Chatting With Andy Serkis and Winston Duke About Black Panther
They are the villains of Black Panther, well in my opinion at least one of them is a bad guy and the other just misunderstood. When I saw Andy Serkis and Winston Duke on our interview list I was immediately excited. I had already written about why I was excited about Winston Duke’s character M’Baku in the film, so getting to sit with him was just awesome. During our interview with Letitia Wright and Daniel Kaluuya, Andy walked in the back of the room. So he waited for Winston to arrive. Once he did the pair was introduced and we started with a huge cheer. He jokingly said it was all for Winston, so we gave him a special cheer before getting started with the interview.
Being in a space with all these juggernauts of talent, and being this is my first film, to feel like I could hold my own and create a space where I felt I had agency as an artist came from Ryan creating a safe space and people stewarding me into a world like this where I felt comfortable enough to do my best work, and feel comfortable enough to do work that I’m proud of. – Winston Duke
We wasted no time when talking with Winston and Andy about their characters in the film. The first thing we talked about is their takes on being villains and portraying characters people are mostly rooting against in the movie.
Andy S: I mean the thing is it is great fun being able to dip into the dark side, because it is 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 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 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 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.
Winston took time to elaborate on how Marvel Studios took a departure from the comics with his character M’Baku. Not just making him the leader of the religious minority.
Winston D: 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.
There were so many great one-liners in the film, so we asked Winston about one he delivered that had the whole theater dying with laughter at the premiere.
Oh yeah [LAUGHTER] it was not adlibbed, but you know what, there was a lot of play. And I think what this movie does is it questions assigned narratives, you know what I mean. It’s there are assigned narratives on people and there are assigned narratives on M’Baku, assigned narratives on his people, and he’s aware of it. And I feel like that’s a powerful place to come from. It’s definitely a place that for me as the actor, I understand that being a person of color.
Being a black man in this world, I understand the narratives that are on the person, I understand that my body is highly and heavily political, just in its existence, you know what I mean. And that is a place that people who are oppressed understand.
And you are always aware of it and that gives you some power, it also gives you agency, because you actually know what’s going on at all times. So that was an example of like him having full awareness of how he is viewed and how he’s seen and what people think of him and manipulating that, you know what I mean. For his enjoyment and his people’s enjoyment. So, it’s a really cool powerful thing.
I won’t spoil anything from the movie for you, but we did talk to Winston about the scene depicted in the image above. We wanted to know what makes M’Baku think and do the things he does. He shared this with us.
Winston D: 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 this colonial way of thinking. And it’s because 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. 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, if 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.
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. So I don’t know if it presents an answer, but it does give further question.
We followed up by asking how these two actors were cast in the movie, it’s always interesting to learn about the casting process and see how each person was picked for the film.
Andy S: Well so Ulysses Klaw comes into the world, the Marvel world in Age of Ultron, in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And at that point he’s working off a ship in India where 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, 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. 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 that was my way into it.
Winston D: As an unnamed actor I went through the standard audition process. So I was the audience. So I’m only hearing about Black Panther and seeing the cast come together and they’re like oh my God, Chadwick Boseman I’m like Chadwick Boseman and then it’s Michael B. Jordan, I’m like Michael B. Jordan is in it too? And then they announced Lupita Nyong’o. And then they’re like Danai has joined the cast.
I’m like Danai has joined the cast and it just kept going and going and 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. I didn’t hear back for maybe four weeks. So I was like that was fun, I got to work with him, 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 said 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.
My excitement for Winston being in this film goes beyond just liking him as an actor. When I learned that he was from Tobago the sister island to Trinidad, where I was born and raised. I immediately felt even more connected and more excited to see him excel in this role. So when it was time for the final question. I had to make sure I had the opportunity to ask him something. In the end, I asked what was it like for him seeing all the fan engagement not only from people in the United States but from people of color all around the world, in countries like Trinidad & Tobago, and other smaller places that we don’t often see represented on the world’s stage.
Winston Duke: Well for me a major thing especially after watching the film last night is an excitement, it’s an excitement to know that people and not adults but children are going to be exposed to narratives like this. Before they’re fully developed and before they’ve ingested and consumed placed narratives, narratives that were formed before they were born about them, and they’re getting to see representations of people who look exactly like them.
Before they’re fully formed, which is going to help them see their world differently. It’s going to change their paradigm from a really young age and they’re going to be consuming this in a way that they’re not seeing, I hope a four year old isn’t watching this, even though they might be watching this with an awareness of race. But they might be and that‘s just the world we live in. But for them to- if they do have an awareness, a fully developed or an idea of race.
And they’re watching this and going man I could be 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.
Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
Black Panther opens in theaters on February 16th, 2018. Be sure to grab your tickets opening weekend, you’re not going to want to be the only person at work on Monday who hasn’t seen the film.