Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star in Jordan Peele’s horror film “Us,” about a family facing invaders during a summer getaway.
Being a Wakandan warrior in “Black Panther” and the “Avengers” movies, Winston Duke is wowed by the expansive spectacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What’s equally impressive for him, though – and way more frightening – is the dizzying intellectual scope of Jordan Peele’s “Us.”
The new horror film kicks off South By Southwest film festival in Austin Friday night and arrives in theaters March 22. Duke stars with Lupita Nyong’o (his “Black Panther” castmate and fellow Yale graduate), Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as a family on a beachside California getaway who are faced with their terrifying doppelgangers.
The follow-up to Peele’s popular social thriller “Get Out” interrogates our culture and also explores constructs of power and privilege. “What if your privilege manifested like this and the underprivileged essentially had an opportunity to visit you?” Duke says. “It’s really about how you see yourself. This is an American film but by holding a mirror up to America, you then wonder what the juxtaposition of America is through the world. It paints an interesting picture.”
After “Us,” Duke returns to Wakanda to play Jabari tribe leader M’Baku in “Avengers: Endgame” (out April 26), and next year will share the screen with Mark Wahlberg, who plays novelist Robert B. Parker’s famous Boston detective Spenser, in the Netflix crime drama “Wonderland.”
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Duke, 32, chats with USA TODAY about pulling double duty playing Gabe Wilson and his malevolent lookalike Abraham in “Us,” the status of “Black Panther 2,” and if he gets to meet Marvel’s newest powerhouse, Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel.
Question: Filming “Us,” were the Gabe days easier than the Abraham days?
Winston Duke: It’s usually incredibly taxing to go to the place where Abraham lives psychologically. Gabe was a lot easier to jump into because of his personality: He’s very communicative, very boisterous and talkative. He gets to express himself; Abraham doesn’t express himself in conventional means.
Q: In the “Us” trailer, you’re singing along to the 1990s hip-hop song “I Got 5 on It.” Did you listen to certain music to prepare for each persona?
Duke: I definitely leaned into more eerie soundscapes a lot of the time for Abraham. I listened to violins playing (and) screaming. I was attracted to a lot of weird sounds. … Gabe’s music was a lot of late ’80s hip-hop and some disco and ’90s R&B – just really good, feel-good music. Gabe’s personality is based a lot around staying positive, working hard, and that’s enough to get you where you need to go in life and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. So he’s sometimes inhumanly positive, in all the best and worst ways.
Q: What was it like being in not one but two “Avengers” movies?
Duke: I always feel like a kid when I’m in Marvel Land. I’m throwing people, jumping off of things and bouncing off of stuff. I used to do that when I was 5 years old, 7 years old, and now I’m being paid to do it as an adult. So I can pretend to be someone else but I’ve always been making those weird noises, I’ve always been having all that fun. The last time I was on set, it was gigantic and it was an entire day of just physical work from start to finish.
Q: Captain Marvel makes her debut this weekend. Does M’Baku get some face time with her in “Endgame”?
Duke: (Laughs) I see you, that was slick. I can’t give anything away! That’s actually I think the best question I’ve ever been asked that could have led to a major slip-up. I’m impressed.
Q: OK, here’s an easier one: How was it playing Hawk in “Wonderland” and taking on Avery Brooks’ tough-guy role from ’80s “Spenser: For Hire” show?
Duke: Our Hawk is a bruiser with a heart of gold. He’s a young man that’s looking for a home, looking for family, and he finds that with Spenser. It’s a really cool story about two unlikely friends brought together by fate who essentially decide to take the world on together.
Q: So where are we at with a “Black Panther” sequel? We need to see more of M’Baku tossing people around.
Duke: I’ll probably hear about it just like you. I am excited. We just got a really great peek into Wakanda (in the first movie) and people loved it and we loved making it. We went into this project as actors and then we came out of it as ambassadors for this fictional world, and that’s never lost on me how meaningful that is. “Wakanda Forever” isn’t just a phrase from a movie, it really has become a cultural movement.
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