Daniel Kaluuya is riding into the Oscars on a Black Panther high.
Consider his 2018 so far. Kaluuya, 28, scored his first best actor nomination, thanks to his deft turn in the social thriller Get Out. This weekend, the British actor takes to the screen in Black Panther (in theaters Friday) as W’Kabi, the head of security and right-hand man to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the king of Wakanda.
There are no worlds more diametrically opposed than Get Out‘s Sunken Place (where his character is trapped by a white family) and Black Panther’s Wakanda (a technologically advanced society that masquerades as a third-world country).
On the set, “Wakanda feels like what Africa feels like,” he says. “It’s heightened but that energy, that vibrance, that unpredictability. So it was amazing to be around it.”
Kaluuya has been racking up stellar roles with the industry’s leading black directors, from Ryan Coogler, who burst on the scene with Fruitvale Station, proved his box-office mettle with Creed and has wowed critics with Black Panther, to Steve McQueen, who directs Kaluuya in Widows, the upcoming heist thriller starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson.
“When I heard about the Daniel nomination, that’s the one that really broke me.That’s the one that made me cry,” says Get Out director/screenwriter Jordan Peele, whose film earned four Academy Awards nominations, including best picture. “I can’t overexaggerate how much kinship I feel with that guy.”
Kaluuya says he simply makes movies he wants to see, which has invariably led him to directors of color. “I just want to tell stories that empower people around me,” he says. “That are actually around me that I see today, people that WhatsApp me and text me. People in my life.”
Black excellence permeates Black Panther, which is first Marvel film to star a predominantly black cast and employed a mostly African-American crew behind the camera. “What happened with the crew was it was being reflected on the screen,” says Kaluuya. “This detail, this richness of different worlds.”
“There’s a waterfall scene where Chad came out for the coronation and I got chills, man,” he says. “I’ve never seen this before something of this scale. I was like, this is revolutionary in terms of imagery.”
The hype is huge. Black Panther boasts a 99% fresh rating from critics on review site Rotten Tomatoes. Analysts are predicting a $120 million to $150 million haul at the weekend box office, which could best the record for a February release set by 2016’s Deadpool ($132.4 million opening weekend).
Will a superhero-sized win for representation change the kind of films Hollywood greenlights?
“I don’t want to say we can do it, because I know we can do this. I don’t want to be pleading. It’s just like, do you get it? OK, let’s go, let’s build, let’s make something, let’s reflect the world,” says Kaluuya.
Still, the Academy’s love for Get Out was a shock. “I just wasn’t prepared. I signed up for an indie horror film, you just don’t expect to be at the Oscars as a result of it.”
But he’s just as loyal to Wakanda as W’Kabi. Just try asking him how they shot a scene of his character astride an armored rhino.
“It was a rhino!” he teases. “I did loads of rhino training. I was rolling with the rhinos, don’t worry about it. I’ll put it on my (résumé) now.”