Exclusive: Winston Duke On Playing M’Baku In Marvel’s Black Panther

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Exclusive: Winston Duke On Playing M’Baku In Marvel’s Black Panther
Posted by Wilson Morales

February 8, 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.

For Winston Duke, this is his breakout role as M’Baku, also known as Man-Ape. Best for his role of Dominic on CBS’s “Person of Interest,” M’Baku is described as “one of Wakanda’s most powerful warriors and one of T’Challa’s biggest rivals.” Duke’s past credits include appearances on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Messengers” and “Major Crimes.”

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, the Tobagonian native spoke about his role, working with the cast and the fan excitement for this film.

How did this role come about for you?

Winston Duke: I’ve been following Ryan’s work for a really long time. I loved Fruitvale, I loved Creed, and I just knew that the type of worlds and work that he creates is something I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to be a part of projects that have a really strong social justice footprint, even while being commercially viable and commercial successes. That’s a deep part of his mission. You know what I mean? And I wanted that to align with my own.

So I put that out there, I let my representatives know that this is the kind of work I want to be a part of. And when I got the opportunity to be in the same room for the audition, I just kept going, and he’d talk to me. We worked for like 45 minutes in the audition. He’d have me do it this way, do it that way, do it this way, do it that way, try this way. And I got to also learn that’s the way he works. He likes a lot of options. And even when he shoots, he’ll shoot the same scene in like five different ways, five, six different takes, and he’ll choose this one and use that for the film. So I got to learn a lot of who he was, and that’s kind of how it came about.

How much of M’Baku were you aware of from the comics?

Marvel Studios BLACK PANTHER
M’Baku (Winston Duke)
Credit: Kwaku Alston/©Marvel Studios 2018

Winston Duke: So from the comics and from the cartoons and everything, I knew he was definitely usually a functional character. So he’s a character that usually serves the function of challenging T’Challa and losing. And he’s, a lot of times, just a punchline. And what’s really great about this film is that we took a departure from that, and really fleshed out a character with integrity, with backstory, with culture. So instead of making him this one-off leader that is the head of this religious cult that no one really knows about, he’s the head of Jabari, one of the major tribes of a country. So there’s a lot of lineage there. There’s a lot of culture there. There’s a lot of agency within that, because he’s a man with a lot of responsibilities. He’s responsible for a people. You know what I mean? And he’s part of a community.

So it’s really great that we didn’t have to follow that same narrative, and that same narrative that sometimes had racial implications that were deeply problematic. You know what I mean? With the white gorilla fur, Man-Ape, and all these things. We got a chance to create something that was human.

Where does your history with Marvel Comics come from?

Winston Duke: So I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, so comic books for me were actually one of my first inlets into American culture. And if it’s one thing I did know, is that comic books are definitely deeply an American creation. You know what I mean? And these characters are American creations, American … Captain America is an American creation. Superman is an American creation. So it really offered me a really cool chance to interrogate American culture and learn about it.

A lot of times there was this … I wasn’t able to afford comics when I first, as a kid. Ten years old, nine years old, even. And there was a neighborhood comic book store, and the name of the comic book store was Winston’s, believe it or not. And it was run by this Korean family, I believe, Korean family, and they would give me free comic books when I couldn’t afford any comics. And I’d collect cards and all these things, so I learned about all of these comics when I was a really young kid. I learned about the X-Men, and this idea of you might not see a lot of people like you, and the people who are like you might be judged and oppressed, but as the world … As you get older and you get more exposed to the world, there are more people like you, and it gets better, and you’re actually a person of purpose. And learning that really was helpful for me, so I actually have a pretty long history with comic books.

Have you seen all of the other Marvel films?

Winston Duke: I’ve seen almost all of ’em. I think because the last year has been so busy, I haven’t seen some of the newest releases. I didn’t see Guardians 2, and I didn’t see Spiderman: Homecoming, but I’ve seen pretty much everything else. I even saw the old Punisher with Dolph Lundgren, and all those people back in the day. All the old, really bad 1980s Thor, and Captain America. I loved that movie back in the day.

How much did you train for this role?

Winston Duke: We were doing different types of training, so I was just working out probably six days a week. Lifting things, running, doing different routines to create this character that didn’t look aesthetically like he’s a gym head. He’s working out outside, he’s running, he’s picking up rocks maybe, pushing trees, or something. He’s a strong man, and he uses his weapon. He’s strong and he’s able because he knows his weapon. He’s not doing curls.

So doing fight choreo training probably four to five days a week, and fleshing out what we want the fight to look like. Everything was deeply collaborative, so all that happened over like three months, and it was pretty cool.

What was it like on this set, with this cast, and you’re seeing the hype build up through social media?

Winston Duke: The first question is what’s it like being on set with these people. And to be honest, it didn’t feel intimidating because of the atmosphere that was created. So no one came in to set, on set, with a lot of ego. Ryan created a really great space that felt deeply collaborative.

So before any shooting happened we had pre-production where we did a table read, and we were working on our dialects, and doing fight training, and everyone was training together so you got to really know everybody. And develop relationships that you’re comfortable working with them. So when you’re on set, it’s not like you’re working with … I wasn’t working with Forest Whitaker, I was working with another actor who really wanted to make a cool story. I was working with Chadwick Boseman, who wanted to make a cool story. So same thing with Michael B. Jordan and Daniel Kaluuya. So it never felt weird because it was deeply collaborative.

Second question, which was the hype built around it. Didn’t realize it until we were done shooting because we’re working and we’re not really seeing that. We just are working and creating this thing, and creating this story, and creating a world, and creating different cultures that no one’s ever seen, so we’re just having fun doing that. And it’s not until after, when #BlackPantherSoLit, really is going crazy, and Geeks of Color, and Black Superheroes Matter. Everyone’s hittin’ and we hit Comic-Con, where it actually becomes a reality because we’ve now emerged from our creative cave, and we’re meeting the people that this means so much to. Like narratives like this means so much to, they’ve been waiting for years.

So at Comic-Con you’re in a room with I think it was like 6000 people in Hall H and we got a standing ovation just from showing up. And that’s when it really galvanized, that, “Oh my God.” I lost my voice and I wasn’t screaming

Black Panther Clip 1

Clip 2 – It’s a Set Up


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