"Black Panther" is arguably the most special movie Marvel has made.
At least that is the vibe one effortlessly picked up on when we visited the set last year. From the impressive cast to the inspired production design, everyone involved in director Ryan Coogler's first comic book movie blockbuster conveyed a sense of how "special" and unique the film is, which hits theaters Feb. 16.
From Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, to his nemesis, played by Michael B. Jordan, Marvel generously allowed key members of the cast -- and a few key behind-the-scenes department leads -- to share their process (and a few awesome pieces of production art) with us. In doing so, they more than earned the last year of hype for this movie. It's huge, it has a lot of emotional stakes driving it, and it's Marvel's version of a Bond movie/spy thriller, so that's never not a bad thing.
Here are a few things we learned from the set -- along with some secrets revealed.
Nate Moore, Producer:
1. On where "Black Panther" takes place in relation to "Captain America: Civil War": "It begins where 'Civil War' left off. So, obviously, that movie had a big impact on T'Challa because of T'Chaka's death. So now we answer the question, What happens when he goes home? Who rules Wakanda? How does Wakanda now deal with the loss of a king?".2. "We had a pretty blank slate," said Moore in regards to how "Black Panther" was required to build from the events of "Civil War." "We knew we were inheriting stuff from 'Civil War.' We had ideas of what we thought we could explore, and we sort of built it with Ryan and Joe Robert Cole, who wrote the script with Ryan. They had a lot of latitude to explore different ideas and put characters in and take them out. But it wasn't, by any means, hemmed in by things that we'd thought of.
3. A big plot point in the movie, according to Moore, is how Wakanda deals with the succession of a new king. "It's definitely a big piece of the movie and we wanted to explore how succession works in Wakanda. Again, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what was clear in 'Civil War' and what we actually think was clear was that you could be king without being Panther and vice versa. So we always imagined T'Chaka was King but T'Challa already was Black Panther."
4. Fans can expect Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to be a formidable presence: "In talking with Ryan, one of the ideas he also liked was this sort of 'Godfather'-kind of story. When I say 'Godfather,' it's the idea that it's very much a story about family and a story about an organization where new leadership is taking place. And much like the 'Godfather,' you have to fight for things, right? And they're all vying for power and in this case, it's power over Wakanda. I think Killmonger sees Wakanda as something that could be used differently than it currently is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- and that puts him directly at odds with T'Challa."5. On how much the movie explores T'Challa's past: "You get a little bit of a sense of what it was like before when he was a kid. Honestly, it's not a huge part of the movie, but we did want to explore who he was before he was Panther."
6. According to Moore, the process of bringing director Ryan Coogler on board was very different from Scott Derrickson's hiring on "Doctor Strange." Where Derrickson had to prepare an elaborate pitch for his movie, Coogler was actively sought out by Marvel Studios.
"We kind of watched 'Creed' and said 'that guy.' Then we hunted him down and made him say 'yes.' But it was hard. To Ryan's credit, he obviously knew the character, and wanted to do the movie, but only wanted to do the movie if he felt like it was going to be something that would have integrity -- that, at the end of the day, he felt good about as a filmmaker. And that's what we wanted, as well."
7. The story evolved once Coogler was brought on board: "What he infused was a really good sense of the complications of being T'Challa and also really building out that supporting cast. One of the things that we love about the property is that there are so many interesting roles around Black Panther. Whether it be Ramonda, his mother; his sister, Shuri; Zuri, who is an advisor and a contemporary to T'Chaka's and sort of a last link to his father. Ryan was really interested in exploring those relationships. Also, I think building out his relationship with the Dora Milaje, this group of all female, sort of Seal Team Six special forces women but making them all characters, making them all individuals rather than, again, this monolithic force of ass-kickers."
8. The advanced technology of Wakanda will play a big role in the film: "I think you'll see all of it. The Golden City is, we think the most amazing city in the world in a way that also feels grounded. What we were very afraid of was making Wakanda almost too Kirby-esque, and by that I mean making it feel almost like they're alien and not human. The truth is -- they're human. They're just 20 or 25 years ahead of us. Having a city built on Vibranium allows them to have all these advances and have wealth beyond our wildest imaginings and that's a big part of the movie."9. On which specific Marvel comics inspired the film: "I would say the two runs that were most inspirational were the [Christopher] Priest and Ta-Nehisi [Coates] runs."
10. On whether T'Challa's sister, Shuri, could be compared to Q from the James Bond movies: "To some degree. That's a comparison we've made. We didn't want it to be that one-to-one, but for sure she's a big reason that T'Challa gets into gadgets in the film."
11. Here is what T'Challa will be dealing with when the film opens: "What he's dealing with is being the king, and making the transition to filling the footsteps of his father. So it's probably going to feel like it's more about the political unrest than the superhero initially."
12. Boseman on how he and the director developed and interpreted the character: "I think we have very similar views. We have very similar views about what things should be like, and the things that we usually have a difference of opinion about -- it's so minute, what those differences are, that I think it's more of a growth because there's nobody battling you. We're constantly building on each other, so it's been a good marriage so far."13. What it is like working with such an impressive female cast, with Angela Basset playing his mom: "Obviously, you have Angela Basset here. She's incredible to watch and, again, she's always really strong. I would say, in this movie, because my father is dead, it gives me the opportunity to sort of look to her for wisdom. I think it shows the matriarchal African society in doing that, so she's an advisor that I would go to. And it's a close relationship, it's not just like she's my mother and she's on the side -- she's not a figurehead mother."
Michael B. Jordan
14. Here's why Michael B. Jordan wanted to play a baddie: "For me, I wanted to kind of step outside of a comfort zone, and try something different, especially with Ryan -- working with him again. I'd jump at the chance to get to work with him again. And I think one of the challenges for us, if we do our job the right way, is -- hopefully -- Killmonger is somebody you guys can root for, too. I think that's something hard to accomplish, but if we all do what we're supposed to do, I think that would be a really hard decision to make, to figure out who you want to root for. And I think it brings out the best in villains."
15. On how Coogler handles the action scenes: "As realistic as he can. I think one of Ryan's strengths is that he always finds the real moments, even in a sci-fi or a larger-than-life kind of atmosphere and environment. So when it comes to boxing, he wanted real hits! He wanted it to look like if it was a brawl, it was gonna be a brawl. We really took our time with each punch, each punch represented a different line. So, in a sense, we're having a scene and dialog within the fight. So that was something that I found very interesting. So for this one, a different approach, 'cause using a lot of weapons, and they're also using a lot of hand-to-hand combat, so there's a lot more action, so to speak. So, just trying to find the realness in the larger-than-life Marvel universe, I think that's something that he's definitely striving for."
16. Michael B. Jordan had no hesitation doing another comic book movie, following the failure of "Fantastic Four.": "No hesitation, really, to do another comic book film. I'm a geek. I love this world. I love being able to play in that fantastic space. I looked at it as another shot to get it right, to do it again, especially with teaming up with Rachel [Morrison] again, and Ryan -- it's a very, very comfortable space for me. And it was the perfect space for me to take another risk like this. Yeah, it was no hesitation on that part."
17. Lupita reveals how her character, Nakia, is introduced: "I can say that... When we meet her, she is a war dog -- which means she's one of Wakanda's CIA agents. Her job is to spy around the world and report back to Wakanda to keep Wakanda safe and keep Wakanda informed."18. What she loved about her character's treatment and the female characters in the script: "I would say that what Ryan [Coogler] and [co-writer] Joe Robert Cole have done with this film ... deepened our understanding of the role of women in Wakanda. So, I think it's legal for me to say that the women, as we meet them, are departures from what we know of them in the comic books."
19. Lupita on her character's action scenes: "It is intense. I mean, I had dreams of being in an action film and stuff. I didn't realize that it was going to change my diet. And require me to wake up at insane hours. This week alone -- I woke up to workout at 3 in the morning, Which is ridiculous. But it's been so much fun to challenge my body in this new way. Nakia's fighting style is being informed by judo and ju-jitsu and silat, and stuff like that. So I'm learning all these cool skills and I get to jump higher than I thought I could jump. I get to roll backwards — which I thought I would never do after the age of 8? So it's been fun."
20. What's her working relationship like with Coogler: "Ryan is an incredibly collaborative director. And he's very responsive to our needs. Our suggestions. So it really feels like team work when we are all on set."
21. Freeman on his character's function in this film, compared to "Civil War": "He is the coolest man in the room. He has some authority. He's good at his job. I think we're going as realistic as you can be in a heightened universe. It would be slightly incredible for him not to be good at his job and not to be competent at this position that he's at. He's good at his job. He's well traveled. He's well versed in the ways of the world. Wakanda is gonna be a surprise to him."
"But, in terms of meeting diplomats, kings, that's not particularly fazing to him. He meets superheroes, he meets, you know, so I think some of his humor comes from exasperation rather than... like that."
22. Freeman on his character's relationship to Klaw: "What I like about being on the receiving end of Klaw is that you are on the receiving end of it, you know what I mean? Like, he's going to do to you whatever he wants to do. There was no way that, I as Martin, or me as Ross, could top that. Then you would just have two insane f**king people going crazy and the scene wouldn't contain it, but Andy is extremely good at that wrong footing, keeping you guessing stuff."
23. Freeman knew that "Civil War" would not be the last we saw of his character: "That was the idea, yeah. I don't think I'm getting killed for that. Yeah, that was my understanding."
24. Serkis, who plays the baddie Klaw, had no idea he would be back in the MCU until after "Age of Ultron": "Klaw appears in 'Age of Ultron,' and the way that all happened was, they were actually working with the Imaginarium, which is my performance capture studio. We were working and consulting back on Ultron, working with James Spader and working with Mark Ruffalo, and initiating them into the process of motion capture, because they were both using performance capture and we were providing services for that."
"Then, Joss Whedon said, 'Hey, this is crazy. Why don't you come and be in the show?' And it's like, 'Well, yeah, all right. That'd be fun.' So that happened, and then of course, when this came along, I knew that he was part of the Black Panther story. It's just really great being back."
25. Here's what Klaw has been up to since we last saw him lose an arm: "He's just been, basically, causing mayhem in the world, on minor and major levels. He's a smart guy in the sense that he's a businessman as well as an arms dealer. He manages to cover his tracks. He has a mercenary army that works with him in different locations all around the world, and he's able to go down rabbit holes and appear other places, so he's got the smarts, but he's a little whacked out."
26. Fans can expect his signature arm weapon to come into play: "He obviously had his arm chopped off, and he has a weapon which we will discover."
27. Here's how working on "Black Panther" compared to Serkis' other big Hollywood franchises: "In the short time that I worked with Ryan, which is literally two days [as of the set visit], he creates the most incredible atmosphere on set. He really is the most ... very subtle actor's director. He knows what he wants but he allows you to play and explore with the other cast members, then gives great, very specific notes."
28. In this story, Klaw does not see himself as the baddie per se: "He thinks what he's doing is existing in this world in the way that he's created his own moral relativity, really. He is quite nihilistic, he's squared it with himself, he knows life is cheap, and you're either at the bottom of the pile or you're at the top of the pile and that's it. It's very, very simple; it's quite clear to him where his moral compass is."
Ruth Carter, Costume Designer
29. Here's how Carter got involved with the film: "Ryan Coogler interviewed me and wanted my concept art in the very beginning of what I thought of the Black Panther and the Wakandan world. Of course, he couldn't share the script with me, so I went out and read all the comic books and tried to gather up as much as I could. It's really such a vast world. I was able to collaborate with some of my ideas about it being a place that is well ahead, futuristic in some ways, but not futuristic place in Africa that's African but also has a wide stretch of cultural awareness that reaches to the depths of many cultures as well as a beauty. It's unique amongst itself."
30. On designing T'Challa's royal attire: "There's another element to the story that I can't tell you about, a spoiler alert, that we wanted to juxtapose two things. Our prince was very kingly. He was very clean, very tailored, what would you expect out of the son of a king. We also looked at a lot of embroidery and dashikis and things that people could relate to. We kind of embellished his kingly clothes with those things so that he's a king that you know."
31. How they told Nakia's story through costumes: "With Nakia, she starts out as a war dog coming from Nigeria. She's fighting for young Nigerian women -- who are captured by the mean guys, who are militants that capture women and put them in slavery. She starts out very tough. We see her immediately as a fighter. We know her as a fighter. She's dusty and dirty. She wants to stay in that element. She's comfortable there. I researched all kinds of fashionable war dogs, all kinds of fashionable, dirty fighters. There's a lot of good looks out there, so it was hard to pick one. I think what we found for her was really great because it was very much not a part of Wakanda. It was a part of the world around. She travels into Wakanda."
"Then, she starts to gradually go back to her Wakandan roots, if you would. Her color palate also changes. It starts out as a war dog in army greens and browns and earth tone dirty and army boots. Then, as we greet her in other costumes and other scenes, the greens become very clear. It's more jade, It's more teal. It's more put together. She still wears one earring. She still has her tough exterior, but we start seeing a little bit more layers to her origin of being a Wakandan girl, the head, the highest warrior of the river tribe."
32. How the classic Black Panther costume influenced the movie suit: ""I like the original Black Panther costume. I liked his helmet and I liked his boots. I liked a lot of things about it. What we wanted to do is take it into a new millennium, a new attitude, a new technology and make it exciting again."
And we glimpsed a bit of the costumes upgrade on set; it seems that Black Panther can summon his suit using nano-like technology (similar to how Iron Man summoned his suit in Marvel's "Extremis" comic). As upgrades go, few are any cooler.
Basically, just get excited for this movie.