Layton's father was a radio announcer (including working as the color analyst on Alabama Crimson Tide football radio broadcasts) and a sports journalist who encouraged her from an early age. During her years at school, Layton regularly participated in stage productions.
From 1986 – 1991 she studied at the University of Alabama, where she achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree. She moved from Alabama to Chicago, and later to Los Angeles, where she graduated from the University of California with a degree in Master of Fine Arts. While studying for her degree she played the role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Once she graduated she became a professor at UCLA.
Layton became a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival company in 2004. Previously, she starred as Detective Holly Rawlins in TV's Silk Stalkings from 1995 – 1996. She is a member of Actors Equity.