Few lucky actors have the opportunity to audition for historic box office hits from the Marvel or Star Wars universes, and if they do, they might not even know it. That was the case for Winston Duke, one of Black Panther’s several breakout stars, who plays the sly and incredulous M’Baku.
In a new interview with GQ, Duke discusses his tenuous journey to become one of Hollywood’s hottest up-and-comers, clocking in around 400 auditions since he graduated from Yale’s drama school. Eventually one of those try-outs, unbeknownst to him, was for a Star Wars movie. “I auditioned for [a movie with fake sides] that literally looked nothing like it would be for a space-opera adventure. Nothing that even seemed very futuristic. It felt more like a buddy-cop comedy. Kind of like 48 Hours,” he explained. “I found out months later it was a Star Wars audition.”
When it came to Black Panther, Duke similarly had no idea what he was reading for. “I was told by my agent and representative that I was going in for an ‘untitled Marvel project. ... I didn’t know what I was auditioning for until…maybe the third round of auditions. It was a director’s session, with [writer-director] Ryan Coogler and [executive producer] Nate Moore in the room. That’s when I realized it was Black Panther.”
In that third audition, Coogler spent 40 minutes with Duke directing him in a variety of ways. Duke was also sent to do a screen test with Panther star Chadwick Boseman. The two were told to wrestle, and being totally unprepared, Duke suffered a few wardrobe malfunctions. “I had these beads on my hand—like jewelry—and I wore boots and these cargo pants. And as we’re wrestling around, my pants split and my beads broke,” he told the mag. “And I was just like, ‘You know what, man? Go with it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Go with it. Champions adjust.’"
Nowadays, Duke isn’t completely in the dark about the films he’s auditioning for, though he may receive little notice before having to prep for an Avengers movie. “I’ll be told sometimes, like, two weeks before I have to shoot that I’m even in the movie,” he admitted. “You just have to be able to roll with the punches.”
One of those punches included having no idea how Avengers: Infinity War ends. “I learned while watching it. I didn’t get to read a script on that. I did not know a thing. I don’t think most of us knew.”
Duke is gearing up to star in Jordan Peele’s second feature Us alongside his Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong’o. “It’s definitely a Jordan Peele–brand movie,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, psychological, impactful experience. Peeleian—that’s gonna become a word in the film lexicon very soon. You’re gonna say, ‘Aw, man, this feels very Jordan Peeleian.’”
Read Winston Duke’s entire interview with GQ here.