This year’s megahit “Captain America: Civil War” (available now on Digital HD) not only had to justify friends and teammates Iron Man and Captain America engaging in a heated conflict drawing in most of Marvel Studios’ roster of superheroes, it also introduced some pretty major characters, including Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther.
Though Black Panther has been around for 50 years since debuting in Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s “Fantastic Four” #52 — and has a storied place in pop culture history as American comics’ first Black superhero — “Civil War” was the first time the character had been depicted in live action. Though ultimately a supporting player, the movie shows both the costumed Black Panther and his civilian identity as Wakandan royalty T’Challa, as the character finds a very personal reason to join up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and #TeamIronMan. Much more of Black Panther’s story is set to be explored in a solo film, helmed by “Creed” director Ryan Coogler and scheduled for release in July 2018.
CBR spoke to Boseman at Comic-Con International in San Diego, to discuss joining the established lineup of Marvel Cinematic Universe all-stars, why his character showed clemency towards Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the importance of the “Black Panther” film and the excitement it generates, plus the actor’s thoughts on the current “Black Panther” comic book series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze.
CBR News: “Captain America: Civil War” introduced some key new characters in a relatively short amount of time, yet they all seemed rather fully formed, even though they only had a limited space. What was that like for you, jumping on board with an ensemble cast, as a new, major character being introduced?
Chadwick Boseman: They already had a working language. All the other actors who had worked together before, they already had their little things that they do together, For instance, [Anthony] Mackie and [Chris] Evans, if you’re in a scene with them, before every take, they have this banter that they do back and forth; and then they go into the scene. I shouldn’t say every take, but there’s definitely play between the actors that then transfers to play between the characters. If you’re not already part of that, you’re not used to their rhythm. Everybody has those things. Sebastian [Stan] has his own.
It’s just coming in and learning everybody’s rhythm. When you’re dealing with really great actors, how people get into each moment — how they get into a scene — is very important to them. You don’t want to step on their toes, and you also want to be able to do your own thing. It’s just that, really.
One of the key moments for Black Panther is towards the end of “Civil War,” with him and Zemo, and he shows that mercy towards him by preventing him from killing himself, despite Zemo being responsible for his father’s death. It shows a lot about Black Panther’s character, and even how he changes with the film. What does that say to you about the character, and what makes him a noble hero?
I feel like you get a chance to see that he’s not going to be a selfish ruler. He’s not going to be a dictator. He’s not going to be a person that does things purely for his own gain. That he does have a heroic aspect at the heart of a hero; of a leader. You can pull for him, because he’s merciful. And it leaves room also for him to do things that are not necessarily perfect.
A few people have said to me, “I thought you were a villain at first.” They didn’t have the prior history of the character. And they enjoyed that. They thought I was going to end up being a villain. That’s telling to me. I feel like it’s a good thing that we were able to create that context where he’s going after things for his own reasons, not necessarily good or bad, but ultimately that you can create something that is universally good — that merciful aspect — I think is a good thing for the character.
Black Panther is different than many of the other Marvel heroes we’ve seen on screen, in that quite a few of them are very quippy. Iron Man certainly, even Captain America to a certain extent. Black Panther, throughout his history, is a more serious character — and given his nature, that makes a lot of sense. Still, he feels a lot different, personality-wise, than a lot of the other Marvel heroes people are used to. What’s it like playing that type of character that, in contrast to most of the heroes around him, is a little more reserved?
It’s funny, because on one hand, the Marvel movies that I’ve liked the most are the ones that are funny. I love “Ant-Man.” But for me, most of the time the darker superhero movies are the ones that I gravitate towards, that I love the most. So I’m glad that I’m not in an “Ant-Man.” I’m glad that the tone of [“Black Panther”] may be a little grittier. I just wanted to establish that from the beginning, that that’s what we were doing. That that’s what I intend to do. I feel like we’ll end up in a place that I’ve always wanted to be when I look at superhero movies. Those are the ones I like the most. It’s exciting to do that.
Speaking of Ryan Coogler, at Marvel Studios’ Comic-Con panel, you could sense a lot of excitement for “Black Panther.” It took a long time to get to a position where there is a major superhero movie with a Black lead character, Black villain, Black cast, Black director, and it’s important and something fans haven’t really seen before. What does that mean to you personally, to be at the center of that — and to see it happen with the Marvel umbrella, which is so universal and means so much to so many people?
I feel the energy. The image itself opens people’s minds up. You can talk about it all you want, you can have it in a comic book, you can even do an animated series, but when you see real people doing it, it changes something inside of you. It’s going to be a big deal because there’s not just Black people or people of African descent that want to see it, I think everybody wants to see it. That’s the beautiful thing. I truly believe there are more people who want to see it than don’t want to see it, especially after being here.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” comic has gotten a lot of attention this year, with the current series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. Have you read that?
Yeah, I have. I’ve known Ta-Nehisi for years. I’ve known him from when he was in DC, when he was at Howard. I’m excited for him, just knowing him personally. I think he’s doing great work. I think his work, whether it be directly or not, it’s already affecting where the film goes, and the film is probably affecting him, as well. I think that’s a great conversation between the two mediums.
“Captain America: Civil War” is available digitally now, and on Blu-ray and DVD on Sept. 13. “Black Panther” is scheduled for release on July 6, 2018.