Child actress returns home to Metro Detroit to host 'Beast' movie screening

Kaitlyn Luckoff
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — A transplanted Metro Detroit actress got to live out a dream Saturday night by hosting the screening of her first big screen movie back in the Detroit area.

Leah Jeffries, a 12-year-old actress who once lived in Novi but now resides in Los Angeles, hosted a screening of "Beast" at the Emagine Royal Oak so her friends and family could watch her latest role.

Jeffries has worked for the past four years in a variety of TV and TV movie roles, but is now gaining a foothold in the movie industry with the role in "Beast" and another role in an upcoming film. 

"I'm so happy to see them (friends and family) after a long time being gone filming other shows and movies," Jeffries said. "I cannot wait for my family to see this. I'm just super excited."

Former Novi resident Leah Jeffries smiles as she prepares to address the audience before the start of the premiere of Beast at the Emagine Royal Oak on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Jose Juarez/Special to Detroit News)

The thriller film, directed by Baltasar Kormákur and starring Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Daniels, is scheduled to hit theaters on Aug. 19. Jeffries plays the role of Norah Samuels, one of Elba's character's two daughters. The other daughter is portrayed by Iyana Halley.

The movie is about how Dr. Daniels travels with his daughters after the loss of his wife to a game reserve in South Africa owned by a friend and wildlife biologist. But the trip takes a turn when the family is threatened by a man-hunting lion. 

The movie was filmed in South Africa.  

"I loved filming with the cast, especially, and just filming in South Africa and seeing all the beautiful views and just having the time of my life filming with the people I love," she said.

This isn't her first screen credit. She began filming on TV shows four years with appearances in the TV comedy series "Rel," the TV movie "Faith Under Fire," "Empire" and "PawParazzi." 

She said at first, it was difficult to get used to seeing her face on the big screen. However, now she finds it fun and exciting to watch herself act.

"At first, I was like 'Oh my gosh. My face, ewww.' But now I love seeing my face on the big screen. Like 'Wow, this is really it'," she said.

Jeffries said she is looking forward to her future roles in "Something from Tiffany's" and "Percy Jackson & The Olympians." 

The casting of Jeffries as Annabeth Chase, one of Percy Jackson's friends, created controversy because Jeffries is Black while the character in the book is White, according to People magazine. Author Rick Riordan has defended the casting choice. 

"...We should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong. As strong as Leah is, as much as we have discussed the potential for this kind of reaction and the intense pressure this role will bring, the negative comments she has received online are out of line. They need to stop. Now," Riordan wrote in a May blog post

Actress Leah Jeffries, 12, poses for photos in front of "Beast" movie posters at the Emagine Royal Oak on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022.

Carin Poole of Southfield was one of Jeffries' relatives who attended Saturday's screening. The 49-year-old cousin of Jeffries said the close-knit family feels Jeffries has fulfilled her purpose as an actress and performing on a "larger platform than we ever imagined."

"We've gone through all of the journey with Leah, from the commercials to "Empire" to now the big screen. We're just so proud of her talent. ... She's just a poised and well prepared young lady."

Jeffries' grandmother Carol Stacks of Farmington also was eager to watch Leah in "Beast."  

It has been exciting "just seeing her grow from starting as a little girl in commercials and hair products, to series and movies, and now to this," Stacks said. 

Also in the crowd was Peaches Johnson, who said she has been Jeffries' hair stylist since she was two years ago.  

"(I've) seen her grow up and become the intelligent young lady that she has became," Johnson said. "She's very, very outspoken and she knows what she's talking about. She's very confident in herself, so I know she's going to be very successful."