Inhumans: Black Bolt Actor Finds Strength in the Character’s Weakness

It's safe to say that on Inhumans, Anson Mount is playing a Marvel hero unlike any that audiences have seen before. The reason is fundamental to his character's core, and one that makes him a unique challenge to adapt to live-action: Mount's character Black Bolt -- the King of the Inhumans Royal Family, created by comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby -- cannot speak, lest he unleash powerful waves of destructive force.

For Mount, that was a big part of what drew him to the role, although he acknowledges that for his character, it's more of a "burden" than a superpower. "There's the tightrope walker side of me that wants to play the lead of the show that can't speak," Mount told reporters, including CBR during, a visit to the Hawaii set of the upcoming ABC drama. "When else am I going to get that opportunity?"

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Although the the initial reveals surrounding Inhumans have largely left fans skeptical, Mount made clear his appreciation for the source material, and his own Marvel fandom. He also shared that Inhumans may be a little different from fans expect: "There is not an iteration of the Inhumans that I think doesn't become, on some level, an immigrant story."

With the drama set to debut in IMAX theaters Sept. 1 for a two-week run before its ABC premiere on Sept. 29, CBR has the condensed text of Mount's conversation from the set visit. And while Black Bolt may be largely silent, this won't be the last time you'll hear from Mount: Inhumans will get the spotlight next week at Comic-Con International in San Diego, with a panel on Thursday at 6:15 p.m. in Ballroom 20.

How do you describe your character, and how he fits into the world of Inhumans?

Anson Mount: Inhumans [is] one of the more interesting mythos in the Marvel world. I was a Marvel kid growing up, I subscribed to Peter Parker, I still have my collection in storage -- and I think of all of the potential adaptations that Marvel could want to do for television, the Inhumans has got to be one of the bravest, because it is so out there, and in a great way. I'm acting with a giant, imaginary dog sometimes, you know?

I can tell you right now there's not going to be anything on TV remotely like this show. That in and of itself, I think as a viewer, I think that that would be interesting to watch to see how the hell are they going to do this. When I heard about it, I was like, "Wow, really? OK. I want to see it." And [showrunner] Scott Buck is not a dumb writer. Scott Buck is a very, very good writer. I was just saying to the other group, one of his biggest jobs as an adapter of material from the graphic novels to a live-action performance is to ground this in a way that it has more accessibility to a viewer rather than a reader, to a general public rather than a strictly comic book audience. I think he's doing a great job.

I'm interested in parts of Black Bolt that as an actor I should be interested in, which is not the icing but the cake, you know? What makes this guy tick? What are his responsibilities? What are his flaws more than anything? I tend to be more interested in a character's weaknesses than I do their strengths and in a comic book/graphic novel space, it's easy to lose sight of that, you know? And I don't think a television can exist purely in the white hat/black hat paradigm that a lot of graphic novels exist in. Although, the Inhumans has been about smudging those lines more than a lot of others.

How are you grounding it so it's relevant to a more casual audience? And what kind of tone are you bringing to it?

One of the immediate tools at Scott's disposal is that there is not an iteration of the Inhumans that I think doesn't become on some level an immigrant story. And that's infinitely relatable right now. Or you can call it an integration story, but that is really the axis upon which that turns. Scott is coming at this from the point of view that it's about a family, sure, it is, but it's a royal family. It really is. It's a family that has to deal with politics on a daily basis and on an epic scope. It's not all in the family. It's not even Downton Abbey. It's a bit larger than that.

This character is very unique in that his power limits him in ways. What's that like for an actor?

He is the leader who must be aware of the power and potential danger of his public voice. I think he's immediately charming in that way. Readers appreciate Black Bolt because they see him struggling with a deep sense of responsibility. A king's identity -- a responsible king -- their identity is the state. And he certainly is that.

How does that play out technically? Does he communicate with whispers?

No, a whisper could blow this building away. I'm creating my own signing system. I can't even use ASL, because he's not from here. I have a sign consultant, I'm developing a lexicon as I go, I'm borrowing some of the underlying rules of ASL and what makes it work efficiently.

I'm not saying it's easy. It creates homework and it creates choreography and it creates getting things into the muscle memory. I have to get it so into my muscle memory because I can't be thinking about it and acting at the same time. And to get yourself to go from here to here, it's not easy. But it's easier than learning Spanish, I'll give you that.

Is that an idea that you brought to the role, to create a signing system?

No. Jeph Loeb came to me with it off the top. He knew me well enough to know what I would geek out on, and I also think I got lucky that they realized this is a hard role to audition. It came in as a conversation. Black Bolt is an amazing character but I have to admit, there's the tightrope walker side of me that wants to play the lead of the show that can't speak. When else am I going to get that opportunity? And being 44, when am I going to get another opportunity to play a superhero? If I'm wearing tights, I want to look good in those tights.

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Can you talk about the costume?

Not really.

Do you get the full mask?

I will say this. When you're adapting something from a different medium, even if it's a visual medium like a graphic novel, to live-action, you have to ground it so that it's more accessible to the viewer because it's a colder medium. They're not going to be leaning as far forward. I'm a fan of, like every theater geek who went to graduate school I did my time doing mask work. I'm not sure TV is the space for masks.

Character-wise it seems very authentic, based on what we know so far. Is that fair to say?

Oh yeah. There is a definite respect to the source material, but we are making a TV show.

What sets Inhumans apart from every other Marvel TV show?

One thing is that I like how their "powers" are, I don't really look at them as powers. I look at them as sometimes burdens. I think that that endears us to them as well.

Can you describe the silent room?

It's a cool set, huh?

What do you do there?

When a young Black Bolt first went through his terrigenesis, his power was so frighteningly intense. He sneezed, he blows away half the world. So before he had learned to control it, he was shut away in this quiet room that literally funnels the energy of his voice if he speaks out into the stratosphere. He finally got control over it and himself and was able to leave, but it's still there and it's still where he goes to meditate.

Keep reading CBR for more from the set of Inhumans.

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