The Woman King star Thuso Mbedu has been working towards a career in Hollywood just like her character, Nawi, trains to join the Agojie army of women warriors in the African historical epic.
Directed by Gina Prince-Blythwood and also starring Viola Davis (Nanisca), Lashana Lynch (Izogie), and John Boyega (King Ghezo), The Woman King is based on the true story of African women warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey, which was among the most powerful states in Africa during the 1700s and 1800s.
“Training really did inform my character a little bit, because for me personally, working towards Hollywood was something that I aspired to do from a very young age. Similarly, with my character Nawi, she’s always wanted to be part of the army because it’s a personal journey for her where she wants to be wanted, she wants to be admired. She wants to be seen as something of value,” Thuso Mbedu said at a Santa Barbara International Film Festival Cinema Society event.
“So finally, with me, I found my way here into this space where you’re working with people like Gina, working with people like Viola, and being in a story that’s so important, and I knew that would be impactful. Cut to Nawi, who’s also now in a world where she is with the people that she has always aspired to be. She has Nanisca, she has people like Izogie. But we have to train to get to where we want to be.”
Shooting the movie required some pretty intense physical training for Thuso Mbedu, who plays Nawi, a young woman who joins the army of Agojie women after refusing to be married off by her family.
That sense of putting in hard work in order to reap the benefits helped her identify with her character, Nawi.
“I was able to easily understand Nawi’s journey because I physically had to train to be Nawi,” she laughed. “I remember writing Gina an email… day two because I felt so overwhelmed. I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. Because during the audition, I had a physical and fitness test to determine whether I’d be able to do my own stunts or not. And for some reason, Danny, our stunt coordinator, and Gina thought I could, but getting into it and going, I am way over my head, is there a way to get a refund for this? But then also understanding that I needed to feel that because that’s exactly what my character would have felt at some point. And understanding that what I was doing to get ready for my character was actually nothing compared to what the real women who were in training to join the real-life army [would have gone through]. It was mind-blowing for me, and let me respect it all the more.”
The Woman King is now playing in select theaters from Sony.
Main Image: Thuso Mbedu courtesy of SBIFF.