One of the challenges of developing the cinematic world of Black Panther was dialect – deciding on the accent and inflection of Wakandan speech. Lots of hard work went into developing the language of Wakanda. Only no one told Sterling K. Brown.
Brown, you recall, plays N’Jobu, a character who plays an essential role in an early flashback in the film. According to a recent interview with Variety, Brown was busy filming This Is Us at the same time as he was shooting Black Panther, a conflict that led to some miscommunication.
“At the time of shooting we were also shooting the “Memphis” episode of This Is Us so I was going back and forth from one heavy thing to another,” he told Variety. “No one had necessarily communicated to me that there was a specific accent that we were going for until I showed up on set. I had worked on this whole other thing… So you go back to the drawing board, you sit in your hotel room and you listen to accent tapes and the dialogue coach’s suggestions and you just do it over and over again until you feel like it’s right.”
N’Jobu’s use of a Wakandan accent is essential to that scene, and there’s something kind of tragicomic about the fact that no one thought to really tell the actor until the day of. Brown’s interview contains some more compelling little tidbits about his work on the film, including that he initially auditioned for M’Baku: “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!’ 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.’”
Even if Brown’s presence in the film ended up being minor in terms of screen time, it was an essential moment, and he was a great actor to play the part.