Lupita Nyong’o mastered clicks (three, to be exact), survived an intense boot camp, and practiced jujitsu and capoeira to prepare for Black Panther, but the not-so-foreign physical challenges (including her day one on-set injury in which she sprained a ligament) were worth it for the actress to be part of the politically charged Marvel movie, and the first in the franchise to feature a predominantly black cast.
“We were creating an aspirational world where an African people are in charge of their own destiny,” Nyong’o told The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview. “And that really appealed to me and had the little girl inside me jumping for joy. To just have African people, black people, at the center of that narrative is so exciting.”
Her role as Nakia, “a rebel but a loyalist at the same time,” who “wants to go her own way but also wants to serve her nation,” seems to have been tailor-made for Nyong’o, incorporating physical and emotional elements that have been trailing the actress throughout her entire life.
Case in point: To get in shape for the role, Nyong’o endured a six-week bootcamp with her co-stars that perfectly mirrored her lifelong interest in the martial arts. “I have dabbled in martial arts all my life, since I was 7, maybe — tae kwon do, capoeira, Muay Thai. It’s always been an interest because in martial arts there is a mind/body relationship. You can’t do it right if you’re angry; how you can exert your power with a clear mind really interests me,” she said.
Pre-filming, “we would have warm-ups together, then break off and do our individual techniques,” she said of the four-hour training sessions. “Nakia is a street fighter, so I had jujitsu and capoeira and ring blades.”
As familiar as the physical prep was to her, the emotional prep was even more so. Being in a film that explores “what it means to be from a place and welcome others into it” connected the Oscar-winner to her past as the child of a political force in Kenya. (Her father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, was a vocal opponent of the political regime when she was growing up, resulting in his exile from the country and time in prison. Now, he’s a leader in the opposition party to the country’s current president.)
“My father raised us to stand up for what we believe in and to fight for what is right,” Nyong’o said. “We were always told, ‘You need to make a difference in the world.’ I live with that insistence all the time.”
Although she was raised by a politician, Nyong’o insists she is perfectly fine making her difference on the big screen. “I had to share my father with politics for so long,” she said. “I don’t ever want to be president — let’s just get that out of the way.”