Exclusive: Danai Gurira Talks Playing Okoye In Marvel’s Black Panther

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Exclusive: Danai Gurira Talks Playing Okoye In Marvel’s Black Panther
Posted by Wilson Morales

February 13, 2018

The wait is almost over as Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is ready to hit theaters on February 16. 

Directed by Ryan Coogler from a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, the cast includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Isaach de Bankolé, and John Kani.

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.

Best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead and as the writer of the Tony Award-winning play Eclipsed, American actress and playwright of Zimbabwean ancestry Danai Gurira is having a ball playing Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-women military unit for the Black Panther and the royal family.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Gurira spoke about getting the role, going hairless for the part and working with women from around the world that make up the Dora Milaje.

How are excited are you that the film is finally coming out?

Danai Gurira: Very deeply. It’s something that I’m so excited to be a part of. I’m so excited to see it come to life and I’m so excited for it to be shared with the world.

Take me back to when you were first announced in the role of Okoye at last year’s SDCC. How did the role come about for you?

Danai Gurira: My manager was at the opening night of my play and he says to me, “We have an offer from Marvel for a role,” and I was like, “What? What are you talking about?” I thought he was April’s Fooling me in March. I didn’t know too much about it and then I started looking it and then got to sit down with Ryan. When I was back in LA the next month, I was amazed by what his vision was and what the story was going to be, and how he was thinking about it and how was going to grapple with so many components and issues and stories and characters and make it very specific and very universal. All those rich things and telling it from an African perspective on a Marvel platform. All those things made it a no brainer that I wanted to be a part of it.

How would you describe Okoye and what’s the difference between what comic books fans know of her and what audiences will see in the film?

Danai Gurira: Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje. She’s also the General of the Wakandan forces and intel and she’s very much a traditionalist. She’s also a very complexed, rich human being. She has a man, she’s head of an army, and protects a nation that’s unique from all others that has to remain hidden and is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. It’s a very interesting role that she plays in maintaining those things but at the same time she has humor, she has wit and dedicate to uplifting and keeping this country thriving however she must do it. She does believe in keeping this country safe and holds that as something that’s on her shoulders. They lost a monarch as we saw in Captain America: Civil War. They are at a very specific moment in time. This nation is transitioning and she has to protect that.

What’s different is that Okoye in the comic books is she’s in the earlier parts of Christopher Priest’s version and we don’t know a ton about her. I love how she is transformed in the treatment she is given in the film.

You talked earlier in the press conference about having you hair shaved all the way. You typically have short hair…

Danai Gurira: But shaved down to where it’s my skin and my forehead? It’s a very big difference actually from having short hair to having absolutely no hair.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable in being totally bald?

Danai Gurira: I got there in a few days. It’s interesting, like when you’re sleeping, there’s that fuzz of protecting that you have and you get used to it after a while. I had gone to the wedding of a member from The Walking Dead and I just rocked it out and that was the day I accepted being bald. Everyone was so embracing of it. I loved it too that day. Just put it all together and put on some clothes and went out in the world with it, and I suddenly loved it. Really loved it.

How was working with the rest of the women who make up the Dora Milaje?

Danai Gurira: It was really great. A lot of the ladies are either from the world of dance or stunt work and they are from across the globe. They are from England, they are from Germany, Camaroon, and so many other countries. There are so many great women coming all together to tell this story and they had different strengths. One of them done a lot with the circus, and I literally was learning so much from how these women were so fantastic in their bodies and so sharp. I learned from my stunt people that were coordinating our fight work, but then I learned more from another woman and that was helpful. It was very beautiful actually to work with all these women, who are in a different field from me, but we were all brought together to bring this story to life and these women to life.

Have you caught up with the rest of the Marvel films?

Danai Gurira: Yes. I do catch up with them and I have been so enjoying getting to know them. I worked on Avengers: Infinity War and I got to know these amazing people who have been doing this for so long and who are so great and who have brought such amazing, epic stories to life. They are really great, warm, kind and sweet people. So, it’s been great. It’s been amazing.

We’ve seen what you can do in action on The Walking Dead, but did you do anything different for this role physically?

Danai Gurira: Yes. Okoye and Michonne are not really the same at all. Michonne is very efficient. She does have a very elegant weapon, but she’s very efficient with it. There are forms you have to follow to use that weapon, but she’s not trying to be fancy with it. She’s jus trying to get it done. Okoye is not trying to be fancy but she’s following a very particular type of form that is traditional; and I loved how Ryan saw how these women fought. They fought as one, like almost like a dance and I loved that. If you looked at us, I loved how we had a look. We were made up in a very particular way. These women were embracing of their femininity, right down to a red lip; and at the same time they had a grace and a way in which they fought, which was very feminine and very ferocious. I loved that. I was learning different forms. I had to find the fact that her body moved like as an asp when she fought and that’s different from Michonne.

From your work on TV and other projects, what did you pick up from Ryan that you can take on to your next project?

Danai Gurira: Ryan is a very sweet, kind, generous, humble human being and everyone can learn from that. His willingness to hear and to collaborate and to connect with everybody is very heartwarming to watch him work. I think everyone can take some of that and take it wherever they go. I’ve been very lucky because I work on a TV show that has Andy Lincoln at the helm, and people like that who are also similar to that. I know that’s not always the case, so I’m thankful for the experiences I have had with this movie and with the TV show.

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther – It’s A Set Up

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