Black Panther: Wakanda Forever continues to make waves at the box office …
So what better time to speak to Sope Aluko who returns as the spiritual leader who offers guidance to the realm? In this smash-hit sequel, Sope holds the only role in the film whose character speaks entirely in Xhosa, a dialect she only had five days to learn. Sope is also one of two native Nigerians in the film.
Born in Nigeria and educated in the UK, Sope spent 20 years working in corporate America before she made the decision to quit her job and act full-time. She has notched up roles in Venom, How To Get Away With Murder, The Mindy Project, Bloodline, Legacies, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Identity Thief, and Parks and Recreation.
For The British Blacklist, Afua Hagan caught up with Sope to talk about returning to work on Black Panther after the death of Chadwick Boseman and her top tips for learning languages fast…
Please tell us who you are, what you do, and where you’re from.
My name is Sope Aluko, I am an actress, writer and Filmmaker. I just celebrated 25 years of marriage with my wonderful husband and we are blessed with two amazing sons – one is currently in his second year at university and the other is on his way to university next year. I am Nigerian-born but lived and was schooled in the UK from the age of 10 all the way to graduate school. I then worked for a couple of years in London, before moving to the US when I was 27 and have lived here ever since. So essentially, I am a dual citizen of the UK and the US.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
I would have to use two words. Right now, I would describe my life as “shifting and growing.” I use these words because I feel like I have been provided with the opportunity to explore other skill sets within my creative arsenal.
Tell us about your latest project …
As everyone knows by now, I was fortunate to have been asked to reprise my role as Shaman in Marvel’s
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I can’t explain what a blessing it has been both personally and professionally. It still blows my mind knowing the global impact of this particular movie franchise.
How did it feel to return to the set of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever knowing Chadwick Boseman wouldn’t be there?
Honestly, at first, it felt quite heavy for me personally, knowing that our leader and King was no longer around this time. We all have our personal stories about his impact on our lives while working with him. Certainly, we were all grieving him and at times just had to let the emotions take their course. However, there was a sense that we were all working together as a family that had the single purpose of ensuring we honoured Chadwick’s memory and legacy.
You learned Xhosa in only five days for your part in Black Panther – how did you do that? I need some tips!
I wish there were a secret way to do it, otherwise, I would bottle it up and use it over and over again. All I can say is that I simply prayed about it. I wanted to get it right not only in honour of my South African brothers and sisters but also in honour of Chadwick’s memory. My first Xhosa scene was presiding over T’Challa’s funeral where, as the Shaman, I was essentially sending T’Challa to join his ancestors, so you can imagine how nervous I was. On the actual shoot day, I became quite emotional and had to stop a couple of times. It suddenly felt so real that we were laying Chadwick to rest. I recall a couple of my co-stars immediately coming to console me as they fought back tears themselves.
Tell me about a scene in Black Panther that really sums up the film for you.
If you don’t mind, I will have to recall two scenes. The first is the scene at the end of the film, when Shuri is remembering her brother, T’Challa. We see various clips of T’Challa (Chadwick) from the first film and it is all done in silence. I hadn’t seen that in the script, so it caught me off guard and I have to admit that I teared up. Next to that is the scene when T’Challa’s son is revealed. I feel that the combination of those two scenes signifies grieving the loss from our past, and then offering hope for the future.
You made a short film about an experience you had as a child – tell me about that and what made you want to document it.
I started my production company, SopeBox Productions, this year with the purpose of showcasing female-driven stories from the African diaspora to the western world. We have so many interesting stories to share from the continent that show the resilience and courage of our women. My mother was one of those women, and I have wanted for some years, since she passed in 2009, to develop a story honouring her memory. In that vein, I am excited to announce that my first project to launch under my production company is a fictional narrative short film based on true facts from my Nigerian heritage.
The film is entitled Chidera and will hopefully screen during the 2023 film festival circuit. I can’t share more than the fact that it is a passion project that I co-wrote (along with my writing partner, Shola Dada), executive produced and acted in. It’s really my first project as a filmmaker and I hope it is well received.
You have been in some TV and movie staples; Venom, How to Get Away With Murder, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to name but a few. What’s been a standout project you have worked on and why?
I’ve enjoyed working on all the projects I have been fortunate to have been cast in, but I have to admit that the standout still remains to be my role in Marvel’s Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Wow! what an experience that will forever live on in history. How can you beat that eh? I’ve also made some wonderful, lasting friendships from both films. So far, no other project has come close, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.
What’s your current plan B?
I have to chuckle at this question, because I have had a few career changes in my life so far, and I’m not sure how my family would respond to yet another change. My plan B could be reverting to my career as a Brand Strategist or Brand Marketing Exec., which is what I did in the corporate environment for over 20 years. However, I would like to think that my unofficial plan B would be as a filmmaker. I would love to produce more films under my production company and possibly explore directing someday as well.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week…
We just had a national political mid-term election, with the stakes being high for both parties. It made me quite sad to still see how divided we are as a nation and as a people where common interests are being set aside for political gain. General empathy for one another seems to have been lost somewhere and that saddens me. On the flip side, I am always thankful to be alive, healthy and supported by an incredible circle of family and close friends.
What are you watching right now?
First of all, I am a huge fan of British programming (via BritBox and Acorn TV) which is what I was accustomed to watching while growing up in England. So right now, I am going through the past seasons of the award-winning TV series, Inspector Morse, with John Thaw. He was such a talented actor, and the writing on the show is superb. I am gearing up to watch the upcoming Amazon Prime TV series Riches – I know it’s gonna be so good, with such a talented cast!
What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading 3 books – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (for much-needed levity and laughter),
Encounters with Angels by Odile Haumonté (for spiritual understanding and enlightenment) and My
Mother’s Daughter by Taiwo Taiwo (an autobiography of my Aunt’s life, also written by her, she
happens to be a badass female entrepreneur ahead of her time in Nigeria) and also my personal mentor.
What are you listening to right now?
I listen mostly to gospel music on Pandora. I’m also a fan of ’80s pop music, R&B music and the ’90s
new jack swing era.
The last thing you saw on stage?
The Nutcracker performed by the Miami City Ballet last Christmas. I love going to the theatre but unfortunately have not had the time to make it to any shows this year. Hopefully, I can carve out more time in my schedule next year to patronise my fellow thespians.
What’s on your bucket list?
More travel. I would love to travel more and experience other cultures. There are so many places I haven’t been to even in the US. It’s shocking, but that is top on my bucket list.
Celebrate someone else – who do you rate right now?
I have to admit that I am crushing on Michaela Coel right now. Yes, the world knows her as a multihyphenate, but having met and worked with her on Wakanda Forever, I can say that she is also incredibly humble, sweet and fun to be around. She is actually one of the people who inspired me to write and produce my short film, Chidera. I remember texting her over the summer after I wrapped filming it to thank her for inspiring me and giving me the courage to make the leap, and she was so lovely. She congratulated me and cheered me on, which really touched me. She’s the real deal.
Celebrate yourself – make us proud of you!
I celebrate the fact that I literally wrote, produced, executive produced and starred as the lead in my first-ever short film which will premiere next year in film festivals! I’m still pinching myself. You have no idea how many years I procrastinated and suddenly it all happened at once. Yay to me! LOL.
Where can we find you and your latest projects?
I am currently in the post-production of my short film as I would like to complete it before the end of the year, so that has taken a lot of my time. I am also producing and acting in a feature film project which is slated to start filming next spring, and then there are a couple of other projects that I am not at liberty to mention due to NDAs.
Feel free to follow me on Instagram @SopeAluko where I will likely make the announcements once I am cleared to do so.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in cinemas now