God of War star Christopher Judge to voice Black Panther in Marvel's Avengers Wakanda expansion
The Kratos actor and the War for Wakanda team talk about crafting a different version of T'Challa than Chadwick Boseman's iconic performance.
The late Chadwick Boseman has come to define mainstream culture's understanding of Black Panther. One can't think of T'Challa these days without acknowledging how the actor's 2018 movie role defined the character for generations of Marvel fans. Stargate's Christopher Judge, the man forever linked to the God of War gaming franchise as the booming voice of Kratos, understands this well. It's also why he had reservations about taking on Black Panther when a new opportunity presented itself.
Judge will voice King T'Challa in Marvel's Avengers video game from Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, EW has learned exclusively. He will make his debut in War for Wakanda, the upcoming DLC story expansion coming this August.
"I turned it down straight away," Judge tells EW over Zoom about when he was first approached about the voice role. "There's many Black Panthers, but I really didn't believe that anyone should ever do T'Challa again [after Boseman]. The actual talks proceeded and, basically, I wound up doing it because my mother and my children said if I didn't do it, they would disown me." A bellow of laughter in his recognizably resonant timbre erupts at that thought.
"To be quite honest, I was fearful of being compared to what Chadwick had so wonderfully done," he continues. "The only way I could really wrap my head around it was to not even attempt a voice match, to let my performance stand on its own. I put all that into it and hopefully people like it."
"I want to double down on the idea that this is its own iteration of the Black Panther mythos," says Evan Narcisse, the writer behind Marvel Comics' Rise of the Black Panther who also came aboard War for Wakanda as a narrative consultant. "Even if you know the comics and can quote the movie by heart, there are still going to be some surprises."
Hannah MacLeod, the DLC's narrative lead who worked closely with Narcisse to craft this new story, believes the game's version of T'Challa is already distinct given his place within the context of Marvel's Avengers. A-Day, which was meant to celebrate the opening of the heroes' West Coast headquarters, kickstarted the game's main story when an attack resulted in the death of Captain America and the rise of Inhumans, including Kamala Khan. The DLC largely picks up five years after this event to see the ripple effects in Wakanda.
T'Challa's kingdom was in negotiations with Steve Rogers to ally with the Avengers, but with Cap's death brought a change of heart for the most technologically advanced nation on earth. They closed off their borders to the rest of the world once again. In the DLC, however, T'Challa has no choice but to enter the fray when the corrupt corporation A.I.M., headed by Monica Rappaccini, hires Ulysses Klaw to procure vibranium.
"[Klaw] has a personal vendetta against Wakanda that I don't want to spoil. It's different than the comics," teases MacLeod. "We'll say he has this sonic technology he developed that is used specifically to make vibranium tech vulnerable, but it also has this issue where it causes corruption in vibranium. That corrupt vibranium is starting to sprout all over the earth, which is why the Avengers get involved."
Judge's iteration of Black Panther is in a different place than we typically see of the character. "He's older and a little bit more wisened," MacLeod says. "We're not coming into T'Challa's story at the beginning. He hasn't just lost his father. He hasn't just become king. He's been in this role for a while."
Narcisse describes him in relation to Boseman's version. "Chadwick's performance was somebody who had more questions about how to perform the role of Black Panther and king. This version doesn't have those questions," he says. "He already thinks he has all the answers. I think one of the cool things in this expansion is there's tension between him and Shuri" — his tech-savvy sister — "like we haven't seen before about how best to move Wakanda forward."
War for Wakanda adds a new single-player mission that brings the length of the total campaign to more than 25 hours. There will be new adversaries (including two central villains), what MacLeod calls "a robust cast of Wakandans" (like the Dora Milaje and sorcerer Zawavari), locations (like Shuri's laboratory and the Wakandan War Room), and new missions for the Drop Zone and Threat Sector.
The Rise of the Black Panther was a big influence on this story, if you hadn't already guessed from Narcisse's involvement. Dancing around spoilers, MacLeod mentions how those comics tell "so much about T'Challa's history and his family."
"We really wanted that focus on family but [also] potential conflicts in family," she notes. "If your family doesn't all have the same goals anymore, what does that look like?"
Because of COVID-19, Judge was already in the process of transforming his home office in Los Angeles into an at-home recording studio. What started with piling couch cushions on the walls to dampen the sound now comes complete with his own V.O. booth. Surrounded by photos of those who've inspired him (Frederick Douglas, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, the Obamas, to name a few), as well as projects he's worked on (there may be a God of War poster in his collection), Judge recorded the entirety of his work on Marvel's Avengers from this space, which presented its own challenges "not being able to physically interact with anyone else."
He worked with Beth McGuire, the dialect coach on the Black Panther movie, to find the Wakandan accent for the game. She "gently coerced" Judge, as he puts it, into adopting a higher-pitched speaking voice for the part than he's typically used to. ("I have the ultimate respect for true voiceover actors because they have a catalog of voices. I pretty much just have this," he jokes of his deep voice.) Not only that, together they explored for "probably a month" T'Challa's "relationships and what those meant to him."
Judge was particularly struck by the timeliness of the story at the heart of War for Wakanda. "What do you owe other people as a technologically advanced nation?" he asks. "How much aid do you give to others? How much do you involve yourself in others' conflicts?" In a year when "we all were going through unprecedented times," he says there were also things "going on emotionally that I was able to tap into."
"There were days when…" He goes silent for moment. Tears begin to well up. "...things had gone on in the country, world, specifically Chadwick's passing." Boseman died unexpectedly at the age of 42 in August 2020 from colon cancer, a condition he kept from the public. "We just talked," Judge says of game's crew. "We didn't record the full session because there was so much hurt. The ability to talk to people who I've never met, I've never met them face to face, it's all been over Zoom. To have just conversations when conversations were tough, if not impossible to have after some things, uh, was a real lifeline, it really was. To be able to tap into other's frame of reference was really important through a lot of this process."
Judge, Narcisse, and MacLeod will talk further about their experiences working on the War for Wakanda expansion and answer fan questions this Friday starting at 10 a.m. PT on a special Twitch livestream hosted by Crystal Dynamics.
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the War for Wakanda DLC brings a story campaign that runs more than 25 hours. The DLC will instead extend the overall content of Marvel's Avengers to more than 25 hours.