Black Panther: Martin Freeman Interview - Bringing Ross Back

We interview Martin Freeman on the set of Marvel Studios' Black Panther about bringing Everett K. Ross back as one of only outsiders to visit Wakanda.

Marvel Studios has a game-changer on their hands with Black Panther, a film which is breaking records in its critical acclaim and box office accolades around the world. It's one of the top Marvel movies already and sequels and spinoffs are happily inevitable. And Marvel knew this was the case early during production when they were able to lock down director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) and were able to assemble a cast that even surprised them. Everyone knew how important Black Panther was to not just Marvel and the superhero genre, but Hollywood, and they were right.

While visiting the set in February 2017, producer Nate Moore was very open in how good they felt about this movie and how they were - at that time - hopeful of not only many sequels, but in bringing its characters into other Marvel movies as well. And while Black Panther introduced an impressive ensemble of new characters into the MCU, joining King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in a return appearance, was Martin Freeman who played Everett K. Ross in Captain America: Civil War, where Black Panther made his debut as well in 2016.

Related: Our Video Interview With Chadwick Boseman

We had the opportunity to speak to Freeman - who's already confirmed to return again in the future - while on set who knew all along what the long-term plan was for his character after being introduced in Captain America 3. And for him, it was important to not be a weak stereotype, or a tool for comic relief.

Let's start by asking a bit about Everett Ross in the comics. He's kind of a guy who's perpetually in over his head. In dealing with Black Panther and everything. Is that accurate and kind of what you've been doing?

Martin Freeman: No, it's not. No. It's not. It was my desire to not be ... I think we've all seen the idea of the goofy white guy among cool black people going, "What the hell?" I've seen that about four billions times today, so, I don't really need to do that again. I had early conversations with Ryan about that. Both of us were very keen that that wouldn't be the case in this, you know? He has moments of comedy, he has moments of levity and there was humor there, but that's not his purpose.

How would you describe the direction you're pushing him in?

Martin Freeman: He is the coolest man in the room.


Martin Freeman: He has some authority. He's good at his job. I think we're going as realistic as you can be in a heightened universe. It would be slightly incredible for him not to be good at his job and not to be competent at this position that he's at. He's good at his job. He's well traveled. He's well versed in the ways of the world. Wakanda is gonna be a surprise to him. But, in terms of meeting diplomats, kings, that's not particularly fazing to him. He meets superheroes, he meets, you know, so I think some of his humor comes from exasperation rather than ... Like that. Do you know what I mean? That's not his function, I guess, in this.

Would you say he's an ally or a threat?

Martin Freeman: To Wakanda?

Question: Yeah.

Martin Freeman: That's a good question. I think we, without ruining it for you, I think there's enough ambiguity there for him to be either and both. I think the position that he's in, like, he works for the CIA, he works for the world's only superpower, so like, an undiscovered African country that has all these goodies in it could easily be, "Oh good that's payday." Or that could be something that he wants to respect, I guess and I'll just have to lay the tips in there.

Building off of that and going through the scene we saw you guys filming today, what's his thought process when he sees Klaw in a room like that? 'Cause we know that T'Challa certainly has something else on his mind when he sees Klaw.

Martin Freeman: Yeah, I mean I think Klaw is one of those people for Everett who he want to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. He wants him definitely on his radar to do future business, because he'd rather know where crazy guys like that are in the world than just let him go or have nothing to do with him. That was the interesting thing about playing those things with Andy Serkis, because normally I think there's something about, our Ross anyway, that is quite ... he has a lot of status in any room he comes in, he assumes that status I think. And he has no idea how to deal with Klaw, because Klaw is a lunatic, he's insane. Normally it might be Ross, I think who's a bit, "Hey!" and a bit like that but actually he's coming across on who's just completely off the map, as far as that's concerned. So, for him there it's just, I just have to kind of contain this. I have to get what information I can, but I want to keep him on my you-you, you know? I want him coming back to me as opposed to what T'Challa wants to do with him is something else because he sees him as a direct threat to his country and has been a direct to his country. Whereas for me, it's interesting, because Klaw keeps me in touch with other bad guys in the world, so.

That's what I was gonna say is, do you feel like that has a similar sort of relationship to that scene you had with Zemo at the end of the war?

Martin Freeman: Yeah, maybe so. Yeah, maybe so. I mean, I enjoyed both those scenes, but what I like about being on the receiving end of Klaw is that you are on the receiving end of it, you know what I mean? Like, he's going to do to you whatever he wants to do. There was no way that, I as Martin, or me as Ross, could top that. Then you would just have two insane fucking people going crazy and the scene wouldn't contain it, but Andy is extremely good at that wrong footing, keeping you guessing stuff. I think Ross doesn't like ... he's a pretty powerful guy, he doesn't like being wrong footed in his own kitchen and that's kind of what happened with Klaw, yeah.

There are so many good relationships of on this movie, whether it's you and Andy or Michael and Ryan, who have clearly worked together and formed these relationships. Does that help kind of trying to find with this that might be intimidating or just kind of overwhelming?

Martin Freeman: Yeah I think it might, I think it might do, yeah. Certainly I'm getting on with everyone very well at the end he's the only person that I knew, but Andy he is a friend, like he wasn't just someone I worked with, like we became friends so, that's been really nice having him here as well. I think the few English people have been going, "All right, yeah right." Just like if you ... cause a couple of the main cast have been English guys and Latisha, the English girl, so yeah, that's been nice too, because we're actors, there's always only six degrees of separation from everyone you know. But yeah I think there are, certainly as far as Ryan is concerned there's a few threads from his previously films, which I'm sure, well, they're there for a reason, you know, yeah

I was really interested in the scene we saw today that we saw kind of two sides of Ross in a split second because you have that realization moment where you're like, "Ah, son of a bitch." and then right after, when the explosion hits, his first instinct is to jump and protect somebody.

Martin Freeman: Yeah.

Tell me a little bit about how those two sides of him, where he's kind of wheeling and dealing but then he's also trying to actually keep people safe.

Martin Freeman: Kind of what I was alluding to earlier, I think he's very good at his job. He's not, like he is a suit, literally he's a suit I guess, but he would have been trained, like everyone in his position would have had field training and he would have done little bits, I think, in the field even though he's not an all action guy. I think, he's essentially a decent person who is wanting to save lives where possible, even thought that doesn't take up 100% of his day. Most of his stuff I think is diplomacy. Really, I think if he's dealing with people from other countries, other cultures, I think he's good at making his agenda, the agenda that he wants on the table, you know. That's it, I think unless he's hanging out with superheroes he's pretty high status guy. Like, he would be the guy in the room, everybody's like, "Okay, he's here." But the guys he's hanging out with are even more high status, so. Yeah, I think his job would mean that he has to have both of those things, which again would be kind of different, I guess, from the comics. Like him actually being a physically able person and an intellectually able person and I think morally kind of sound? You know, as sound as you can be if you're high up in the CIA. Like, some of the decision you will have to make will not be pleasant and will not be things that we would want to make but you have to make them and he's by no means ... 'Cause he could be the man, and he works for the man, but within that, he's a decent guy I think, you know.

How active is his role on the ground in the action scenes in this film?

Martin Freeman: It's kind of there, I mean again, he's among either superheroes or people who are kind of warriors, like the Warrior Caste in Wakanda, and he ain't that. I think when push comes to shove and people need every person they can use, then he's happy to help. Yeah, but, he's there, he's there, I mean we haven't filmed a lot of that yet, so it'll depend on the day I guess. But, no the plan is he's definitely gonna be involved in fighting, yeah, yeah.

When you were cast in Civil War obviously, you knew you were part of the Wakanda Universe. Did you know you were specifically going to be in Black Panther next or how did that work?

Martin Freeman: That was the idea, yeah. Yeah, as far as I was concerned, that was the idea. I don't think I'm getting killed for that. Yeah, that was my understanding, yeah.

Doesn't it feel liberating to be able to talk about it now? 'Cause when you first got cast they wouldn't say a word.

Martin Freeman: Yeah, but then, while I'm talking now, I'm still not quite sure of what I can or I think I can, you know. Yeah, it's always nice to talk about a job, but at the same time pretty much every job every actor does now is like working for the real CIA. So, it comes with that package of, "What did I just say? Am I allowed to say that?" So yeah, you're always walking a tight rope between wanting to talk about this job you're enjoying but also not messing it up and pissing the producers off.

Since this is your second time in MCU that you've done and obviously little things like The Hobbit -

Martin Freeman: Oh yeah.

But, what about this production feels different with other large scale productions since you've been on-set, like maybe, you find very unique to this production?

Martin Freeman: There are more Black people. That's true man, that's true. Like, it's true.

Thank God for that!

Martin Freeman: Yeah, that's the first thing that comes to mind and I'm not just saying that 'cause that was you asked me. No, it's a big movie and honestly, it's more mixed than anything I've done, I think, as far as like-

Okay, well then how do you like being the white guy on the set then?

Martin Freeman: I hate it, I hate it, it chews me up every day. No [laughs], I'm really enjoying it. I like Ryan a lot. I felt, from my point of view, and I hope it's reciprocated, I felt quite an understanding quite early on with him. Just the way he greets people. It's very friendly, very normal, it's not, you know I'm sure he must have some nerves about this, but it's not that kind of nerviness that manifests as a weirdness, or whatever. He's a young guy, doing very well, but he's a hugger, you know. So, he's a nice warm guy.

And I think the Marvel people are good as well, from my time at Captain America. I'm doing more in this than I did in Captain America: Civil War so I'm getting more of a handle on it, but everyone seems very decent, that's the truth of it. It's a big, big film and it's a big, big universe, but people try to make it as normal and as down to earth as possible, so I always believe in a trickle down thing, that the production takes its cues from that, I think. And it does feel quire familial. It does feel quite close. It's really nice, yeah, yeah.

Let's talk a bit more about the scenes that you were shooting. It does kind of seem, I mean it's one line of dialogue but, it doesn't seem that maybe T'Challa trusts Ross all that much.

Martin Freeman: Yeah, I think they're both kind of feeling each other out at this point. Yeah, I think until it really hits the fan and you see kind of what side they're on, they are kind of sussing each other out.

Is part of that just kind of being kind of new to the world stage?

Martin Freeman: Yeah, and I think again because of Ross's Job, he's not a social worker, he deals on the hawkish side of things by nature, that he doesn't want to particularly give ground. T'Challa's a king and he's not used to giving ground, so it's perfect, ripe soil for that thing of people going, "Who the hell are you?" and then slowly working their way towards an understanding here, yeah.

Being the literal outsider amongst all the Wakandans, is there anything in particular that you have to do to develop the character, where you're developing these relationships with them as actors, but as characters they are all already over here and you're hopping in?

Martin Freeman: Yeah. I am the American, you know I'm not American, I'm playing the American in the story. So, I think even more than the racial thing, it is the country thing. I am the Western American CIA guy and I'm in Africa, in a country that no one else knows about, and it's a very tight knit, insular community. That's how they've managed to do so well, because they've kept it all to themselves. Which is another kind of interesting part, I think, of the politics of the show. Show? It is a film, isn't it. Is this a series? I can't remember. Episode four. So I think that's always interesting to be in because at some point, inevitably what you're playing, feeds back into the dynamic of who's playing it. Suffice to say I'm not being bullied, it's okay. It's lovely, it';s very friendly, but you're always aware that this character is slightly outside of it. He's trying to find his way in without ingratiating himself, you know, without trying to sort of going, "Hey let me be your friend.", because he's not that guy. He would survive without friends, definitely, but he's trying to understand the world he's in and they are very, very, slowly, some more than others, very suspiciously letting him in drip by drip. I think when he proves some form of usefulness, of course then that's a quid-pro-quo thing that, you know, he's not a free passenger, that he can actually bring something to the party.

Next: Video Interview With Black Panther's Letitia Wright

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 is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay and Black Panther's cast includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.

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