Sterling K. Brown Almost Had His Challenge Day as M'Baku in Black Panther, but Ryan Coogler Had Other Ideas

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Black Panther Sterling K. Brown M'Baku N'Jobu Ryan Coogler Black Actors Auditions Winston Duke This Is Us

IT’S CHALLENGE DAY—Well, it was for Sterling K. Brown. Almost.

The This Is Us actor chatted with Variety and gave insight into how he became N’Jobu in Black Panther, particularly pointing out how he originally auditioned for M’Baku. As we know, the part of T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) challenger eventually went to the bombastic brick house known as Winston Duke, but Sterling had his eyes on the role first. Plus, he thought taking off his shirt was fun. It’s fun watching, too, FYI.

But, Ryan Coogler would not have it! I said, he would not have it-oh!

“I originally went in for M’Baku, and I had fun with it; I was taking my shirt off and I was like, ‘Yeah, come mess with this cad, see if you can handle it!’” Sterling recalled. “They were laughing, and [Ryan] was like, ‘Look man, you had a great audition, I don’t know if the timetable necessarily works out with your TV show or whatnot, but I’ve got this role of N’Jobu that I need a real actor for, and if you vibe with it, maybe it’s something you’d consider doing.’”

Brown eventually learned N’Jobu only appeared in a couple of scenes, but his presence was significant and vastly felt. (Editor’s note: And was pretty much the catalyst for all the action, so there’s that.) As they say, “there are no small parts; only small actors.”

“It was only a couple of scenes, but he has such a strong perspective—and a perspective with which I can relate to in terms of the emancipation of black people across the globe and allowing them to have a position of power globally,” Sterling noted. “And knowing that I, as a prince of this country, have access to materials that could give black people to access to opportunity by any means necessary, it seems like it was a justifiable position. And I loved that it was such a strong perspective just from those two scenes that I was like, ‘Bro, however I can be a part of this, please let me be a part of it.’”

That warring of emotions onscreen was natural, since at the time, Brown was also taping the “Memphis” episode of This Is Us (aka, the episode that makes even the non-criers cry).

Of course, now, we can’t imagine either man (Sterling or Winston) in any other Black Panther role than the ones they played. Especially in Winston’s case, since M’Baku is probably the best thing that has happened to him and his career. Divine order.

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