Screen Rant visited the set of Marvel's Black Panther in February 2017 and had the chance to join a conversation with star Lupita Nyong'o who plays Nakia, a War Dog spy for Wakanda and potential love interest for King T'Challa.
Nyong'o is no stranger to blockbuster epics and is a big part of the Disney family now with key roles not only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after her introduction in Black Panther, but in the Star Wars franchise where she plays Maz Kanata, The Jungle Book, and the Queen of Katwe. Although to Lupita, it's Black Panther that is the most "intense" of them all.
In our Lupita Nyong'o set visit interview for Black Panther we discuss her unique role in the film as one of the few people from Wakanda to leave the secretive nation, the Wakandan language, working with director Ryan Coogler, and her onscreen relationship with the Okoye - leader of the Dora Milaje played by Danai Gurira.
You’re playing the role of Nakia, who has a very complicated history in the comics, and I wanted to know where her loyalties lie at this point in the story. Is it with the Dora Milaje or possibly Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)? Can you go into that?
Lupita Nyong'o: I can say that Nakia, when we meet her, is a War Dog which means she's one of Wakanda’s CIA agents. Her job is to spy around the world and report back to Wakanda to keep Wakanda safe and keep Wakanda informed.
Being one of the rare characters in this film that has been outside of Wakanda on a regular basis. How much are you developing your character inside the framework of Wakanda versus inside the framework of the real world?
Lupita Nyong'o: Jesus Christ. [Laughs]. Personally I’ve never been to Wakanda. [Laughs]. That's a very interesting question. Very scientific. I don't really know how to answer it except to say that, I mean, I think that I could answer it myself. As Lupita. I know that I'm from Kenya but so much of my character is formed by that I’ve lived so many other places but that doesn't mean that I don’t identify where I'm from. In fact, it's the foundation of who I am.
Obviously the character is from the comics but were you able to collaborate at all making sure as a woman in the Marvel Universe that you were there too much just just a romantic interest or too much just the super soldier?
Lupita Nyong'o: I would say that what Ryan [Coogler] and Joe Robert Cole have done with this film maybe deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda. So, I think it’s legal for me to say that the women as we meet them are departures from what we know of them in the comic books.
I’m curious about the dialogue as far as foreign languages, we heard you speaking a little Hausa….
Lupita Nyong'o: It's Xhosa [isiXhosa]. It's a different language. There is a language called Hausa but we speak Xhosa which is South African.
What is the split between that and English? How much are you speaking the foreign language in the film.
Lupita Nyong'o: Because we’re the process of making this film that's being determined on a case by case basis. Because the Wakandas are super, super advanced and stuff like that one of the ways in which, advanced and isolated! One of the ways they keep to themselves is with language. So it’s an adventure to actually pick up this language because it’s actually one of the hardest languages to learn because of the clicks and stuff which faded away the further you get from South Africa on the African continent.. So it’s super exciting to challenge ourselves to speak the language, but the film is definitely predominantly in English.
As you started to dig into who she was, what were some of the qualities that resonated with you.
Lupita Nyong'o: I would say that I’ve very attracted to Nakia’s determination. She’s determined. She’s methodical. Yeah.
Can you tell us about the physicality of the role? How are you taking that so far.
Lupita Nyong'o: Wow. It is intense. I mean I had dreams of being in an action film and stuff . I didn’t realize that it was going to change my diet? And require me to wake up at insane hours. This week alone. I woke up to workout at 3 in the morning, Which is ridiculous. So it does take a lot of physical endurance and a commitment to your body. Like nothing else. But it's been so much fun to challenge my body in this new way. Nakia’s fighting style is being informed by judo and ju-jitsu and silat, and stuff like that. So I’m learning all these cool skills and I get to jump higher than I thought I could jump. I get to roll backwards which I thought I would never do after the age of 8? So it’s been fun.
Are you doing a lot of your own stunts?
Lupita Nyong'o: So far. So far, yeah!
Since your casting you did San Diego Comic-Con last year and that was a huge swell of nerd love. Have you looked at all online and see the stuff since the casting like #BlackPantherSoLit?
Lupita Nyong'o: You’d have to be blind not to see. Yeah it was intense, Black Panther So Lit and it continues to be so with every announcement of whose jointed the cast and everything. It’s been a lot of pressure on us.
To Follow up, what’s more intense this or Star Wars?
Lupita Nyong'o: This.
We saw the scene you guys were shooting today and saw that in between takes of rehearsal Ryan came up and spoke with you a little bit. Got a little hint on as far as you know the reaction and placement. How has it been working with him as a director so far. And what is it like for you in your process.
Lupita Nyong'o: Ryan is an incredibly collaborative director. And he’s very responsive to our needs. Our suggestions. So it really feels like team work when we are all on set. Another thing that’s great about Ryan directing this is he was a boxer himself. No he was a football player. But has had some boxing training, I believe. So he has the mind of a fighter in a way that I really need. Because sometimes I’m like “I don’t know what a fighter would do?” So to have someone who has that instinct has been very very helpful. I mean the scene your seeing now, I mean I did do Non Stop but I’ve never been at the heart of an action film. So I’m Fascinated with how slow it is. So slow. And so Broken up. You know one moment that will go in like ten seconds you work on for half the day or something.. And each tale is about 1 split instinct that you have so how do you generate that over and over again. So today you’ve actually watched me be confounded with whats going on. [Laughs]
Can you talk about your characters were motivations and goals?
Lupita Nyong'o: I think as a War Dog she is in service to her country and to her passion which is linked to the outside world
So more in service to her country than to her king?.
Lupita Nyong'o: Well that's the dilemma isn't it. I think we see in this film Nakia has to figure out what comes first for her.
Is Nakia always on task, always on missions around the world or does she does she spends a fair amount of time back home in Wakanda?
Lupita Nyong'o: You’re getting too specific.
Can you talk about your relationship with Okoye?
Lupita Nyong'o: Oh, well Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje so in terms of Wakandan hierarchy she’s, somewhat, her boss and yeah….
As you prepare are you listening to any music? What is your character's playlist?
Lupita Nyong'o: I can’t reveal that yet. I can’t. Because if I do it loses its magic for me. We can talk about that in a year.
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.