By RYCH McCAIN
At the recent American Film Institute’s premiere at the world famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for the movie Precious, one of the female cast members overshadowed the presence of Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and the film’s star, Mo’nique, on the red carpet. That young actress was Chyna Layne.
Layne plays Rhonda, the classmate of Clareece “Precious” Jones played by Gabourey Sidibe. They are students at a special education school for misfit students who have been kicked out of everywhere else.
Layne uses her Jamaican accent very heavily on purpose for this film. She was born in New York City of a Jamaican father and Filipina mother and grew up in Jamaica, Queens and East New York. Her uncle, Neville, tried acting and encouraged her to pursue the craft.
She began as a child with the CityKids Repertory Company and received a full scholarship to the Black Spectrum Theatre, where she led the company in an Audelco Award win for Best Ensemble Company in the musical, A Trip to Nowhere.
Layne furthered her acting studies and training with the African American Theatre of Harlem, the Atlantic Acting School and the Negro Ensemble Company under the late O.L. Duke. She is also skilled in the martial arts of eskrima, also known as Filipino stick fighting, and Chinese wushu.
Layne has been dubbed a young Diahann Carroll, which is quite a compliment so early in the acting game. She has over 30 independent films under her belt with numerous stage plays and commercials. She made her TV movie debut in the HBO film, Life Support, opposite Queen Latifah.
When asked about her getting a role in Precious, Layne says, “I originally read for a different character but the next day (director Lee Daniels) told me I’m playing the role of Rhonda. Then he pulls out a book and in the back Rhonda has a journal entry and he had me read it and I was crying. I knew that I had to do this film.”
What was Layne’s reaction when she saw the movie the first time?
“Oh my God! Is that me? Did we do this?”
With her rising popularity in Hollywood, what future does she see for other young Jamaican actors and actresses in film?
“I hope that there are more roles for Jamaican actors that open up in American cinema and television.”
With all of the attention she is attracting because of her looks, does she see herself becoming a Hollywood sex symbol?
A very modest Layne replies quickly: “I think that for my career, I’m going in the opposite way. Many young actresses start off playing beautiful on screen but I’m opposite of that. I don’t think that the whole sex symbol thing will be happening for me.
“I’ve yet to play any sort of characters which are considered even somewhat sexy.
“So, right now, I’m just really enjoying doing work like this.”
Photo by Ananta Cuffee