Way back in 2014, when Marvel Studios first announced that its plans for Phase 3 included a film starring the first-ever black superhero in comics, Black Panther, fans were ecstatic. When the hero arrived on the scene in Captain America: Civil War, he completely stole the show. Now, at long last, Wakanda’s gates will be open to outsiders for the very first time when Black Panther hits theaters on February 16.
In February 2016, Nerdist was invited to Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta, where the cast and crew of Black Panther was hard at work at a pivotal action scene featuring T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) In between takes, the actors were able to sit down with us and share some of the secrets behind what’s shaping up to be the biggest MCU movie of all time.
For more Black Panther, check out what the crew had to say about designing Wakanda technology and fashion here!
At the start of the film, T’Challa is still in mourning for his father.
Black Panther may not have been the title character of Captain America: Civil War, but a lot sure happened to him anyway. His father, the King of Wakanda, was killed; he joined a giant Avengers airport brawl to hunt down who he thought was the killer; and then, when faced with the actual culprit, he ultimately chose not to pursue vengeance.
Now, T’Challa must return to his homeland, where he’s not going to be able to solve his problems with only his vibranium claws. “It’s shortly after Civil War has ended so he’s still mourning. There’s unrest in Wakanda,” Boseman said. “So what he’s dealing with, his being the king, is making the transition to filling the footsteps of his father. So it’s probably going to feel like it’s more about the political unrest than the superhero [stuff] initially.”
Of course, he won’t be completely out of his element. “He’s been prepared for it his whole life. He’s groomed, so to speak,” Boseman said. “Like if his father had decided that he was going to step down, ‘I’m too old, I can’t do it anymore,’ then that would be a different scenario. But because he died in the last movie, I think the transition has to do with that mourning process.”
The action sequences are going to be especially intense.
While Black Panther will focus heavily on political drama, it certainly won’t skimp on the action either – and director Ryan Coogler, who cut his teeth on the boxing scenes in Creed, approaches these kinds of scenes in a very particular way.
“I think one of Ryan’s strengths is that he always finds the real moments, even in the sci-fi or larger-than-life atmosphere and environment. When it comes to boxing, he wanted real hits. He wanted it to look like if it was a brawl, it was gonna be a brawl, you know? We really took our time with each punch; each punch represented a different line. So in a sense, we’re having a scene and dialogue within the fight. That was something that I found very interesting with that attention to detail,” Michael B. Jordan, who worked with Coogler on Creed, said.
With this film, “it’s a different approach cuz there are a lot of weapons and you’re also using a lot of hand-to-hand combat and stuff like that, so there’s a lot more action, so to speak," Jordan added. "Just trying to find the realness in the larger-than-life Marvel universe. I think that’s something he’s definitely striving for.”
“Ryan is an incredibly collaborative director, and he’s very responsive to our needs, our suggestions. So it really feels like team work when we are all on set,” Lupita Nyong’o pointed out. “He has the mind of a fighter in a way that I really need. Because sometimes I’m like ‘I don’t know what a fighter would do?’ So to have someone who has that instinct has been very very helpful. “
Expect Shuri to be a total standout.
It’s amazing to think that at the time of this set visit, Letitia Wright’s role as Shuri, the younger sister of T’Challa, hadn’t even been announced yet. Now, with only a month to go before the film’s release, young girls are already sharing their cosplay of her on social media – and that admiration is only going to get more intense once everyone gets to know Shuri better.
A 16 year old girl “who’s smarter than Tony Stark,” (at least according to producer Nate Moore) Shuri leads the Wakandan Design Group and, as we learned in the trailer, is responsible for upgrading the Black Panther’s suit. Her presence also adds an interesting dynamic to the Wakandan Royal Family that’s rare in the MCU – that of the kid sibling.“It’s not very often that you see a superhero with a little sister,” Chadwick Boseman noted. “It’s not unheard of, but it’s an unusual thing, so I think it brings out a different part of [T’Challa’s] character.”
According to Boseman, Wright was especially good at embracing that familial bond. “A little sister can poke at you, and you’re protective of her, but she still thinks she’s your mother – all those different things,” he said. “And [Letitia] has those qualities. I think she just makes you happy as soon as you see her. Everyday she comes in you’re like, ‘Oh shoot!’ It just changed my attitude about everything.”
In fact, all the women of Black Panther are badasses.
But Shuri isn’t the only important woman in T’Challa’s life – he’s surrounded on all sides by strong, capable warriors and diplomats alike in the form of his mother, Ramonda, (Angela Bassett), and Wakanda’s highly-trained fighting force of Dora Milaje, led by Okoye (Danai Gurira). Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Nakia, also has a special role within the Dora Milaje that takes her outside of the country and into Nigeria; Nyong’o referred to her as a “war dog” whose job “is to spy around the world and report back to Wakanda, to keep Wakanda safe.”
In a departure from their comic origin, the Dora Milaje are not meant to be potential wives-in-training for the King – they just kick ass. “I would say that what Ryan and [co-screenwriter] Joe Robert Cole have done with this film maybe deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda,” Nyong’o noted. “The women as we meet them are departures from what we know of them in the comic books.”
Michael B. Jordan agreed wholeheartedly. “[Ryan]'s always very conscious of that, and we want to be as realistic as possible, a reflection of the time, of today. And I feel like Lupita’s character definitely exuberates strength and brains and brawn. I think you get a chance to see all layers of a woman, all different sides and shapes and colors – I feel like you get a full 360 view of what a woman can do, very very much so.”
You might end up rooting for Killmonger.
In the comics, Erik Killmonger is a displaced Wakandan native who seeks revenge on T’Challa for exiling him from his homeland. Michael B. Jordan wouldn’t confirm how his version of the character might be similar or different from that base point (“I guess I’m the best representation of America?” he pondered), but did note that Killmonger’s ultimate goal might not exactly be outright villainous. “If we do our jobs the right ways, hopefully Killmonger is somebody you guys can root for, too,” Jordan said.
Indeed, it seemed like Jordan found a lot to admire about his character while getting into his head. “I feel like Killmonger is very selfless,” he said. “I feel like he’s looking at the bigger picture. I think he’s always looking at the bigger picture, since he was really young, which is why he’s a great thinker and a great strategist, ‘cuz he’s had time to look at the big picture and try to figure it out. And to the best of his ability, I feel like he figured out – it makes sense to him.”
But does that make Killmonger a leader, or a hero? Jordan cautiously consulted with a member of the production crew before offering up this response: “He’s a revolutionary.”
Everett Ross is more than just the token white guy.
Black Panther has such an incredibly stacked cast that no one will blame you if you completely forgot Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) – is also going to be in this movie. Fans last saw him in Captain America: Civil War attempting to bring first Bucky Barnes, and then Baron Zemo, into custody (and on that note – sorry, Bucky fans, but Marvel’s made it pretty clear there’s no plan for a Winter Soldier cameo). In Black Panther, he’ll be working with T’Challa to bring in Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis), the now one-armed arms dealer who made his first appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
“I think we’ve all seen the idea of the goofy white guy among cool black people going, ‘What the hell?’ I’ve seen that about four billions times today, so, I don’t really need to do that again,” Freeman said, still in Ross’s American accent. “I had early conversations with Ryan about that. Both of us were very keen that that wouldn’t be the case in this, you know? He has moments of comedy, he has moments of levity and there was humor there, but that’s not his purpose.”
After all, Freeman noted, the guy is a CIA operative who works with superheroes. “It would be slightly incredible for him not to be good at his job and not to be competent at this position that he’s at. He’s good at his job. He’s well traveled. He’s well versed in the ways of the world. Wakanda is gonna be a surprise to him. But, in terms of meeting diplomats, kings, that’s not particularly fazing to him.”
Andy Serkis has the Hulk to thank for his Black Panther role.
Most of Andy Serkis’s most iconic roles are done via performance capture or motion capture, so it’s a rare treat to actually get to see his whole human face for once. But as Serkis admitted on the set of Black Panther, he’s only in the movie because his studio, Imaginarium Productions, trained Mark Ruffalo and James Spader in performance capture during the production of Age of Ultron.
“[Director] Joss Whedon said, ‘Hey, this is crazy, why don’t you come and be in the show?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, alright, that’d be fun,’” Serkis said. “So that happened and then, of course, when this came along, I knew that he was part of the Black Panther story. It’s just really great being back.”
Which isn’t to say that the people at Marvel Studios didn’t have Black Panther in mind when Serkis was developing the character. “We decided that Klaw, we would make him South African, a very strong Afrikaans, quite bullish, in a very… edging towards not being a politically correct person,” he said. “It was quite a smart decision, I think. It gives him a real edge. Also, because of the relationship to Wakanda as well, a misunderstood African nation, it fits very well politically that he was of South African descent at a time when, of course, he grew up through Apartheid.”
The cast knows how huge this movie is going to be.
It should be obvious that the hype for Black Panther is more than just talk – last week, pre-order ticket sales beat the previous MCU record held by Captain America: Civil War in under 24 hours. But even during filming, every member of the cast was fully aware of just how much fan expectation there is for their movie – with the exception, perhaps, of Chadwick Boseman, who intentionally keeps himself in the dark on the details (“there’s a certain removal I have to have from it in order to play it,” he said).
When asked which she thought was the more intense fan experience – being a part of Star Wars or being a part of Black Panther – Lupita Nyong’o didn’t hesitate. “This!”
Black Panther is set for a February 16 release date. What are you most excited to see when it finally hits theaters? Check out the tech and fashion of Wakanda here!