The original ‘Black Panther’

Port Elizabeth-raised actor and playwright John Kani stars in the upcoming movie ‘Black Panther’.

PE’s John Kani stars in the upcoming movie, writes Lee-Anne Butler.

South Africans are already giddy with excitement following the release of the teaser trailer for the upcoming movie Black Panther – including two of its stars, celebrated Port Elizabeth-raised actor and playwright John Kani and his son Atandwa.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe production centres on the original story of the Black Panther character who was introduced to the Avengers squad in the 2016 movie, Captain America: Civil War.

As Kani explains, the movie is “something like a prequel” as some events are set before the events of Captain America: Civil War, in which he also appeared as King T’Chaka of Wakanda.

“As you know, this is my second time working with Marvel. Last year I appeared as the king of this wonderful fictional country called Wakanda,” he said.

“We do not know much about Wakanda, except that it is located north east of Nigeria. In that movie I got to work with Scarlett Johannson and of course it was there where I died in an explosion, while doing a presentation to the United Nations,” he said.

“This is an original story about the homeland where Black Panther is from. My character is the original Black Panther, so we see him in his younger days as well.”

Kani said the studio were looking to cast an actor to play him in his younger flashback scenes when his agent recommended his son. Atandwa did a screen test and was cast.

“This is not the first time we have been cast together. We also worked together in The Suit, an adaptation of a Can Themba short story, and I also directed him in Othello. Although we never share a scene together, it was wonderful being there and sharing the experience together.”

And thanks to Kani, isiXhosa also features in Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.

“Before my character dies in Civil War I speak briefly alone to my son [Chadwick Boseman]. I asked the director why I would speak to my son in English.

“He asked me to suggest a language and I said some words to him in isiXhosa. That is how the official language of this fictional place called Wakanda has become isiXhosa.

“Atandwa and myself, we have become cultural and language advisers on set. Even after I arrived home, the other actors sent voice notes and asked for advice on how certain words must be said. They ask ‘help how to say something like this’ while others are asking how to say the click sounds,” he said.

The film also stars another South African, former Rhythm City actress Connie Chiume. Other cast members include Boseman as the title character, alongside Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis.

Kani said many of the other American actors, like Bassett, Jordan and Whitaker had arrived on set in Atlanta before him.

“When I arrived on that set I was received like royalty. The producers announced my arrival by saying, ‘ Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to John Kani’. They read what I had done in the past as if they were reading my eulogy.

“The other actors came up to me telling me they had attended my talks at UCLA and elsewhere. They came up to me and remembered my past work with great respect.”

Kani said one of the biggest challenges for actors was doing most scenes in front of blue or green screens where the background would eventually be filled in with visual effects.

“To be 74 and to still be in this business is like absolute magic. But this magic is a challenge when you have to pretend to be standing in front of a waterfall, or in the middle of a forest, or surrounded by various animals. All you see are blinking lights.”

Kani said he had promised his wife, Mandi, that they would attend the premiere of Black Panther after he skipped the Civil War premiere due to other commitments.

Kani said he was now working on an Afrikaans translation of Driving Miss Daisy with local actress Sandra Prinsloo, titled So Ry Miss Daisy.

“The last time I worked with Sandra on a theatre piece, Miss Julie, in 1985, I got into serious trouble for kissing her on stage.

“I was arrested and detained and there were disruptions of the production.

“It was even mentioned in parliament by the government back then. It was really big.”

Kani said he continued to work as it was his passion.

“You get calls and get asked where you have a gap. There is no time to rest. It is the same as a reading habit. This is my habit.

“When I have a break, I write a play or I visit PE, which is still my home. I can make it anywhere but making it at home is where it matters,” Kani said.

He said having Whites Road named after him was one of the biggest honours he had ever received.

Atandwa, 33, said he was anxious, nervous and excited about the release of the movie after seeing the teaser trailer.

“The nerves have definitely started to kick in because as actors we have all put our heart and soul into it and so we are nervous about how it will be received. Simply because we are so passionate about it,” he said.

Regarding the stellar cast, he said: “It was an eye-opener for me to see just how friendly everyone was. They were just so nice and warm and I was not actually expecting that. They have worked hard to get where they are.”

Atandwa said there would be more trailers and snippets from the movie in the coming months.

He said he was the only one of seven siblings to follow their father into acting.

“I remember helping him with his lines when I was younger and helping him with his scripts. Reading Shakespeare back then became my norm.”

Atandwa is busy rehearsing to appear in a production of Poison in Bloemfontein, but for now he is based in New York, where his wife Fikile is studying acting.

Filming for Black Panther wrapped in April and it is set for release in February next year.

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