Twenty years
after Sundance darling Love & Basketball marked the trailblazing arrival of
Gina Prince-Bythewood, the award-winning director takes the helm of her first
big-budget action film. In keeping with the tradition established by her
influential debut and films such as 2014’s Beyond the Lights , Prince-Bythewood
once again upends genre expectations by delivering a story infused with
purpose, compassion, and a love for family in all its forms. From a script
written by Eisner-winning comic book writer Greg Rucka — which was adapted from
his own acclaimed 2017 graphic novel series — The Old Guard flips the conceit
of immortality as being something desirable on its head: It instead focuses on
the inherent tragedy of living forever.

Set in the
modern day, but spanning centuries, The Old Guard centers on a group of mercenaries
who possess a mysterious inability to die. Academy Award winner Charlize Theron
produces and stars as Andy — or Andromache the Scythian — a warrior born in an age
that predates almost all historical records whose experience in combat rivals
no other. Together with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari),
Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and the newest immortal, Nile (KiKi Layne), Andy uses
her gift to protect mankind — leading the team on a covert, darkly altruistic
path through the ages, balancing harm with good, and taking a life when
necessary in order to save thousands of others. But their secret is exposed when
an operation brought to them by an ex-CIA operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Twelve
Years a Slave, Lion King) backfires, threatening their existence.

It’s also a
superhero story that places the work of saving mankind firmly in the hands of
two female warriors. “ This is a story with mythological elements and themes of
relationships, family, and love that were very appealing to me,” says
Prince-Bythewood. “But at its core, the fact that I got to put two badass women
on screen was everything. The script came to me at a time when I had been
looking to move into a bigger sandbox and it ended up presenting me with the
opportunity to do exactly what I wanted: To put female heroes into the world,
one of whom is a young Black woman.”

By stepping
into the role of Nile, a tenderfoot immortal who comes under the reluctant tutelage
of Andy, KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son, Coming 2 America)
becomes the face of an all-new kind of hero. One whose powers may be unique,
but whose grief over her former life and resistance to her newfound
responsibilities are universally relatable.

We spoke with
Bythewood and Kiki Layne about the film and the importance of representation in
the industry.

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