The Physicality of Black Panther's M'Baku Almost Cost Winston Duke His Us Role

Duke as M’Baku in Black Panther and Gabe in Us.
Image: Marvel Studios, Universal

Black Panther shot Winston Duke to the stars, thanks to his immense presence— not just his scene-stealing swagger, but the fact that he is literally six-foot-five and 230 pounds. But the physicality that made M’Baku such a commanding presence in Black Panther was almost too much for Jordan Peele to imagine Duke in Us.

Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter as part of an extensive profile on the actor, Peele briefly discussed encountering Duke in person at the 2018 Oscars. The actor had introduced himself to the director as a fan of his work, and at the time, Peele was looking for someone to join Lupita Nyong’o—not just Duke’s co-star in Black Panther, but also fellow Yale alum—with a starring role in Us, his sophomore directorial project after Get Out.

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Like the rest of us, Peele was enamored with the charm Duke displayed as M’Baku in Black Panther, but at the same time, he was initially concerned that casting the actor as Gabe, the father in Us’ family unit beset by creepy doppelgängers ,might make the horror...slightly less horrifying for the audience:

It would take away from our ability to feel afraid [for the family] if they have M’Baku on their side. [But] Winston had this charisma that just stole scenes and really left an impression.

Basically, Duke was too goddamn beefy to initially be conceived as being in danger. But, as Peele continued, Winston’s charisma won out, and as we know now, he got the role.

At first, it might seem funny to think that such a great, physically dominant performance in Black Panther might have cost Duke his chance at the role. But it’s something that, Duke notes elsewhere in the profile, is a reflection of how he wants to challenge in his career as an actor:

I loved playing M’Baku, but that’s not who I am. I want to convey the full spectrum of masculinity. I want people to say that this guy helped change the definition of masculinity onscreen 40 years from now. I’m trying to be that person.

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Being the ginormously muscled leader of the Jabari in Wakanda is one thing, but seeing Duke shine in roles in varied roles beyond it is just as satisfying.


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James Whitbrook

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!