Speaking with the 18-year-old actress Laya DeLeon Hayes, you get the sense this is just the start of her career, even though she was cast in her first on-screen role when she was only eight. It was a minor part in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It didn’t take long before the small roles grew into leads.

Her first big break came in 2014, when, at age nine, Disney chose her to voice the title role on Doc McStuffins, a BAFTA-, Emmy-, and Peabody Award–nominated animated series. The casting was not only a major milestone in Hayes’s career, earning her an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award nomination, but it also made her the voice of the first Black animated character on Disney Junior.

Today, Hayes has credits in more than 25 projects. She has the kind of charisma and magnetism that doors can’t open fast enough for.

Laya DeLeon Hayes plays a “mad” scientist in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.

Her first trip outside North America came earlier this year, after the actress discovered, via social media, that she’d been nominated for a prestigious BAFTA Games Award for playing the voice of Angrboda in the video game God of War Ragnarök. “I was like, Why is BAFTA tagging me on Instagram?” recalls Hayes. She traveled to London for the ceremony.

The nomination was not the only surprise for Hayes—winning was, too. Watching her charming acceptance speech for Performer in a Supporting Role, it’s clear the actress was genuinely caught off guard. “It was just a very beautiful and surreal moment,” says Hayes.

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and raised in Texas, Hayes participated in school plays and talent shows beginning in kindergarten. “I was never very sporty, and when I was in third grade I got asked to read the morning announcements at my school, and it was put on-camera. That kind of set everything off for me.”

Hayes enrolled in acting classes in Dallas, then relocated to Los Angeles because the parts kept coming. “I just wanted to create characters, and I really wanted to be on-screen,” she says. Her television credits include Just Add Magic, Liv and Maddie, Raven’s Home, and Quantico. She’s also a sought-after voice-over actor who’s worked on Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, and the video-game League of Legends, among others.

Queen Latifah, left, and Hayes in a scene from The Equalizer.

In 2021, she reached another major milestone: starring as Queen Latifah’s daughter on The Equalizer, a fun and fast crime-fighting show currently gearing up for its fourth season. “I got really lucky.”

On a quick two-month break from filming The Equalizer, Hayes stepped into her latest role, Vicaria, in the South by Southwest hit The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. In the modern take on Frankenstein, which was released in theaters yesterday, she stars as a “mad” scientist who, in the clutter of a dark storage unit, revives her brother after he’s killed by police. “A lot of the time we’re not included in those stories, so to be a young Black person and to be a part of these classic stories now … it is really beautiful to be a part of.”

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is in theaters now

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor at AIR MAIL