October 24, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Nobody told Ray Fisher the plan. The 27-year-old had no idea he was set to explode into Hollywood stardom, toplining as the title character in a Cyborg movie to be released in 2020. In fact, producers called the New Jersey-born theater actor on Oct. 15 with the heads-up just hours before Warner Bros. publicly revealed its slate of mega-budget movies tied to the DC cinematic universe — Wonder Woman, The Justice League, Suicide Squad, and Shazam among them.

”I didn’t know the extent to which DC and WB had planned on taking my character,” says Fisher, who was hired in March to cameo as Cyborg in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, hitting theaters in 2016. (Cyborg will also turn up in two Justice League movies.) ”When I signed on, I just wanted to be part of this world.” Now Fisher ranks as the first African-American to score a non-ensemble superhero flick since Will Smith’s booze-swilling screwup vigilante Hancock in 2008. Not bad for a classically trained vet of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey with no feature-film roles to his credit.

After packing on 20 pounds of muscle to portray Muhammad Ali in the Off Broadway play Fetch Clay, Make Man last year, the 6-foot-4 Fisher began generating industry buzz and had gained traction as a contender to star in Star Wars: Episode VII. ”I’m a long-game player and didn’t see any of this happening until at least my 40s,” he says. ”It’s a huge honor, but a bit of pressure comes along with it. My mind is just boggled right now.”

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