“It’s a challenge and an opportunity,” actor, Chadwick Boseman, told FilmInk about playing funk music figurehead, James Brown, in the 2014 biopic, Get On Up. “There might be a few days when you see it as a burden, but for the most part, once you’ve taken it on, it’s too late. You’ve gotta just see it as a challenge and an opportunity.” The 40-year-old is certainly qualified to comment upon the rigours of bringing major African-American figures to life on the big screen. Though no household name, Boseman has so far appeared as four titans of black America: in 2008’s The Express, he starred as legendary gridiron player, Floyd Little; in 2013’s 42, he essayed pioneering baseball player, Jackie Robinson, who changed the role of African-Americans in professional sport; and in 2014, he headlined the aforementioned Get On Up, digging deep to capture the volatile, mercurial essence of the great James Brown.
Now Chadwick Boseman adds another iconic figure of African-American culture to his already bulging resume, scoring the role of the superhero, Black Panther, in Marvel Studios’ upcoming Captain America: Civil War, before taking centre stage in his own eponymous headline movie in 2018. “It’s been better to be able to slide into it this way, rather than jumping straight into the stand-alone film,” the easygoing Boseman says during a break in filming of Captain America: Civil War. Created in the mid-sixties by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Black Panther was the publishing giant’s first black superhero, which gives him an indelible significance on the same level as Marvel’s far better known characters. The Black Panther is T’Challa, heir to the centuries-old ruling dynasty of the African kingdom of Wakanda, a technically advanced paradise built on its endless supply of Vibranium, a rare metal (with alien origins) unique to the territory which was used to, yes, forge Captain America’s famous shield.
With Wakanda and Vibranium already name-dropped in 2015’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron – and with Andy Serkis appearing as Ulysses Klaue, a classic comic book nemesis of T’Challa – the cinematic road has been paved for Black Panther, who wades into the superhero battle being waged by Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in the latest Marvel Studios box office sure thing. The film revolves around the two superheroes’ wildly divergent philosophies on how accountable they need to be to both the US government, and the world’s population, in light of the mass destruction caused at the end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. That divergence ultimately leads to all-out war. “Black Panther agrees with the perspectives of both sides…I can’t tell you everything though, but he agrees with both sides,” Boseman offers, bound by Marvel’s usual code of near-silence. “You could argue that he’s not a superhero. He’s probably the only superhero who is also the king of a nation, so he plays politician as well. He’s strong, but he’s not the strongest. He has to rely on his agility, and his wits. He’s a member of the royal family of Wakanda. That’s who he is…he is who he is. There are things that pull him into the fray. It’s a civil war of superheroes, and it affects the entire world. He’s a protector of his part of the world, and he doesn’t want this war to affect his part of the world. He wants to protect his people at all times.”
When told that he looks like a superhero, a broad smile plays out across Boseman’s face. “Thank you very much…nobody has ever told me that,” the actor laughs. “Black Panther is an incredible martial artist and tactician. In terms of his abilities, he has the agility to be able to perform pretty much any fighting style that you can think of. That’s just his human ability, but it’s also to do with the wisdom that the Wakandans have kept through time.” Has he tried on the costume? “Yes, I have tried it on,” Boseman replies. “It’s pretty badass! I don’t want to describe it to you too much, but it lives up to the images of him from the comic books. He’s known to have one of the best costumes ever, and this lives up to that.”
Most similar in status to the otherworldly Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Panther also has a regal bearing, which places him firmly outside the standing of most of the other characters in The Marvel Cinematic Universe. “What’s different about T’Challa is that he is a lawmaker, whereas the other superheroes might be ostracised, and they might be outsiders,” Boseman offers. “He is the tradition of his people. He’s not a hidden thing to his people. The rest of the world might not know about him that much, but he’s not necessarily the same as any other character that I can think of. But he is a lawmaker, and that makes him different to everyone else.
He is also the latest in a long line of Black Panthers, with the mantle of the hero passed down through the nation’s royal family. “He has to live up to a lineage of other Black Panthers that have come before him,” Boseman explains. “It’s like that thing of if your dad was a rock star, then how do you live up to being a rock star? How do you live up to being a king? How do you live up to being a superhero? So that’s definitely part of his journey. He has to prove himself.” But if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious nation of Wakanda (one of Marvel’s greatest comic book creations), you’re going to have to wait. “Nah, you’re not gonna see Wakanda,” Boseman laughs. “I’m sorry.”
And when it comes to 2018’s stand-alone Black Panther movie, there’s not much in the way of news either. Though Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) is on board to direct, and Joe Robert Cole (Amber Lake) has been tapped to write the script, there’s not much else in the offing. “It’s in development…there’s no news…there’s no script…no new cast members,” Boseman says. “They’re definitely working on it, and we’re talking about what it might be every day. I think that it’s a matter of going through the material that’s there from the comic books, and seeing what fits, and what can be put into the film. It’s a brainstorming process.”
Is Chadwick Boseman a comic book fan himself? “I am now,” he laughs. “I read comic books when I was growing up, but not to the extent that I have over the last couple of months. I understand now why people love them so much. I started reading comic books for research, but eventually, I started reading like a kid again. I’m definitely a fan now, and if one’s good, I’ll it to the side and read it again…not for research either, just because I like it.” Does he read them online, or does he prefer to go old school? “I read them on paper,” the actor smiles. “You gotta read them on paper!”
Captain America: Civil War is released in cinemas on April 28.