Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
If you’re like me, an ’80s kid who considers Hot Tub Time Machine in the pantheon of great films, you were appropriately ecstatic when news broke that a Coming to America sequel was on its way. After all, you’ve spent the last 30+ years quoting lines like “In the face!” at sports events and dropping mics like Sexual Chocolate, so this news byte probably made your soul glow.
For the sequel, we’re in the same “world,” yet it’s different now. It’s one where a McDowell’s Beyond Burger is a thing and where Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) uses the phrase “on fleek.” Soon-to-be-King Akeem now has three daughters with Lisa, the woman of his dreams, and the daughter of McDowell’s mastermind, Cleo, who continues to assure us it’s nothing like McDonald’s.
Early on, we meet Prince Akeem’s daughter, Meeka (KiKi Layne), who’s decked out in her royally ornate Zamundan threads. Meeka is a woman with a particular set of skills, reminding us of a young Akeem. For one, she can beat her dad down quite well now in big stick combat. So much so that it seems as if she’s been training for something her whole life. And as we soon find out, she is — like becoming the first female heir to the throne of Zamunda. As a side note, she’s also not super-pumped about her arranged marriage to the heir of a rival country’s throne.
Unfortunately, Zamunda’s old-world patriarchy would have no such thing as a female ruler — so Meeka’s relinquished to a backup role while Akeem travels to America (again). This time, it’s to find his bastard son from a one-night stand where — spoiler alert — Akeem got relatively taken advantage of by an aggressive woman, Mary Junson (Leslie Jones), in a CGI-fueled flashback to the same club scene from the original. A place where Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) tried to line up formidable princess prospects and met Peaches and her twin, amongst others.
As Meeka, Layne has many moments where her regal performance and general badassery pull focus away from the other actors. One of the better scenes is when Akeem’s royal family meets Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), the bastard brother from Queens. Meeka is unimpressed at his existence and stands tall in the lavish foyer, relatively annoyed by this interloper who’s messing with her crown hopes. The awkwardness is palpable as Akeem introduces them all as “one big happy Zamundan-American aristocratic blended family.” But Meeka eventually warms up to Lavelle, giving him life-saving advice on how to clip a tiger’s whiskers without getting killed.
Not a metaphor.
It’s easy to relish the new characters this story brings to us like Meeka and Mary, who liven up the plot points in a story that plays out like the OG version. These women advance the tale, but fear not, there’s still a greatest hit list of characters like the barbershop quartet, the royal bathers and the musical stylings of Randy Jackson and his “good and terrible” band, Sexual Chocolate.
Overall, Jayne stands out as a welcomed addition to this world, representing changing traditions and a generation of women learning that “fight like a girl” is a phrase worth canceling. At a time when our culture aspires for gender equality with mixed success, the winds of change blow more fiercely than ever on film — and nowhere is that change more clear than in the land of Zamunda.
With her role in the much-anticipated and rather star-studded nostalgia affair that is Coming 2 America, it’s easy to see how the 29-year-old Layne has gotten Hollywood’s attention.
After a couple of minor roles in TV projects such as Chicago Med and an Untitled Lena Waithe Project in 2016, Layne landed the lead role in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), Barry Jenkins’ film follow-up to Oscar-winner Moonlight, which won a couple of Oscars that year. In it, Layne shines as Tish Rivers, a woman swept off her feet from a department store perfume counter. It was a highly coveted role Layne reportedly won by beating out over 300 others.
Then, in a film that played during the early pandemic, Layne starred alongside Charlize Theron in The Old Guard (2020) on Netflix. In it, she played a crime-fighting immortal who gets taken by a group of mercenaries. Prior to that, she also snagged a role in HBO’s Native Son (2019), which examined race relations and showed some things are never black and white.
One thing that does seem black-and-white, however, and it’s that the Cincinnati-born Layne’s star is on the rise. The DePaul theater grad (class of 2014) already landed a major role in her next project — a psychological thriller about a ‘50s housewife living in an experimental utopia called Don’t Worry, Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde, due out some time later this year.
It looks like life in the fast “Layne” is poised to continue.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.