In the coming year, actress Lupita Nyong’o will not only be celebrating her 40th birthday, but also the tenth anniversary of her big break. In 2013, she played a harrowing slave in her first major Hollywood film, 12 Years a Slave, for which she promptly won an Oscar. Since then, the Mexican-born Kenyan, who completed her acting studies at Yale, has appeared in films such as “Queen of Katwe”, “Wir” or “The 355”. She also starred as Maz Kanata in the recent Star Wars trilogy. An audience of millions delighted Nyong’o, whose children’s book “Sulwe” became a bestseller, as Nakia in the comic adaptation “Black Panther”. On the occasion of the sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (from Wednesday in German cinemas) we spoke to her in a video call.
Ms. Nyong’o, your colleague and good friend Chadwick Boseman, who played the title character in the first “Black Panther” film, passed away in the summer of 2020. Were you hesitant to be a part of the sequel?
When Chadwick died, Black Panther was the last thing on my mind. I was devastated and the thought of returning to Wakanda was beyond my imagination. But of course director Ryan Coogler and the rest of the team felt the same way. We’d become a family working on the first film, so after Chadwick’s death we were all there for each other and in constant communication. My confidence in Ryan was huge through the experience of working together, and I could count on him to only tell stories that really mattered to him. So when he finally seemed to find a way to make a dignified sequel, I let him persuade me. Especially since we all knew that was what Chadwick wanted. Because it meant so much to him how much the Black Panther and the world of Wakanda mattered to black people around the world.
Was the mood on the set permanently depressed by Boseman’s absence?
The first few days felt dull, I felt everywhere how much Chadwick was missing. But because Ryan made our grief the subject of the film, we didn’t have to leave our emotions at home, we were able to bring them to work, process them together and turn them into something wonderful. Of course there were moments when I was overcome with pain and broke down. But there was also a lot of joy on set as we reminisced about Chadwick and shared our love for him.
Instead of finding a new male lead, the women are now at the center of the story. Was that a foregone conclusion from the start?