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What do the powerful owe those in need?
That’s the morality play at the heart of all superhero stories. It separates the good-guys from the villains. What value is strength unless you’re using it to help someone? With great power comes great … you know.
Responsibility is at the core of Marvel’s new Black Panther film as well, telling the story of a young ruler eager to fulfill his role as the protector of the most advanced nation on Earth while facing challenges and even attacks from some of those he’s keeping safe.
Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is conflicted because he watched his father T’Chaka die while trying to reach out to other nations in Captain America: Civil War. “That hasn’t traditionally been their attitude towards the rest of the world. [T’Chaka] wanted to step out of those boundaries,” the actor told EW during our visit to the set. “It’s a like a new leader taking power and trying to figure out if he should do it the older traditional way. You would think the younger man would want to do something different than the father, but the father – for a reason that I don’t want to say – was thinking ahead and beyond those boundaries.”
T’Challa’s impulse is to withdraw again, but as the heir to the mantle of Black Panther, running away isn’t his style, even when wounded. Everything he has learned in his life drives him to fight harder, to never back down. That’s part of the character of his homeland, too.
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Wakanda is strong on its own. It’s the most advanced nation on Earth, full of technological wonders and wealthy beyond what the rest of the world can even imagine, thanks to its deposits of rare Vibranium. The nation is secretive. Closed off from outsiders. It pretends to be just another struggling, African country – but some of its neighbors are struggling for real.
If Wakandans don’t stand up for themselves, who will? But if they stand only for themselves, then who are they?
“Part of the story is about the isolationist state of Wakanda coming to terms with the modern day,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “There are other people [in the story] who say, ‘No, we shouldn’t do that.’ You get into conversations about refugees. You get into conversations about, ‘Should we help the people on the other side of that border, because they need help and we could help them …. but it would potentially endanger us.’”
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler’s movie developed surprising resonance in recent months. “It is so rich in culturally relevant ideas,” Feige said. “These are conversations we were having two years ago because that is inherently the story within the comics. Now it’s going to seem like the most highly fluid thing we could have done.”
When EW visited the set of Black Panther, Boseman was in a scene facing down Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, reprising his role as the mercenary arms dealer from Avengers: Age of Ultron.) Klaue is one of the few outsiders to ever see the true Wakanda, and his knowledge is a threat not just to that country, but to the world at large.
We’re all in this together, for good or ill.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we saw T’Challa, he was giving sanctuary to a fugitive Captain America. What is Black Panther’s mindset at the start of this film?
CHADWICK BOSEMAN: It’s shortly after Civil War has ended so he’s still in mourning. There’s a guilt in terms of taking the throne. There’s a feeling that he wishes that his father would have been alive to see it, if he would have given up the throne for being too old. That’s the ideal way. His mindset is one of guilt and unsureness because he doesn’t have [his father] there.
What are the major challenges? What’s the biggest crisis weighing on him?
Generally, there is unrest because there’s no leader on the throne. We’re dealing with a similar thing right now in this country. Just because a person was elected doesn’t mean everybody agrees with the things he’s going to do. Having to make the first decisions … what do you do first? What do you choose to do that’s going to get everybody on your side? It’s a political drama essentially.
So it’s a divided nation. But I’m guessing he’s not Donald Trump, though.
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s not Donald Trump! It’s funny watching the campaign because we were working on this before the campaign started, in terms of the prep. Watching how that ended, watching Obama leave office, and watching Trump take over … There are definite parallels there that you pull from.
Is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) T’Challa’s primary rival, the other side of this divided nation, seeking to take his throne?
I can’t really say. Klaue is the real villain. I can say that I identify with Killmonger’s character. It’s going to be a fun character. He definitely has a different point of view. They are polar opposites. A superhero movie is only as great as its villains. I think they both provide a piece of that.
What specific danger does Klaue pose to Black Panther’s people?
You have Wakanda, which is an isolationist society, Klaue has entered that space and knows more about it than anybody else. Because of that, he is a threat. Not to mention that he’s accessed this gift that could also be a curse to the rest of the world.
You’re talking about Vibranium, and his plans to weaponize it.
A lot of times when we talk about Vibranium we talk about it as if it’s, like, nuclear. It’s not a nuclear weapon but with the flexibly and versatility of it, it can do a lot of things. The fact that he has accessed that and has the mind to use it for evil is the key thing. Most people don’t know what it is and what can be done with it.
Does Klaue have a specific goal or mission? Or does T’Challa just have to track him down because he’s a rogue terrorist?
Yeah, that would be a good way to put it. He is the Osama bin Laden of the movie. He’s out there, and you have to go find him because he’s coming back at some point in time.
You talked about T’Challa’s grief over his father, but what’s his relationship with his mother, Ramonda [played by Angela Bassett]?
She is one of the advisors that he would look to. He has to look to her for some of the answers of what his father might want or might do. She may not be exactly right all the time, but she definitely has insights. The one thing I will say about all the female characters in this movie is that they are very strong. It’s a very matriarchal society. She is the queen mother. And she’s that for not just him, but for everybody. She’s has her hands in everything – even his love life.
What is his love life like?
[Laughs] There’s no engagement that’s happening! He’s very James Bond-like. There’s always a possibility that there could be some other woman. I’m not going to tell you that there’s a triangle. You want me to say something about Monica Lynne. [She’s an American character originating in the comics in 1970 and had a turbulent, passionate relationship with T’Challa.]
You mentioned James Bond. How would you say Black Panther is like 007?
In the James Bond movies, there is always the girl but then in the next movie there is another girl. [Laughs] Lupita and I are always joking about that. [Lupita Nyong’o costars as Nakia, a covert agent for Wakanda and a former lover of T’Challa’s.] She will say, “There better not be another woman in the next one!” I’m like, “Hey, you better lock it down!”
There will be more Black Panther coverage as part of our Comic-Con issue roll-out. Check back to EW.com on Thursday for more exclusive photos and interviews with costar Danai Gurira and director Ryan Coogler.