The 17-year-old — who has built her acting résumé with an abundance of onscreen appearances, including Raven's Home and Doc McStuffins — currently stars on the CBS hit as Delilah. Hayes' rebellious teen character is the onscreen daughter of Queen Latifah's Robyn McCall.
Hayes and Latifah, 51, recently worked together on The Equalizer's second season, which premiered Oct. 10. Now, Hayes tells PEOPLE exclusively how working on the show's sophomore run has allowed her to grow closer to her TV mom.
"It's easier just getting to know one another in season two, but she really is the coolest," says Hayes. "It was immediate in season one. It was really easy when we were about to shoot the pilot, you know, I think from day one. She's really wanted to make it a collaborative effort for Robyn and Delilah and take a lot of my own experiences with me and my mom and add them into the scenery, so they can become Robyn and Delilah's thing as well."
"I think it's been wonderful to be able to actually bond and really get to know one another this season," she continues. "That's just because we can safely do that."
When going out for the series early last year, Hayes — who went through four auditions before booking the role — gravitated toward the project further upon learning of Latifah's involvement (Latifah is also an executive producer on The Equalizer).
"I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. I want to work with Queen Latifah,'" she says. "Because who doesn't, right?"
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Hayes has already gotten "some wonderful advice" from Latifah as well as fellow costar Lorraine Toussaint, who plays Robyn's aunt.
"I'll tell you one thing, while we were filming season two, one piece of advice they gave me was not to eat the food while doing a scene with food," she recalls. "And I was like, 'All right, I'm not going to do that again.' "
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"When you do a bunch of takes and you're eating food in a scene, you're going to have to get it from all different angles," she continues. "So you're going to be eating, like, the same piece of food, and it has to be the exact same one at the exact same time for the next three hours."
Even though Hayes is still young, she has already learned a lot along her journey. As for the biggest lesson so far, the actress says: "To keep going."
"If you stay in the saddle, like, you will make it. You will get your opportunity. And that's just come from me doing a lot of auditions and just going through the audition process and being like, 'When is my time coming? I want it now. I want it now,'" she explains. "And even really with The Equalizer, when I was going through that audition process, I was having that mentality of like, 'I want it. I want it now.' And I just kept going, and that's when the most amazing things happen for me."
Hayes has some big dreams she's hoping to accomplish down the road. She'd love to work with fellow actors Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, and Saoirse Ronan, as well as filmmakers Wes Anderson and Barry Jenkins. She also has future aspirations behind the camera, including trying her hand at screenwriting and directing.
Additionally, there is one role, in particular, Hayes tells PEOPLE she desires to land someday: "I'd love to play the first Black Wonder Woman. I think that'd be really fun!"
The Equalizer airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.