Lupita Nyong'o's 'Black Panther' Character Nakia Is Torn Between Country And King [Set Visit Interview]

As a recurring player in the Star Wars movies, Lupita Nyong'o is no stranger to geeky fandom. Apparently, though, Black Panther is on another level entirety. When asked which experience has been more intense, she doesn't even hesitate – it's Black Panther.

She's seen the #BlackPantherSoLit hashtag and the swell of excitement that follows every new announcement. And speaking to us on set last year, she made it clear she's working hard to live up to the hype, filling us in on the intense training and serious thought that's gone into becoming the character of Nakia.

She also dropped a few spare hints about Nakia's dilemma in the film, and the movie's understanding of its female characters – though she stopped short of revealing too much about the relationships within the movie.

Note: This was a group interview conducted in a press conference format with assembled journalists.


You're playing the role of Nakia, who has a very complicated history in the comics, and I wanted to know where her loyalties lie at this point in the story. Is it with the Dora Milaje or possibly Killmonger? Can you go into that?

I can say that Nakia, when we meet her, is a war dog, which means she's one of Wakanda's CIA agents. Her job is to spy around the world and report back to Wakanda to keep Wakanda safe and keep Wakanda informed.

Being one of the rare characters in this film that has been outside of Wakanda on a regular basis, how much are you developing your character inside the framework of Wakanda versus inside the framework of the real world?

Oh my God. Jesus Christ. [Laughs] Personally, I've never been to Wakanda, so you know. That's a very interesting question. Very scientific. I don't really know how to answer it, except to say that – I mean, I think that I could answer it as myself, Lupita. I know that I'm from Kenya but so much of my character is formed by the fact that I've lived so many other places. But that doesn't mean that I don't identify with where I'm from. In fact, it's the foundation of who I am. I think that could apply to Nakia as well.

Obviously the character is from the comics, but were you able to collaborate at all in terms of making sure that, as a woman in the Marvel Universe, that you weren't either just a romantic interest or just a super soldier?

I would say that what Ryan [Coogler] and Joe Robert Cole have done with this film is that they've really deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda. So I think it's legal for me to say that the women as we meet them are departures from what we know of them in the comic books.

I'm curious about the dialogue as far as foreign languages. We heard you speaking a little Hausa.

It's Xhosa.

Oh, sorry.

It's a different language. There is a language called Hausa, but we speak Xhosa, which is South African.

Oh, okay. So what is the split between that and English within the performance? How much are you speaking the foreign language within the film?

Because we're still the process of making this film, that's being determined on a case-by-case basis. Because the Wakandas are super super advanced and isolated, one of the ways in which they keep to themselves is with their language. So it's an adventure to actually pick up this language, because it's actually one of the hardest languages to learn, because of those clicks and stuff, which faded away the further you get from South Africa on the African continent. So it's super exciting to challenge ourselves to speak the language, but the film is definitely predominantly in English.

As you started to dig into who she was, what were the qualities that resonated with you?

I would say that I am very attracted to Nakia's determination. I think she's determined. She's methodical. Yeah.

Can you tell us about the physicality of the role? It's an action-adventure film. How are you taking that so far?

Wow. It is intense. I mean, I had dreams of being in an action film and stuff. I didn't realize that it was going to change my diet. And require me to wake up at insane hours. This week alone, I woke up to work out at 3 in the morning, which is ridiculous. So it does take a lot of physical endurance and a commitment to your body like nothing else. But it's been so much fun to challenge my body in this new way. Nakia's fighting style is being informed by judo and jiujitsu  and silat, Filipino martial arts, and stuff like that. So I'm learning all these cool skills and I get to jump higher than I thought I could jump. I get to roll backwards, which I thought I would never do after the age of, what, eight? So it's been fun.

Are you doing a lot of your own stunts?

So far.

Since your casting, you guys did San Diego Comic-Con last year, and that was, I would imagine, a huge swell of nerd love. Have you looked at all online and seen some of the stuff since the casting, like #BlackPantherSoLit?

I mean, you'd have to be blind not to see that. Yeah, it was intense, that #BlackPantherSoLit. And it continues to be so, with every announcement being made of who's joined the cast and everything. It's been a lot of pressure on us. [Laughs]

So just to follow up, what was more intense, this or Star Wars?


How has it been working with Ryan as a director so far? And what is it like for you in your process?

Ryan is an incredibly collaborative director. And he's very responsive to our needs, our suggestions. So it really feels like teamwork when we are on set. Another thing that's great about Ryan directing this, he was a boxer himself. No, he was a football player. But he has had some boxing training, I believe. So he has the mind of a fighter in a way that I really need. Because sometimes I'm like, "I don't know what a fighter would do right now." So to have someone who has that instinct has been very, very helpful. The scene you're seeing now – I mean, I did do Non-Stop, but I've never been at the heart of an action film. So I'm fascinated with how slow it is. So slow. And so broken up. You know, one moment that will go in like ten seconds, you work on for half the day or something. And each take is about one split instinct that you have. So how do you generate that over and over again? So today, you've actually watched me be confounded with what's going on.

Can you talk about your character's motivations and goals going into the story? What is she hoping to accomplish?

I think as a was dog, she is in service to her country, and to her passion, which is linked to the outside world.

So she's more in service to her country than to her king?

Well that's the dilemma, isn't it? I think we see in this film Nakia has to figure out what comes first for her.

Is Nakia always on task, always on missions around the world? Or does she does she spends a fair amount of time back home in Wakanda?

You're getting too specific.

Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Okoye?

Well, Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje, so in terms of the Wakandan hierarchy, she's somewhat, her boss. And ... yeah.

As you prepare for everything, a lot of people talk about music being transformative to get ready for the character? Are you listening to anything right now that you put into your character's playlist?

I can't reveal that yet. I can't. Because if I do, then it loses its magic for me. We can talk about that in a year.