The Equalizer’s Laya DeLeon Hayes is Just Getting Started

At 17, Hayes already has a starring role on the biggest show on television and an NAACP award on her bookshelf

When Laya Deleon Hayes auditioned for The Equalizer in 2020, it was the middle of pilot season, and she was just eager to get a regular gig. But when she read for the part of Delilah, the fiery daughter of Queen Latifah’s former CIA operative, Robyn, she knew this was more than just another role.

“I had done a bunch of pilots that didn’t get picked up,” the North Carolina native recalls. “When I got The Equalizer script, I was so engaged and so excited about it.”

Audiences share her enthusiasm. The CBS show, which returned from hiatus on January 2, is a ratings blockbuster. Working with Latifah has been a dream. “I thought she would be more into hip-hop,” Hayes says. “But she’s also teaching me about country music and alternative music. She’s very much into everything.”

Latifah’s groundbreaking moves—she’s the first Black woman to lead The Equalizer franchise—are an inspiration to Hayes. In 2021, the young actress won an NAACP Image Award for her work on Doc McStuffins, the hit Disney animated show about an African American girl with a medical clinic for stuffed animals. She’s looking to take on more roles that challenge stereotypes.

“I just want to continue on a path of playing characters that could change the world.”

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.