Chadwick Boseman started his career on television before graduating to feature films. He showed an early knack for playing historical figures such as Floyd Little in The Express, Jackie Robinson in 42, Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, and James Brown in Get On Up. These days, however, he’s best known for playing T’Challa: king of the fictional nation of Wakanda and the latest superheroic addition to the MCU. He first appeared as Black Panther in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and will reprise the role in this summer’s Avengers: Infinity War. In between, he’s starring in the stand-alone Black Panther movie, which opens this Friday and has already received some of the best reviews of any film in the MCU. He spoke about the role during a recent junket for the movie.
Question: The rumor is that you always knew you were going to play Black Panther.
Chadwick Boseman: I knew there was going to be a stand-alone movie before a lot of people did. During the initial phone call from Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Nate Moore and the Russo Brothers they essentially said, “We want to bring your character into the Marvel Comic Universe as a stand-alone, but we want to introduce him in Civil War.’” So I was aware of it. And I think when I was shooting Civil War, I was not aware that other people weren’t aware that this was going to happen, because it was so at the forefront of my mind. [Laughs.] I’m sorry that people didn’t know that, but at the same time, I love the fact that it’s a surprise.
Q: You apparently pushed to have Black Panther speak in an African accent. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
CB: There was a time period when people were asking me questions about whether or not an audience could sit through a movie with a lead character who spoke with that accent. Not Kevin, or the Marvel people, but people outside Marvel were asking this. I became adamant about that fact that this is not true.
When you’re trained as an actor, you’re trained very often from a European perspective. What is considered great or classical is very often British, and comes from certain specific writers. I went to Oxford to study, but I also went to Howard, and we were taught to respect our writers and our classics just as much as British writers. I believe that it takes the same skill level and same technique to pull that off: sometimes, it means using techniques that are a little bit different.
The intonations and melodies inside an African accent are just as classical as a British one or a European one, and all of the emotions and aspects of a character can be shown and expressions can be shown through that accent. This movie presented an opportunity to show that. It also makes sense as far as the reality of the character goes. Wakanda is an unconquered country. It’s never been conquered, his ancestors had never been conquered, and he’s never been conquered. That means he doesn’t have to go to Oxford or Cambridge or Yale or any place else to study. He actually got his education at home and he would not then assimilate a colonizer’s language in order to speak to his people. So he would speak with an African accent. You have to tell the stories and be true to yourself as an artist, and that’s part of it.
Q: How does that apply to the family dynamics we see in the film?
CW: When you talk about what Wakanda is, and what it needs to be in order to reach the place that we saw – even though we’re talking about a fantasy – you’d need to accept that the next generation would be smarter than you, and advance further than you. And again, it’s unconquered, so you wouldn’t have an outside power interfering with that tradition of advancement.
Some of that comes into play with T’Challa’s father, who he’s still mourning and who has some past mistakes that T’Challa needs to face. But it also plays into Letitia [Wright’s] character. We’re in the same generation, but she’s my younger sister. She benefits from whatever I have reached, and pushes further. You see the genius that is inside the people that come after you. And if you have an ancestor around, they’re looking at you like, “I know you’re looking up to me, but I’m looking up to you.” That is an African concept, and it just works so well in a story like this, where family plays such a large role.
Marvel's The Black Panther arrives in theaters February 16th, 2018.