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Winston Duke Talks Black Panther And Acting With Mark Wahlberg …

Written by on March 5, 2020


Actor Winston Duke exploded into the zeitgeist as a star of cinematic cultural touchstones Black Panther and Jordan Peele’s Us.

Now he’s bringing his talents to Netflix to star opposite Mark Wahlberg in the new action-mystery film, Spenser Confidential.

We sat down with Winston to chat speaking without language, the legacy of Black Panther and the need for fantasy …

Jill Hopkins: I’d like to talk about your character, Hawk. He is an aspiring MMA fighter to aides Mark Wahlberg in his, let’s say, “revenge.” When you signed on for this, did you know anything about MMA fighting?

Winston Duke: I knew a bit. I was pretty deep into the MMA world for a while, just watching it, enjoying it as a consumer. I was studying a different range of mixed martial arts for Black Panther. And a lot of that is very specific choreograph pieces for the world that is Wakanda. Us had more of a makeshift, everyday man kind of survival fighting. Jordan Peele doesn’t like it to look like anyone’s trained or it’s a specifically choreographed action sequence. You’re just a dad running for your life, and you don’t plan for any of this stuff.

With this movie, it was really kind of developing and creating a fight language using MMA in the rink and outside the rink. We focused on what he is like in the ring. Fighting another opponent who’s trained to fight him in that formal MMA way. Then we contrasted that with what Hawk is like when he just has to bang around with some guys on the street. You know, he’s gonna put someone through a wall, he’s gonna lift them up, that kind of a thing. The whole film feels very much like an homage to those 1980’s punch-you-in-the-face, blow-em-up, bang-around-guys. Kind of like a film like 48 Hrs. where, at the end of the day, it’s just getting punched in the face and getting knocked out. You know, something’s gonna blow up and we’re gonna use brute force to get through it all.


Did you ever see yourself acting in movies like that – action, fight films? 

No, I just wanted to tell cool stories. I never actually saw myself being in a movie with Mark Wahlberg. He was so outside my reach. And then to one day, I get a phone call from him saying, “Hey, I love your work. I’ve been watching you. I really want you to come and play with us. We’re gonna make something really cool. It’d be great if you could join us.”

Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg already have an established relationship, so how was it for you to step in and fit into their production?

They were very welcoming but it was still a challenge to establish not just my own fight language but just language within their space. I went back to re-watch a number of Peter Berg movies trying to isolate performances, performance styles and different things that spoke to me. I remember watching Lone Survivor and this guy, Ben Foster. I’m a big fan of his work. I remember he had so much resonance without using a lot of language. And I was like, “What’s this guy doing that so impactful?”

I started thinking about the juxtaposition of Ben’s performance to Peter’s cinematic style, which is a lot of things happening at once, a lot of frenetic kinetic energy. I watched Ben Foster’s performance in Lone Survivor, and I realized that he uses a lot of stillness and thought, in contrast to the cinematic style. I wanted to convey the same kind of thing with Hawk.

I wanted Hawk to feel like the one pillar of stability in a world that’s constantly moving, and in an aesthetic that was constantly moving. I wanted him to be very still, aware of his surroundings and communicating physically. We even cut some of my language back … because I could communicate some things with just a look. My whole goal at all times is to perform my characters as boldly as I can imagine. Sometimes that means less language because it leaves the audience wanting more. I’m always trying to see just how effective a character can be.


I would be remiss not to ask you about Black Panther. The film got released on streaming services and the #WakandaForever hashtag came back with a vengeance. Have you gotten used to the attention that that movie has brought to your personal life?

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s something new every day. At first, people were consuming it just one way, and then it blew into its own social and global movement. People were consuming me in a very particular way… We challenged them to think in a different way about it. People are still like grunting at me in like public bathrooms, thinking that’s the best way to get my attention [Laughs]. Like, just don’t approach me when I’m at the urinal, you know what I’m sayin’ [Laughs].

But it’s never lost on me that this movie and this character has essentially launched my career. It just keeps growing and reaching so many more people, and everyone’s still hungry for the next iteration of it. That I’m excited to be a part of. But it’s also good to have been a part of something that gave Black people another language in which to express themselves.

It gave Black people fantasy when we are too often burdened with hyper-reality, you know what I mean … like social justice issues, like advocacy, reshaping our own narratives. It’s really good to sometimes have fantasy, to dress up, be Harry Potter fans for once, and live in a world that doesn’t feel too much like the one that we see every day. We deserve escapism, too.


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Shot By Manuel Martinez

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