Forest Whitaker Talks Ryan Coogler, Black Panther Significance and More
When my invite came for the #BlackPantherEvent, there was one name on my list – Chadwick Boseman. As we got closer and closer to the trip, I started to look at the stars of the film and realized how epic it would be to sit with legends like Forest Whitaker and Angela Basset for five minutes. We saw them both at the general press conference but our group actually got fifteen minutes to talk with Forest Whitaker about his role Zuri in the film.
We jumped right in with our interview with Forest Whitaker since all our other interviews were moving very fast. We started by talking about how he has mastered playing roles that are very low key while still leaving a big impression on viewers. He responded saying. “I think it’s just like trying to have the right thoughts and internal life when all of that’s going on. And hopefully, an audience will be able to feel what I’m thinking, and what’s going on inside. That’s kind of what I do, just to figure out what I feel, what I think.”
Can you believe that this is Whitaker’s first Marvel movie? It seems like he would have been in the MCU for a while now, however, this is his first, and we had to ask how it felt being apart of something like this. He gleefully told us about one of his favorite scenes in the movie, the great falls where so much takes place in Wakanda.
It was exciting. Because I remember when we were at the Wakandan Falls it’s so overwhelming. Because it felt like this hundred-foot waterfall was falling all around us. And this pool of water. And we’re bringing him out of this ship, and it’s just massive. It’s a very powerful, powerful experience. But when what I did with Chad inside, I really got to the get inside the emotional heart of it, too. So it’s more complete than a lot of other experiences, in some ways, you know.
After learning that Whitaker recently traced his African roots, we wanted to know if his portrayal of Zuri was influenced at all by what he learned about where his family was traced to on the continent of Africa.
I fashioned him around different spiritual leaders, and different ways of trying to get into the moral fiber for the community, because he’s the spiritual leader of Wakanda. And so just trying to understand that from different perspectives.
Fans all over the world are excited to see Black Panther, in the African-American culture it’s the event of the year for many of us due to the representation in the film. We’re excited to see a film like this on this level and scale with a majority black cast. We asked Whitaker if he had any idea the movie would be this big.
I think that the expression of it, I didn’t imagine exactly, but I think I imagined it being — having this kind of magnitude. I think I imagined it that way, not just from the comic book, but when Ryan said he was going to do it, and I had a relationship with Ryan before. So, I knew him as a filmmaker, and as an artist, and I thought that something really special was going to happen. I didn’t know what exactly, but I definitely knew something special was going to happen.
Next, we talked about the actor’s process for getting into character. We wanted to know if he had a ritual or if he’s just smooth all the time in his roles.
I’m always trying to do all the research. It’s kind of similar, I do the research and I start to study the different people and the things that they do and meet different people and get different voices worked on. And then slowly it just comes together. I don’t know if there’s a magic formula. At some point, I can say, the magic formula for me is, at some point, I just surrender, I just say, okay, this is your space, and let’s make it happen and do it. You know and I believe. And that’s kind of the magic formula I’d want to have.
Whitaker’s character Zuri played a leader for the country of Wakanda, we wanted to know how was it working on set with the other actors and if he took on a leadership role on set as well.
The Wakanda Falls was really interesting, because they were playing music, and the drummers would continue to play a lot between the takes. People would start singing and stuff, so it was like, a real communal experience. Even when we weren’t working a guy would start leading them in songs and it was something unlike any other, I think.
When you think about Forest Whitaker you think of him in certain roles. We asked the actor about being in Black Panther since and how different it was to other roles he’s played in the past.
Yeah It was I had just finished the film that was kind of about the KKK, and it was a true story, and I was doing all my research and learning about what I needed to know to play this preacher. I studied being a preacher, I studied to understand how to express myself. I can’t compare the two experiences. One was like, him, this guy, trying to protect his family in the South, and having to deal with this Klansman that he brings into his home and so that becomes a very tight community. Every experience is really different. Every movie that I do, most of the time, is different, and then when it starts to get too similar, then I know that there’s something wrong.
And if I can’t feel a little fear about it, and I don’t feel like I’m going to change or grow from it, then it’s something wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing it. And then I have to examine the reasons why, whether it’s life, or, you know what I mean? [LAUGHS] Whatever I might do, the reasons could be.
I can’t wait to see this film again, I feel bad for anyone who’s still waiting to see just the awesome job Ryan Coogler did on this film. So we asked Whitaker how was it for him watching the film at the premiere.
I was blown away by the film. You know. I mean I don’t know if I expected all of the humor, and all the emotion, and all of the messages. So, I was still trying to process it. I realized that I need to go see the movie a couple of times. [LAUGHS]
Since we were already talking about the film we ask were their any messages Whitaker was hoping audiences would take away from the film.
I mean, I think the one that he ended on the film on, which is like, that we are our brothers’ keepers, that we have to, even in our own comfort, be able to reach out and help those and help others is important. One tribe, I think, is important. I think the message of female empowerment, both physically and mentally, and just the power that it expresses, and I think this message about Killmonger, like about our youth, and how we’re molded by our environments, and how we have to step in and try to move those things forward.
I think you know, there’s other messages. Colonialism. And all of those kinds of things. Finding your own voice. Empowerment. Because I think the movie deals with empowerment. Particularly for people of color, but for everyone. It’s a lot of messages in the movie.
Zuri is the spiritual leader of Wakanda. A good friend to former King T’Chaka, Zuri has become a mentor figure to T’Challa, bestowing his knowledge and wisdom onto the Black Panther. Zuri is also the keeper of the Staff of Bashenga and tends the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb that gives Black Panther his powers.
For Academy Award® winner Forest Whitaker, joining the “Black Panther” cast as Zuri was akin to a family reunion with Coogler and Jordan with whom he collaborated as a producer on “Fruitvale Station.” Whitaker brings his considerable acting skills to the part of Zuri, the shaman of Wakanda and longtime Royal advisor to King T’Chaka, making Zuri’s long and complicated history with the royal family real and relatable.
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.