Many actors on the verge of the big time like to pretend they have it all worked out, that they know what to expect and are ready. Not Chadwick Boseman.
The 40-year-old American actor spent more than a decade mainly in television and indie movies before Marvel came calling in 2014 with a lucrative five-picture deal to play African superhero Black Panther.
His appearance in Captain America: Civil War (2016) brought Boseman his first taste of real fame but his celebrity status is about to skyrocket when a standalone Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War come out in 2018.
“I’m honestly not prepared for the level of it right now. I like being able to do regular stuff – go to the store, go shopping, spend time with my family in a restaurant,” Boseman tells AFP.
Any significant involvement on the creative side of a Marvel movie essentially means that you’ve made it, whether you’re an actor, director, writer or producer.
Two Avengers movies and an Iron Man are among the top 10 grossing films of all time, and the 15 releases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far have made more than $11bn between them.
“I can’t really go anywhere and people not say, ‘That’s the Black Panther.’ I don’t really know what the (next) level of that is,” Boseman confides.
Lavished with praise
“I guess my way of seeing it is that to play people and make it feel real you want to still experience life in a real, regular way. It doesn’t necessarily feel good to know you can’t do any of that stuff. I’m just being completely honest.”
Born in South Carolina, the son of a nurse and an upholstery entrepreneur, Boseman has roots in the west African state of Sierra Leone.
Before Marvel, he was best known for acclaimed portrayal of the legendary Jackie Robinson in Brian Helgeland’s 42 (2013), which had the highest-grossing debut for a baseball movie in Hollywood history.
He was also lavished with praise for his interpretation of soul singer James Brown in Get on Up (2014), earning inclusion among the top 10 performances of 2014 by Time magazine.
T’Challa, king and protector of the technologically advanced fictional African nation of Wakanda, has been characterised as the first black superhero, which is partly true.
Around 30 black characters have donned the lycra for the big screen since the early 1990s, including Marvel’s Falcon (Anthony Mackie since 2014), Wesley Snipes’s titular vampire hunter in Blade (1998) and Halle Berry’s Kenyan princess Storm in four X-men movies.
The Wakandan royal can claim to be the first black superhero to land a standalone movie in the MCU and the first in mainstream American comics, having featured in The Fantastic Four in 1966.
‘Damaging and untrue’
Boseman, who recently wrapped filming on Black Panther, believes there have been too many “damaging and untrue” portrayals of Africa in American cinema and doesn’t want to add to them.
“I feel the weight of it. You can’t be overly concerned in every breath you take. But you have to do the research and do the work so that when you get there it all feels like it’s honest,” he said.
Boseman, who pays for incognito theatre visits so that he can gauge genuine reaction to his movies, has a film up next which, for once, didn’t bring the pressure of having to interpret an already much-loved figure.
In noir revenge thriller Message From the King, he plays Jacob King, a South African who spends a week in Los Angeles’ underbelly to hunt the killer of his estranged younger sister.
Fabrice du Welz’s movie casts Boseman opposite an accomplished ensemble including Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast) and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2).
“It was exciting to start that process and know that nobody was really going to say, ‘That’s not Jacob, that’s not who he is,'” Boseman jokes.
“It’s not necessarily a completely blank canvas. But it is a canvas that I can do a lot with without having to worry about people’s attachment to it.”
Message from the King is released theatrically in France on Wednesday and on Netflix later in the year.
See the trailer here: