”
“There are two songs in particular that I’m so excited about. The first is ‘Godspeed’ by Frank Ocean. I love that song because it’s about grief and this is a song that Nile discovered and would put on when she needed to get out of her head or when she thought about her father. And the other song is ‘Going Down Fighting’ by Andrea Wasse & Phlotilla, which is playing over Nile when she gets in the elevator, going up. We just stay on her for the whole 15 floors up. It just feels epic and heroic to me.”
She continued, “I’ve seen this movie about 100 times because I’m cutting it but every time I get to that moment, I feel lifted because of what it says and what it represents. Here is this Black woman going to her destiny, which is being a hero to save the day. And I mean, it moves me so much and the music is a huge part of that as well.”
The Old Guard was a fantastically wild ride for me, it positioned and centered women in the places and power we deserve, while finally allowing a Black woman the space to lean into and own her growth, even in the face of the unbelievable. The team of immortals struck the delicate balance of maintaining the familial core and tone while navigating and being flexible to the uncertainty.
The mentor-mentee relationship between Andy & Nile gets flipped on its head by the end, and should we get the sequel we deserve, I cannot wait to see how Nile reaches higher heights as the leader she always was and is meant to be! One thing that is not lost in this historical moment, is how much representation on and offscreen matter, and how Prince-Bythewood’s latest creation not only stands firmly in giving each character purpose but is also an important part of a much-needed cultural shift and revolution that we are due.
Go watch The Old Guard this weekend, out now on Netflix!