If you’ve watched any critically acclaimed television over the past year, Iyana Halley likely caught your eye. She might have pulled on your heartstrings as an adult Annie Pearson on beloved NBC family drama This Is Us. Or maybe you had conflicting feelings about Halley on Abbott Elementary as Taylor Howard, the daughter of teacher Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) who has caught the attention of first grade teacher Gregory (Tyler James Williams) and has gotten in the way of potential sparks between him and mockumentary star Janine (Quinta Brunson).
As proven, Halley knows how to stand out among a core cast. It’s no surprise given her steadfast career that has included roles on Tosh.0 and HBO’s Sharp Objects and films Licorice Pizza and The Hate U Give. Up next is her biggest role to date in the Idris Elba-starring Beast, which hits theaters on Aug. 19. Ahead of the film’s premiere, Halley spoke with LA Confidential about working with Elba, tapping into fearlessness and learning the ropes of action films.
Recently, you tweeted about how Beast is your first studio movie. How does it feel to hit this career milestone?
It's definitely super, super exciting for me as the biggest thing I've done thus far… I know that it's going to open so many more doors, so I'm just waiting for what's next, while enjoying the moment as well because it's a lot of cool things that are happening right now.
What was it like to not only work with Idris Elba, but to play one of his daughters?
It was a true dream come true. First of all, I grew up just watching Idris’ movies; I'm such a huge fan. So even when I got the audition and I read it, I'm like “Oh, this is gonna be amazing if I book it.” When I actually got it and met him, let me tell you: I was really nervous. I feel like I was low key stuttering a bit.
But he made me feel super comfortable. He was very protective and father-like, which was perfect because again, I play his daughter. So with working alongside him as well as the other cast, we just felt like a family.
How would you describe your character, Meredith AKA “Mere”?
Meredith is a sassy teenager, but she's also coming into her own and finding her way. She's very artsy as well. And then she's dealing with a lot because there was the passing of the mom. So she's dealing with that.
She's 18, and that can be a difficult year for some. She’s navigating through the world and figuring out herself while dealing with such a traumatic event that happened.
What did you enjoy about acting in a survival thriller?
It was so much fun. It was a lot of action. I got to really work my muscles and run and do all of that stuff, which was scary at first because I'm not the most athletic person, but it really pushed me to my limits. With this movie, there is a lot of CGI, which I've never done before. This is my first time, so it was cool because it's a man dressed in a lion. We got to work with that and you're really using your imagination. I just feel like I got to stretch so many muscles that you know are there, but you really don't get to use it on the regular. How many movies are doing CGI all the time? It just really got me out of my comfort zone overall. I enjoyed the full process.
Filming took place around South Africa. How did being in that environment elevate your performance?
It helped a lot because Mere has never been to Africa and she's experiencing all these new things, so I was able to use my own personal experience.
I've never been to a safari until this movie, so everything was new to me and I was able to take the new experiences and use it for the scenes and for the movie. Everything was very scary at first to me, personally, and Mere is actually more fearless than Iyana is. I had to really get out of my comfort zone and make it work. And it's funny because when the cameras are on, I'm like, “OK, I’m not scared of anything.”
Mere’s very protective. I just feel like she has to even if it's something that might bother her— she covers it up and is not scared because she has someone that's looking up to her. Definitely the older sister box.
What do you think audiences will enjoy about Beast?
It’s definitely suspenseful. It is definitely going to have you on the edge of your seat. It's definitely relatable. I think that's one of the most important components about it. A lot of people are gonna relate to Mere or they're gonna relate to the little sister, even the dad. He's trying to protect his two children. This is all he has left because the mom passed away, so people are going to take away so much from this and just grow with the characters. Again, Mere is a little sassy, but you understand why.
Do you have any other projects this year that you’re looking forward to?
I have so many amazing projects that are currently out right now and that came out this year, like Abbott Elementary. This Is Us wrapped up. I think that's a great show, which you can of course catch on Hulu. I did a thriller that just came out in June. It's called Wayward and that was really exciting as well.
How did your experience compare acting in a thriller like Wayward versus Beast?
It actually compared in more ways than I thought it would. I actually did Beast first, even though Wayward came out before and I got to use the action skills that I learned from Beast. When we did Beast by the way, the director was really big on us doing our own stunts—as best as we can, of course. So with Wayward, I was like, “Well, I want to do a lot of my own stunts.” I really worked with the stunt coordinator because I learned so much from Beast.
I always want to do more action films, so I'm going to take what I learned from these two action films that I just did and become better for the next ones.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Antwon Maxwell