Last week, I attempted to fan-cast T’Challa (the Black Panther) and his father, T’Chaka, of the African nation of Wakanda. I think I did a fair job. This week, let’s throw out a few casting ideas for three of T’Challa’s biggest foes.
I have to begin with Ulysses Klaw, since he was there “at the beginning”, so to speak, and was T’Challa’s first real enemy. Klaw was an assassin, hired by unscrupulous people anxious to exploit Wakanda’s natural resources — particularly, the rich deposits of vibranium ore. (Klaw also held a personal grudge against the Panther Clan.) When King T’Chaka refused to negotiate, Klaw killed him but was wounded by Prince T’Challa during his escape. Years later, Klaw’s mangled hand was replaced with a strange prosthetic device with a sonic force-blaster built into it. A later incident transformed Klaw’s body into “living sound”, while retaining his already twisted mind. He has since crossed paths many times with the Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, and other heroes.
Physically, Klaw is listed as 6’2″, 216 lbs. by Marvel’s wiki. I don’t know if that is supposed to be before his transformation, after it, or both. Either way, I don’t think it is necessary for the character to hold too closely to those stats, as long as he is in pretty good shape. When Klaw killed T’Chaka, I think he must’ve been at least in his mid-30s, based on the pics I’ve seen — maybe several years older. Plus, his transformation occurred during a battle with the Black Panther and the FF at least 10 years after the assassination of T’Chaka. I don’t expect a cinematic version to retain all of the comic-based history, but a 40-something Ulysses Klaw would be best. As for Klaw’s personality, he started out a vengeance-driven assassin, and he only became more maniacal and mentally unstable after he became a being of “living sound”. Not a nice person….
A few names have been suggested for Klaw, including Vince Cassell, Christoph Waltz, and Mads Mikkelsen. I think these three are all great choices! Then, of course, there is the fact that a pic of Andy Serkis from the upcoming Avengers movie looks suspiciously like Ulysses Klaw (pre-transformation). Serkis is another great (if perhaps surprising) choice. Plus, the character showing up there is a good indication that he is being introduced in anticipation of a larger(?) role in Black Panther. But, I have a couple other suggestions to add to the list:
Aaron Eckhart (5’10.75″,b.1968) may look rather familiar to genre fans. He was in The Core, Paycheck, The Dark Knight, Battle Los Angeles, Olympus Has Fallen, and I, Frankenstein. He’s a talented actor who has played some pretty intense roles (including a newly-minted supervillain). I think he could do a terrific job as Ulysses Klaw.
JD Cullum (?,b.1966) is not as widely known as some, but he has been around for many years. He appeared in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Lois & Clark”, “Sliders”, “24”, “Charmed”, “The Event”, The Lone Ranger. He’s also done some voice work for games including “Call of Duty 2”, “Ultimate Spider-Man”, and a couple editions of “Dissidia”. I couldn’t find his height listed, but he’s in the right age range. Klaw, anyone?
In case you aren’t familiar with the character, here’s the rundown. Erik Killmonger was born in Wakanda as N’Jadaka. When he was young, his father was coerced into helping Ulysses Klaw. When Klaw’s attack on Wakanda failed, N’Jadaka’s father died and T’Challa exiled his family. So, he harbors hatred for both T’Challa and Klaw. N’Jadaka moved to the U.S., changed his name to Erik Killmonger, and got an excellent education. Eventually, he reached out to T’Challa, who mercifully allowed him to move back to Wakanda. However, Killmonger became an agitator against what he saw as the modern influences of “white colonialism” and staged a coup d’etat, while T’Challa was away with the Avengers. Needless to say, T’Challa fought back and regained control of Wakanda, but Killmonger became a very dangerous and recurring adversary.
Killmonger is a large (6’6″,225 lbs.), very muscular man. Casting him is not easy, but I think being over 6′ tall and having a fairly muscular build is a good start. Like Black Panther prior to his recent enhancement, Killmonger’s strength, speed, etc., are at peak human levels, and his senses are superhumanly acute. These abilities are the result of ingesting (in potion form) a synthetic version of the Heart-Shaped Herb of the Panther Clan. Age-wise, I suspect he is about the same age as T’Challa, but I’m not sure. Maybe a few years older. He is very smart, having earned both a PhD in Engineering and an MBA from M.I.T. Not surprisingly, then, he is a gifted inventor (like T’Challa), along with being a charismatic political leader. His other skills & abilities include martial arts mastery, and he has even beaten the Black Panther in combat. In addition to conventional weapons, Killmonger uses trained leopards and sometimes dons high-tech Wakandan armor with various tools and weapons.
Now, back in 2012 when rumors were circulating about a possible Black Panther movie, some actors started making known their desire to be involved. Raw Leiba (6’3″,b.?) in particular campaigned for the part of Killmonger, even to the point of having pictures taken of him in a Killmonger costume. I think he would be a fantastic choice! Here are a couple more candidates:
I have mentioned Roger Cross (6’2.5″,b.1969) in one or two other fan-casting posts, so you know I like him. He has been in a lot of genre fare, including “X-Files”, “Stargate SG-1”, “First Wave”, “Star Trek: Enterprise”, “24”, “Fringe”, “Eureka”, and more recently in “Continuum”, “Arrow”, and “The Strain”. He has a nice deep voice and can be quite menacing. He’s also in good physical shape, already. The only real drawback is that he is in his mid-40s, which is quite a bit older than our preferred 30ish Black Panther. However, the age difference between the two characters is not a huge issue, so Cross remains in the running.
I can’t find an official height or age for Billy Brown (6’1or2″,b.?). I’m guessing he is in his mid- to late-30s. He worked with Dylan McDermott (6′) in “Hostages”, and Brown looked at least an inch taller to me, maybe two. Brown has also had parts in “E-Ring”, Cloverfield, Star Trek, “CSI: NY”, “Lights Out”, “Dexter”, “The Following”, and “Sons of Anarchy”. Brown has also lent his voice to such games as “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords”, “The Matrix: Path of Neo”, and “Command & Conquer 3”. He’s in great shape, a fine actor, and could definitely “be” Erik Killmonger.
As I’m about to go to press, I realize that, since I’m relaxing the height and age criteria a bit for Killmonger, Michael Jai White is a good candidate.
Man-Ape was born M’Baku in a small Wakandan village and became a great warrior, second only to T’Challa. As king, the Black Panther outlawed the rival White Gorilla clan/cult to which M’Baku belonged. Similar to Killmonger, M’Baku became a subversive rebel who despised all of the technology that Wakanda had become renowned for. He began calling himself “Man-Ape” and challenged T’Challa to a traditional battle for the right of rulership. After a long battle, Man-Ape appeared to have won, until a giant statue crumbled on top of him, seemingly crushing him. A follower of his revived him and they went to New York, where they teamed up with some other villains and attacked the Black Panther and the Avengers. The heroes won, of course, and T’Challa made it clear that Man-Ape would be put to death if he ever returned to Wakanda.
Man-Ape is 7′ and over 350 lbs., which certainly doesn’t help with casting him. So, as I did with Killmonger, I lowered the bar a little and looked at guys in the 6’6″ range. I don’t know his age, but I’m going to guess he is roughly the same age as Black Panther and Killmonger. Before challenging T’Challa, Man-Ape gained superhuman abilities which gave him the edge he needed to defeat the Black Panther. He achieved this via a cultic ritual that involved killing one of the rare (and very large) white gorillas of Wakanda, bathing in its blood, and eating its flesh. (Eew!) He also began wearing the creature’s hide like a costume. (Eew, again!) Those abilities include superhuman-level strength, stamina, durability, etc. Though a seasoned warrior and highly-skilled hand-to-hand combatant, he does not have nearly the intellect of T’Challa or Killmonger.
Oh, and, in order to avoid protests about alleged racism, they might want to just call him “White Gorilla”. (Or not.)
I have to admit, I haven’t heard/read of anyone campaigning for this role. But, I think it could be a lot of fun for some big guy who usually only plays very limited roles. I considered Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (6’5″,b.1958) but decided he is probably too old for the role. I would have said the same about the late Michael Clarke Duncan (6’4.5″,b.1957). However, I have a couple others in mind….
Nonso Anozie (6’6″,b.1979) hasn’t been around all that long, but he has actually been getting some pretty good roles, and he’s a fine actor. Most notably, he has appeared in “Game of Thrones”, “Dracula”, Ender’s Game, “The Bible”, and the Conan the Barbarian remake. I understand he has done some Shakespeare on stage, too. He could definitely do Man-Ape/M’Baku. If they don’t use Man-Ape or have already cast him, Anozie might be a good choice for Killmonger, too!
Former NFL player-turned MMA fighter, kickboxer, and pro wrestler Bob “The Beast” Sapp (6’5or7″,b.1973) isn’t exactly known for his acting — except in a pro-wrestling context. But, he has had a few roles, including in Elektra, The Longest Yard remake, Blood and Bone, the Conan the Barbarian remake, and “JourneyQuest”. Sapp definitely has the size, muscles, and martial arts ability to play Man-Ape!
I may or may not post next week, it being Christmas and all. So, if I don’t, allow me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.