I’m so excited that Black Panther arrives in theaters tomorrow!!!! Do you have your tickets yet?
Two weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to sit down at a round table with Andy Serkis & Winston Duke to discuss Black Panther.
Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue/Klaw. Ulysses Klaue is an illegal arms dealer, smuggler and gangster operating out of South Africa, whom we met in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He is after Wakanda’s vibranium and in the Black Panther’s crosshairs.
Winston Duke plays M’Baku. M’Baku is the formidable leader of the Jabari tribe, a group of Wakandans who have shunned the use of vibranium and removed themselves from mainstream Wakandan life. In the wake of T’Chaka’s death, M’Baku is faced with the choice of challenging T’Challa for the throne in order to return Wakanda to its isolationist ways.
Tell us what it’s like to bring to life these crazy characters that people want to root against on screen? Andy Serkis plays such a great villain…you want to hate him for being evil, but he is funny too. Andy told us, “I mean the thing is it is great fun being able to dip into the dark side, because it in a safe environment. And we work in the world of story where you’re allowed to do that. But what I wanted to do with this character, with Klaw, was not make him in any way a kind of an archetypal villain or considered evil, although of course he is one of the world’s worst, because he is entirely driven by being selfish. I mean he epitomizes in this film he really epitomizes what it is to be ultimately selfish in every aspect of living. And he’s a taker, he’s one of the world’s takers, he just grasps and pulls and brings it all to himself. But you kind of to make that character live and be human, I wanted to make him sort of strangely someone you might like to hang out with. And then- and that sort of tension for me is more interesting than playing him as a complete bad ass, you know, who’s just threatening and nasty and you don’t- and then he gets killed and then good. So it’s, constantly as an actor you’re wanting to challenge the perception of good and evil. And I don’t necessarily believe in evil as a concept, we are all on a spectrum of- you can have people who are reformed, you can have people who do terrible things but who can love as well. So it’s trying to be complex and have a good time as well.”
Andy explained that Ryan Coogler allowed the actors to really play and explore their character. Winston chimed in and stated, “He just trusts you to work and create your world. And I feel what was a great opportunity for me with M’Baku was I was given the opportunity to create a new language within that world essentially. And the one thing that Marvel did great that really grounded and created a new world, a new life for M’Baku was that it was a departure from the comics in a sense that it’s no longer this M’Baku being the leader of this religious minority. He’s not the leader of this religious cult, he’s now the leader of an established grounded tribe. So that gives you a lot more agency, it gives you a lot more presence, it gives you a lot more strength and ability within that world. And creating that society that lives outside of Wakanda proper was something that was really great. So he does say, hey I’m thinking about this. And I kind of want them to have this calm response nature and I want this to be present. And you go off and you study this and study that and bring it back and he’s like yeah-yeah-yeah cool- cool- cool- cool- cool- cool- cool- I think I’m going to use that yeah [LAUGHTER] I like that I like that. So he exhibited a lot of trust when it came to us and he exhibited- it was very much a collaborative space. So you’d go in there and you’d try some things out and it would work and it felt very safe. So being in a space with all these juggernauts of talent, you know what I mean, this is my first film.”
Fun Fact: This was Winston’s first film!!!! And he dominated his character…oh and his mom was at the interview!!!!
M’Baku’s character seems to change towards the end of the movie. Winston explained, “I think what this film does powerfully is really interrogate a lot of strong questions, right. And for me, the questions are, isolationism. Or going out into the world and, you know, this colonial way of thinking. And it’s because that’s the only- those are the only expressions that we’re familiar with. We’re only familiar with taking care of yourself or if we’re going to go out into the world, we’re going to bring ourselves and impose it on others, you know what I mean. So how do we do that in another way, and it’s how do we go out and help people with love. How do we go out and help people and share who we are and what we are, without oppressing them. And I don’t know if the the film presents an answer, but it asks you other questions, about how would it look like if you did. Because we’ve only seen it play out these two ways, it’s you stay away from everyone and take care of yourself and enrich yourself, or you go out and you bring yourself and you put it on others and you use terror or you use violence. You use all these isms and put them on people. So how does that how does- how do you shape that and what does it look like. And M’Baku’s question is, do we stay here, do we stay in these mountains and protect ourselves, and what kind of world are we creating by doing that. Because we also have to live in it. So I think it’s he’s grappling with the larger questions himself, because he’s realizing I’m part of this big world. And it’s going to come to my doorstep, and it always comes to your doorstep. So how do we go out, how do I go out into Wakanda proper and help initiate change.”
This cast is absolutely perfect! Andy was originally cast as Ulysses Klaw in Avengers: Age of Ultron. “At that point he’s working off a ship in India where he is selling- he’s an arms dealer basically, he’s an arms dealer gangster. And at that point he’s amassing a huge quantity of vibranium and then Ultron tracks him down and he loses some of it. So it was teased in. And in fact- the way that I came on board actually was when I first started working with Joss Whedon who’s directing Avengers Age of Ultron, it was using performance capture, it was actually I was helping Mark Ruffalo with the Hulk. Because they came to our studio in London called the Imaginarium and we were working with him and then James Spader to create the character Ultron because it was using the technology that I’m very familiar with. And then Josh said oh man there’s this great character which I’d really love you to play, it’s only a small scene. But I think if the Black Panther movie comes on, you know, he’s very much an adversary for T’Challa in the Black Panther and I said oh wow that’s great. And it was just this very quirky like you say kind of idiosyncratic slightly left field gangster character. But which- so that’s how the character got introduced. And then when Ryan took it on in this, he just wanted to have even more fun with it. So it was- that was my way into it.”
Winston Duke was an unnamed actor, so he had to go through the standard audition process. “I told my representatives, I said I’d just love to get in that room. I love Ryan Coogler’s work, I think it has a really strong sense of social justice, every single thing that he does. And I want my career to have a strong social justice footprint, even if it is commercial. I want it to be connected in some ways so I kind of expressed that mission for myself and my career. And then lo and behold I got in the room with him, he had me do it like twenty different ways and he’s like cool cool cool, can you make it a little bit more personal, personal, can you make it more personal [LAUGHTER]. But he just kept going more personal more personal, we do it, we did it another way we did it another way we did it another way we did it another way. Change the lines here change the lines there. He wrote sides specifically just for the audition. And we just kept going and going and going and I didn’t hear back for maybe four weeks. So I was like that was fun, I got to work with him, you know, I actually got to work with him. Because this took like forty five minutes, to go through the whole process. So I was content and then I got another call and they’re, they really like you and they’re asking more questions. And they want to test you. I go and I do the test and it just felt very organic, I got home, I said a prayer, I heard a voice say everything is going to be cool. You’re all good, don’t worry about it. And the rest is history.”
After watching the film with fans and stars at the premiere, Winston was excited to see the excitement of the people…both adults and children. “They’re getting to see representations of people who look exactly like them…which is going to help them see their world differently.” Kids are going to watch this film and could see a likeness in the characters...”like that and man T’Challa looks like my uncle, man T’Challa looks my cousin, Michael B. Jordan looks my dad, Winston looks my dad Winston looks like my cousin, Winston looks like me and they’re getting to see that. And children in Tobago are getting to see that, people in Trinidad, people in Brazil, people in Latin America, people all over the diaspora are going to get to see this and develop agency. That’s exciting. And I was just watching and being like, this is wonderful, it’s a great time to be in a super hero movie. And the movie itself is a super hero, it took on its own life.”
Black Panther opens in theaters 2/16/18
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Disclosure: I am a Disney Blogger. This was an all-expense paid trip. All opinions are 100% my own.