Black Panther: Bringing Shuri to Life

Breakout Black Panther star Letitia Wright on playing T’Challa’s tech genius sister.

Black Panther isn’t even out yet and Letitia Wright is getting all the buzz as the film’s scene-stealing breakout star. The Guyana-born British actress is appearing in a total of four films this year (including a tiny role in last month’s The Commuter and a part in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One), but her most high-profile performance arrives this week in director Ryan Coogler’s African superhero adventure.

In the new Marvel blockbuster, Wright plays Shuri, the high-spirited younger sister of newly minted Wakandan king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). In addition to being her nation’s crown princess, she is also its resident technological genius, working in her lab to create new advances for Wakanda and new gadgets for her brother and his security force, the Dora Milaje. To use a comparison that’s been aired a lot, she is the “Q” to T’Challa’s James Bond, but she also is helping to lead Wakanda even further into the future than most other countries on Earth.

Shuri, T’Challa and their allies face their gravest menace yet in Black Panther, one that threatens the future of Wakanda itself, and there’s an even larger danger looming in this May’s Avengers: Infinity War, in which Shuri will once again fight at her brother’s side, this time against the reality-destroying Mad Titan Thanos. Den of Geek spoke with Wright at the press day for Black Panther, at which we also had the honor of delivering to her (courtesy of the marketing department) a little Shuri action figure.

Den of Geek: How does it feel to have your own action figure?

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Letitia Wright: To be honest, it feels really cool. I screamed when I first saw it at Comic-Con and now I’m going to scream again, but we’re doing an interview. Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s really an amazing … Yeah, I think it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m a toy, so I’m just playing it cool but really I’m like, “Oh, this is amazing.”

Do you think about the fact that little girls are going to see these toys whereas a few years back, nothing like this was really in the shelves?

Yeah, I do think about it and it makes me proud for all the girls around the world. We have a lot of Disney princesses and stuff. But just to have this be a contribution to all the toys, the female toys out there, to make the little girls go, “Yeah. We’re included and we’re having fun too,” is such a blessing.

So yeah, man. This is amazing. This is really amazing.

You are in four movies this year. Do you feel like you’re kind of trying to catch up with your life in a way?

With Black Panther, I feel like I’m trying to catch up because I’m trying to catch up with everybody’s responses and everybody’s excitement, also my excitement. So my body is doing interviews and press and traveling but my mind is like, “Okay, wow.” I haven’t caught up to it yet and being able to be a part of four projects this year is really a blessing because it’s just all work from last year and the year before. So it’s just a result of hard work and just really putting my head down and working.

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I’m that type of person. I would let films come out and projects come out and then I’ll go back into a little hiding place and just do the work and then it comes out again. So it’s this is the bit where everything is just at the forefront and these are the biggest ones I’ve done so far in my career. So this is a really big moment. So yeah, it’s good. It just shows when you apply yourself correctly and you dedicate yourself, a lot of good things can happen. So that’s what’s happening now.

What was your introduction to the world of Black Panther and Shuri? Were you familiar with them at all?

I wasn’t familiar. I knew that they were making a Black Panther film and I knew I wanted to watch it and I clicked on IMDB and I said, “I’m gonna watch it.” I knew that, yeah, they’re going to make a film about it, but I didn’t think I would go up for it. And I went up for it and I sent two tapes whilst I was in London. I live in London and I was doing a show out there. I sent two tapes and then they asked for me to come to Atlanta and to do a screen test with Chad.

Prior to that, I really never imagined that I would be a part of it. Then I met them and it kind of confirmed it that I would be a part of it. Then I went out to Atlanta and did another screen test with Chad and since then, they were just like, “We would love for you to be a part of it,” and I’ve been a part of it ever since then and I worked hard on set alongside Chad and Ryan. The journey to it was a good one. It felt right. It’s just the right thing. Everything fit, came together really nicely so yeah.

What was your vision for Shuri?

My vision of her at the beginning, I thought she was going to be very serious because it’s an action film and you’re a warrior and you’re princess and you’ve got to be very serious. I thought she was going to be very serious, but me, myself as Letitia, I don’t take a lot of stuff too serious. I try to find the joy and the love and the light in life and that’s what Ryan wanted. Because Shuri has a big responsibility in the comic books. She takes over and she’s kind of like a really intense leader. But Ryan didn’t want that.

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From the beginning, he was just like, we’re starting off with her being a kid, a teenager, and she has to be light and love and he just wanted me to bring my own positivity that I have naturally to the role and that’s how we applied it. I stayed very closely to the script and I watched a lot of documentaries about kids, particularly young girls who love technology and I wanted to do it for them. Because I saw that they were dealing with some of the struggles that maybe Shuri had to deal with. Maybe her mom was … I know sometimes her mom would say, “Why don’t you love tradition a little bit more? Why do you love the tribal stuff a little bit more?” and “Why are you always in your lab?” I imagine that her mom would say that to her and then she’d have to just be like, “You know what, mom, I wanna do this.”

So I did it for them, those girls that were maybe being told by other people, “You’re a girl. You don’t need to be doing this.” So I did it for them and that’s how I kind of pieced the character together, amongst other things. Amongst other techniques and things and accents. But piecing her together, getting to the core of why does she love technology and science so much? Why does she love her nation so much? And I found out when I watched the documentaries of the kids, that’s what they were striving for, to make their country better, and their motivation became Shuri’s motivation.

So we might see you put on the suit in Black Panther 2 or Black Panther 3.

Oh man, it would be amazing just to earn that spot. But she has to earn it. Her being T’Challa’s Q is still amazing.

You’re in Infinity War as well.


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I know they won’t let you talk too much about it, but what were you most excited about doing or seeing on that set?

There’s like 80 superheroes. I was excited about how Shuri was going to help out in a very big scene, which you will see in May.

Black Panther is out in theaters this Friday (February 16).