Chadwick Boseman: The Man Who Would Be King

February 12, 2018
He stole the show in Captain America: Civil War. Now Chadwick Boseman is T'Challa, the true king of Wakanda, in the hotly anticipated Black Panther. We caught up with the rising star to talk regality, responsibility, and heritage.

You’re now getting your own origin movie, so how do you make sure that there is an appropriate representation of that new hero and how do you keep him different?

Everybody here is working towards that goal, so not necessarily just the actors, but wardrobe, set design, hair and make-up. I think everybody here understands the importance of this paving a new path. Now it’s trying to live up to the character that was in that movie, but trying to exceed it. So, I don’t think that’s ever been a question, because it’s not just me trying to make that happen, it’s a whole movie about this character and his world and everybody is trying to create that world. That’s all you can really ask for; people to keep trying to not get settled in what they already perceive, but are constantly trying to make it better. Nobody is cutting corners.

 Can you tell us how Blank Panther is different from all the other superheroes? What do you like about Blank Panther?

What I like about him is that, honestly, it’s never been done. In terms of playing a character that is this complicated. It’s a real character; I have to learn an accent, learn a different language, it’s a much more emotional story line which is unusual for superhero movies. It’s just a combination of things; the technology involved in playing the character, so you feel like you’re in a sci-fi film for a moment. The fact that he is a superhero is a political aspect to the movie.

How does the suit fit? We heard it squeaking a little bit on set?

You said you could hear it squeaking? I wasn’t even thinking about that.

Because people always complain about their suits, particularly Batman.

I don’t think any of them are as bad as this one, if I’m honest with you. Again, I’ve never been in their suits. But in this one, particularly when you have the mask on, it covers up every part, like the gloves, there is no part of your body that’s open. There’s no air getting in, and it’s made from a mould of my body from before I started working out. That’s the thing, I’m like, why are we making the mould now because my body is going to change. So, it’s actually tighter than it’s initially supposed to be. So, the answer is; it’s tighter than tight. It’s literally like skin on your body.

Do you have the cooling system in there?

No, we haven’t even used that one day for this one. I actually forgot about the cooling system because we never used it. I’m glad you reminded me on the last day that we use it that there’s a cooling system. Because it never came into play. We shoot really fast on this set, so in order to use the cooling system, you need to have the time to sit down and get cool. So, it’s never come up, ever.

How was the preparations and training for the role? Did you do any special research into the African heritage?

There has been a lot of research in terms of language, rituals, songs, African dance and how it relates to fighting. Sometimes when you watch an African dance you’re actually watching them tell a story, depending on what the dance is. For instance, about how the killed the lion or leopard, how they beat their enemy. They made me do a move which is like this dance but I’m speaking specifically about a shield and a spear or a sword. If you didn’t know any better you’d think it’s just a move, so you begin to decipher what those movements are. You realise that it’s actually like a martial art form that you’re watching, as opposed to dance. That form is done to the drum.

A lot of what we begin to break down movement-wise is using the music and the drums to create some bits of the style of the fighting. Obviously, capoeira, it’s the thing that people know the most, it’s a Brazilian artform that is connected to the African art form called Angola. There are many different things like Dambe boxing, Zulu stick fighting, they have come into play, as well as some styles that are Asian. Some mixtures of styles; so, you have Muay Thai, you have Silat. All of them kind of mix together to create the styles you see. Not just my style but also the styles of the other characters that are from Wakanda. Some things have been made up for the movie, but they are being pulled from actual rituals. Though Wakanda is a fictitious African country, I think the thought process is that if they are who they say they are, it’s the route of all the best things that you know about Africa. So, you can pull at culture that you want to and say, well that came from Wakanda. It opens it up to allow you to not be pigeonholed to a specific region in Africa. We have tried to thrive in the creativity of that space.

How is Ryan as a director at listening to you?

We try different stuff. It’s definitely a collaborative process. Do you want to know more about how Ryan is? He is going to do it ’til he thinks he has it. That’s the best way to say it, and I think that’s what you trust. You trust that he is not going to move on until he has it. And that’s all you can really ask for. The process of working with him, he likes to do a lot of takes. So, it’s a rigorous process and you have to have a lot of stamina in order to deal with that, you have to draw upon your technique to deal with that.

How does it feel to play a king and how does that rub off on you when you leave the set knowing that you’ve played this representation that many have been yearning for?    

I don’t really know how people are going to respond to it. I guess the best way to say it is that I have to keep my mind on the moment at hand. Because there is no way of stepping outside of it and say like ‘oh this is going to be this, and this is going to be that.’ I think, the thing that I take from being a king is that it’s a difficult role. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. This process has been like that. What I take from doing this every day is that it’s easy to glamourise the position, but you have to bear the cross of that, and you have to go through all of the trials that go along with it. So, I’m looking at it from that perspective.

Every now and then I would think about what it means to be doing a movie of this stature with black people in it. Doing a movie of this stature with this much special effects and technology, with this much money being put behind it. All those things I think about. I think the image thing is something I’ll probably think about later. The luxury is that I don’t have to think about it this time, because usually as a black actor you have to think about image because it’s so many negative images choices being made on your behalf. So many ignorant choices being made because people don’t realise what they’re doing or what they’re saying. Yet with this, it’s different because it’s already set in place for the images you want to be there to exist, the luxury is not to have to worry about, is this going to look bad on black people. So, I’m not thinking about it actually.

You say you think about what it means to do this movie with this many black people in it with this budget, so what does it mean? How do you answer that question?

It’s unprecedented, you’re watching it happen every day, and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe it sometimes.’ Like you’re watching some of the sets being built and you’re like ‘wow they’re building this.’ It’s us in it, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to walk onto set and see Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, Lupita and Danai and myself, and Michael B. And it’s us here and looking at that set, take that in. I don’t have to see the movie to know what that means.

How does Black Panther make himself heard, apart from beating the crap out of fan favourite Captain America?

You think I beat the crap out of him? It was a good fight.

Black Panther is released on February 15, 2018. Read our review here.

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