Talk to Danai Gurira, and you might actually mistake her for Okoye, the deadly Wakandan warrior that she plays. Gurira is straightforward, intense, and goal-oriented — characteristics that come across when she speaks. And just as Okoye brings a tinge of fear whenever she appears on screen, talking to Gurira also creates that same, slight fear that comes from being so intensely passionate about what you do.
Her character, Okoye, was first seen in Black Panther, then later in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Okoye is the leader of the Dora Milaje, an elite, all-female group of warriors that protect the nation of Wakanda. Gurira will reprise her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
The physicality of her role is evident through the many action scenes that Okoye is in — in fact one of the highlights of Okoye's appearances is to see how she will take down whichever opponent she is battling. "There's a lot of training involved. You have to train on your own," said Gurira, who trained a great deal by herself before meeting the film's trainers. She joined the film a month early just to train for her role to depict Okoye's combat prowess convincingly.
As with all things, Gurira is intense when it comes to her fight training. "For me, I like to learn my fight very early, because it's going to take a while before it becomes second nature," she explained. "I pester the fight co-ordinators to teach me early," she laughed, recounting how the fight co-ordinators would explain that they're still trying to figure out, the fight's beats haven't been approved by director Ryan Coogler yet. Then she would go to Coogler and say, "Ryan! They're saying it's on you!"
"There were very specific fights scripted for my character," explained Gurira. "You see the [fight] put together, and the psychology behind the story, happening in the fight's moments. So your character's mind has to be a part of the fight as well, so you're constantly making sure what she's doing makes sense with who she is. So that's the process," she said.
As part of the Dora Milaje, Okoye wields a Vibranium spear in many of her fight scenes. "I love the weapon," she gushed. "I do love using it, there's always more to learn. I learned a lot in the first movie, and a lot of things in the second. And yeah! It does help to slice away spider webs before you encounter them in person. It has multiple uses, I'm finding," she chuckled.
Okoye can be seen in her original red costume in the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer — and an exclusive Screen X poster also revealed that she has a new, different, blue costume in the movie. So which is her favourite?
"That's like choosing between your children," Gurira sighed wistfully. "They both have their charms. Thye both have great colour, they both have great functionality, they both have their own presence. One is turbo-boosted versus the other one, the other one is more streamlined. They both have their differences, but I think they're both pretty cool overall."
But there were emotional challenges in the movie as well. After all, the eponymous character in Black Panther was played by the late Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. Boseman has left a remarkable legacy behind — something that has definitely influenced the way Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was produced.
"We definitely were very mindful of the purpose ç to honour Chadwick through everything that we gave to the film. And that was a definitely a key goal," said Gurira. "It was the anchor, of what we did as cast and crew. That was something that resonated for us, regardless of where, what day, whatever was going on, it was always clear, what we were there to do — to honour Chadwick, first and foremost."
"I walked through [Okoye's] emotions, and the course of the narrative, while also seeking to honour [Chadwick Boseman] as myself, as Danai."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in cinemas 10 November.