If you’re wondering just how good the cast of Marvel’s Black Panther really is, look no further than Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. Fellow Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker and Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett also star as T’Challa’s advisor Zuri and his mother Ramonda respectively, but it’s Nyong’o’s character Nakia that has us very curious right now.
During a visit to the set of Ryan Coogler‘s Marvel movie about a year ago, our group of journalists were able to chat with Nyong’o about her character’s loyalties, and what they mean for the royal family and Wakanda itself. She also talked about her role’s physicality, Nakia’s personality traits, how she interacts with other characters in the story, and even how she likes to use music to get into the right headspace, though she was very careful not to reveal any details (not even about her playlist). Perhaps unsurprisingly, that caginess fits right in with her Black Panther character.
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 Killmonger? 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 members. 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?
Nyong’o: 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 with where I’m from. In fact, it’s the foundation of who I am. I think that would apply to Nakia as well.
Obviously the character is from the comics, but were you able to collaborate at all in terms of making sure that, as a woman in the Marvel Universe, that you weren’t too much just a romantic interest or too much just the super-soldier?
Nyong’o: I would say that what Ryan and Joe Robert Cole have done with this film is that they’ve really deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda. So, I think 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, like Hausa. What is the split between that and English? How much are you speaking the foreign language within the film?
Nyong’o: Because we’re still in 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, advanced and isolated, one of the ways in which they keep to themselves is with language. So it’s an adventure to actually pick up this language because it is 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 the qualities that really resonated with you?
Nyong’o: I would say that I am very attracted to Nakia’s determination. She’s determined. She’s methodical.
Can you tell us about the physicality of the role?
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 Filipino martial arts 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.