Letitia Wright was never a fan of comic books. A Guyana native turned Londoner, the “Humans” actress spent much of her childhood indoors, keeping to herself and surfing the Internet for movies to pass the time. She became hooked on the 2003 dance flick “Honey” — “I came home and did all the dance routines in all the scenes” — and “Like Mike” — “I asked my mom to buy the shoes because I wanted to be [Bow Wow]” — but it wasn’t until she watched Keke Palmer and Angela Bassett in “Akeelah and the Bee” that she realized just how much she wanted to act.
Fast forward 11 years and Wright, 23, is starring alongside Bassett in Marvel’s latest superhero film, “Black Panther,” due out February 2018. She plays Princess Shuri, the half-sister of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and eventual Queen of Wakanda. Though she knew nothing of the character originally, Wright was knowledgeable enough about the film industry to recognize that the role could be her biggest yet.
“I knew that the comic book world was dominated by a lot of actors that didn’t look like me and I knew that this would be special,” she says. “The fact that it’s a comic book about a superhero that’s from Africa is, like, come on. ‘Luke Cage’ just broke Netflix, so it was a no-brainer that this would be something that people wanted to see. I never was interested [in comic books], but now that we’re in this world for our film, I’m definitely full attention to it.”
Without any comic book back knowledge to draw from, Wright depended on the film’s script and her own ability to improvise. “I wanted to be instinctual about it,” she says. “Ryan [Coogler, the director and screenwriter] is very intuitive with writing and the character, so that’s how I prepared.” She practiced the South African Xhosa accent and watched a lot of documentaries about young people “who are very innovative and inspiring to our society.” And then, there was the physical preparation.
“Without giving too much away, it was definitely a lot. I was stretched,” she admits. “It was a challenge and I’m looking forward to you seeing how that resulted in some kick-ass stuff.”
In addition to “Black Panther,” Wright has two other films due out in 2018: “The Commuter” with Liam Neeson and Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.” Wright calls Neeson “a cool guy, very chill,” but not chill enough to skateboard with her.
“He had my back when it came to acting, he had my back when it came to the scene, but he didn’t have my back when I wanted him to do an ollie,” she jokes, referring to the popular skateboarding trick. But even she doesn’t do too many ollies these days. “When you have insurance on your life, you can’t do that.”
Acting has taken the front seat for the foreseeable future, but Wright says there was a period of time she thought she’d never act again. She actually turned down a role in a film with Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning (the name of which her rep declined to reveal) — one of the hardest choices she’s made, but one she felt was necessary so she could “spend time with Jesus.”
A devout Christian, Wright describes her relationship with God by likening it to a romantic one. “Say you want to be with someone and you’re doing something that they don’t really like,” she says. “They’re gonna ask you to stop it, just for a moment to take a look at them, to see them clearly. That’s what God wanted for me.” So she gave a few things up, including the role with Kidman and Fanning, but found that the time she sacrificed came back tenfold.
“I gave my life to Christ and I thought that would be it for me and he was, like, ‘No, you’re not finished with acting, acting is not finished with you. This is your talent, go back into it, but you’re going back into it with a heart that’s not obsessive over it,'” she says. “As soon as I was obedient to just taking a chance on God, all of these things that you’re seeing — ‘Black Panther’ or ‘Humans’ or ‘The Commuter’ or Steven Spielberg — it came right after I took that break.”
Wright is happy to once again be doing what she loves — in healthy doses — as is her mother, who sent her to acting classes every Saturday while the family was still living in Guyana. “She plays the ‘Black Panther’ trailer five times [a day],” Wright says. “No lie, I was in the bathroom and I heard [the trailer] and I’m like, ‘Mom, are you playing it again?’ She’s so proud. It was such a journey to get here. It was tears, it was days of wanting to quit and now, it’s that moment where there’s a lot of joy, so it’s dope.”
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