Black Panther’s Breakout Star Winston Duke Talks about his Caribbean Roots and More.


Did you see Winston Duke in Trinidad for carnival? I heard someone say he was coming. Okay, that was probably me saying that because he told me he wanted to come. But no, he wasn’t here. The 6’5” tall, Soca-loving Winston Duke has never played mas. A son of the soil from Argyle, Tobago, and playing mas is still on his things-to-do list. But he’s always working around carnival time. He’s an actor whose career is full throttle after the release of his first blockbuster film, Black Panther. If you follow Winston on social media, you know he loves his native Trinidad and Tobago. But getting back to the Caribbean paradise: exquisite beaches and crab and dumpling isn’t so easy. He has already worked on his second Marvel Studios film, and I almost couldn’t catch up with the rising star for an interview. But I did, and we talked about many things including why he would live in Wakanda.

Winston Duke as a boy is at Pigeon Point in Tobago

Winston Duke had Boy Days. Catching crabs during spawning season is one of Winston’s fondest memories of Tobago. “I was eight or nine at the time,” recalls Winston, “and for a week or so I was allowed to stay up extra late with family and friends with my stick and rice bag catching these little guys as they made their way back from the ocean after releasing their eggs.” He also remembers the endless laughter when anyone got pinched by a crab, competing with his friends over the amount and size of crabs, and then cooking them.

Winston Duke Prepared for This Moment. He studied Theater at the University at Buffalo, and graduated from the Yale School of Drama. The journey from the peaceful island of Tobago to repertory theatre, and roles on American television shows to the big Hollywood screen has been his own. Throughout, he regards his mom’s advice: “where horse reach, jackass soon follow.” Whether fast or slow, continue to move forward to one’s destination because it’s not the swift but who can endure wins his race.

Winston Duke Can Keep a Secret. He makes his film debut in Black Panther, the first black superhero film from Marvel Studios. Imagine the first days and months after accepting the role in a film of this magnitude. Was he even able to sleep? “Sleeping wasn’t the problem,” says Winston. It was remaining silent. He literally had to go off the grid so that he didn’t let the gorilla gods out the bag before it was time. “The level of secrecy with this project is a 10 out of 10,” explains Winston. “So, I was not even allowed to tell friends or family. All I could say was that something big was in the works. That was the hardest thing to do ever. I didn’t take any calls even after there was a leak about my casting.”

Winston Duke as M’Baku. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman who plays T’Challa, the prince of the technologically advanced African nation, Wakanda. T’Challa returns to take his rightful role as king after the death of his father, and must release Black Panther to defeat his enemies. Winston’s character, M’Baku is a ruthless leader of the Jabari tribe. M’Baku believes in his people and is displeased with the direction the country is moving. He is one of the tribal leaders in Wakanda who is at odds with T’Challa. The film also stars Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, and Guyana-born Letitia Wright. It had one of the biggest movie opening weekends ever in history.

Winston Duke on Location. Black Panther was filmed in Atlanta over the course of a few months. Winston says Atlanta, “it was awesome.” From the big city, small town feel to the thriving Caribbean community to meeting other artists like Janelle Monae.

Winston Duke and Bad Guys. Winston is no stranger to flawed characters, such as his role on the American TV drama series, Person of Interest, and as warrior M’Baku in Black Panther. But Winston takes issue right away with my description. “They aren’t bad guys, just a skewed view of the world. It doesn’t make them bad,” says Winston, “it just makes them misunderstood. This is not to say that their actions are always honorable and justifiable, but they don’t play by the rules. They often have a great sense of self-worth and refuse to be defined by anyone else, which in that sense makes them people you can respect.” Winston declares, “I’m proud to say that I have never played a bad guy.”

Winston Duke Stays Grounded. “The journey has been filled with great moments, and a lot of learning experiences,” says Winston. He acknowledges the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) family, and people like fellow actor Tom Hiddleston (Avengers: Infinity War) who helped him stay focused. As he talks about making the film and coming from Tobago, he is reminded of his grandmother. “My grandmother died long before I was born. But my uncle Kenneth would always take me every year to landscape the gravesite, light candles, listen to stories, and be reminded of who she was. The whole experience kept me grounded.”

Winston Duke in Wakanda. Everything about the fictional Kingdom of Wakanda appeals to Winston, “thanks to all the talented creators from Stan Lee to Reginald Hudlin to Ta-Nehisi Coates and now Ryan Coogler in the MCU.” Wakanda is “a world,” continues Winston, “that has not been shaped by colonialism and white supremacy and not governed by all the restrictions, imagery and internalized narratives that come with those constructs.” It seems that, the zeitgeist of the world today, not only Winston, but many wish to live in Wakanda.

Six Things You Don’t Know About Winston Duke:

(1) He listens to Soca music almost every day. It’s his happy place.

(2) His go-to power snacks are peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

(3) He works out five to six days a week.

(4) His phone is an Android.

(5) He drives a SUV.

(6) The last time he had a roti was in Brooklyn in August.

Winston Duke on the Red Carpet. One last thing about Winston. Whether it’s on a movie set or a red carpet, Winston has his “Bago boy rag” with him. Represent Winston Duke, represent. Your fans and friends in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean diaspora are rooting for you.

Winston character M'baku is also in the next Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War which premieres April 27.

 

By: Nigel Barto

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Instagram: @nigelbarto