IN CONVERSATION WITH CHUKWUDI IWUJI
Interview by Jana Letonja
British/Nigerian actor Chukwudi Iwuji is making his Marvel debut as the big bad villain High Evolutionaryin ‘Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3’, premiering on 5th May. Last year, Chukwudi also made his DC debut in the hilariously chaotic DC Comics and HBOMax series ‘Peacemaker’.
Chukwudi, you’re making your Marvel debut in the ‘Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 3’. How excited were you when you got cast on this film and joind the Marvel family?
I am beyond excited. It’s still impossible for me to put it into words, even now 2 years on from first finding out I would be part of it, and a year after filming. I guess the closest I can come to describing it is saying that I’m experiencing it through the reactions of those closest and dearest to me, the people that have sort of been on this journey with me. There was a wonderful moment during the premiere when I looked down the row I was sat on. My wife, some family, best friend and team were all sat there looking up at the screen, completely into it watching me up there, and I thought “Yeah, this is good. It really is”.
In Guardians you’ll portray the big bad villain High Evolutionary. What is the most exciting thing about your character and his story?
His completely unapologetic, single-minded focus coupled with his narcissistic sense of entitlement.
What can you tease with us about this highy anticipated film?
I think I can safely say that whatever you have loved about this motley crew of loveable misfits and their journey, you can expect to experience it by the nth degree. Expect to laugh harder, cry more, whoop louder and leave with a deep sense of arrival.
Last year you also made your DC Comics debut in the series ‘Peacemaker’. Not many actors get an opportunity to star in both a DC and Marvel project. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
Honestly, I never imagined I would be part of these universes. I was a fan and was happy to be just that while my career carried on elsewhere. I have to really credit James Gunn. This whole industry is a subjective thing, at best. I am just so grateful that James responds to my work and has chosen to bring me along on this journey. No amount of planning or rigour would have forced me into this position. He saw something in me and has practically changed my life. So I guess, I ruminate most on gratitude.
You’re also a theater veteran, having starred in many theater productions. For your numerous Shakespearean performances as an associate artist of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company you received two Olivier awards. What is the most special thing about Shakespeare’s theater productions for you?
Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. His strength wasn’t story, but understanding of human nature and the awareness that while the world might change, humanity keeps repeating itself, making the same mistakes over and over again. Hamlet says to the players the ‘purpose of playing’ is ‘to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature’. And no one has ever done this as well as Shakespeare. I love that I can do something I love so much and at the same time look into myself, while the audiences do the same. It is a powerful thing to use art to collectively try, albeit most of the time unsuccessfully, to figure out what this whole rat race called life is all about.
What kind of roles and projects challenge you the most?
I am most challenged by the roles that have me scratching my head as to why someone would want me to play it. If I’m genuinely taken by surprise, I usually have the most fun bringing the character to life. If I’m stretching myself, my imagination, then I am most likely tapping into parts of myself that I don’t normally tap into. I am farthest from the safety of home and truly being a voyager, which is what I got into this crazy business in the first place for.
If one asked you what project have you always dreamt of working on, what would it be?
I have been influenced by so many performances, in so many different kinds of stories over so many mediums that I couldn’t answer that. I dreamed of acting these different roles since I was a kid. I can only dream that the roles that come my way in the future continue to surprise me.
You are of Nigerian descent. How important do you think is diversity in DC and Marvel franchises, and in entertainment industry in general?
Diversity is key in not just this, but all industries. Let’s just put that out there. Specifically to this one, it still boggles my mind how lacking in diversity something that is supposed to be consumed by ‘All’ has been. It is fantastic that both DC and Marvel are leading the way in making different people of different cultures, races and so forth see themselves on the big screen. Magic, heroics and fantasy are becoming more and more attributes that any kid from Lagos to Calcutta can associate with, and that is just a beautiful and crucial shift. And if I am proud of something, and allow myself a little pat on the back, it is that I am now part of that shift.
People describe you as someone with a fun sense of humor. But do you see yourself as an actor in comedies? If yes, why so? And if no, why so?
Honestly I am terrified of playing comedy. I have appeared in funny shows before, but I tend to play the straight character, whose comedy exists as being the foil or in the form of wit. When I watch comedians I am in awe of them. But, it doesn’t make sense because humor and laughter have always been such a big part of my life. Most people who know me would say I’m pretty funny. I don’t know, I think I just need to face my fear and do a few more comedies to vanquish the fear. I would love to have a go at comedy.
We would love to hear more about your upcoming projects. Can you share more about where will we be seeing you in next?
You will certainly be seeing me in the upcoming season of ‘Evil’ on Paramount +. As for other projects, not to make it sound like I’ve signed the official secrets act, but we are playing things pretty close to the chest for now till everything is lined up. Hopefully, it will be a surprise.
photography PETER YANG