In this very moment, Winston Duke’s dreams are coming true. The 31-year old Trinbagonian actor landed his film debut as M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe in Marvel’s Black Panther—2018’s most-tweeted about movie. It’s predicted that Black Panther will smash weekend box office records. Putting aside the anticipation of the film, the buzz around it, and it’s inevitable history-making success, there’s something truly special about it for Duke. He was destined for this.
Navigating a strange place
As a young immigrant to the United States, comic book stories were a means for him to adjust to the culture shock. He particularly loved the Marvel stories of the X-Men and Wolverine. “I came here at about age nine or ten, and comic books were the vehicle that helped me interrogate and learn more about American culture,” he says. “I didn’t know it at the time, but the history of comics came out of a history of exploring America’s deep reaction to whatever current events were happening. Whatever pertinent events and tone were at the time, they always reflected it,” he adds.
Discovering his calling
With his understanding of American culture growing stronger, his interest in becoming a storyteller himself began to bloom. “The journey really started in the Caribbean, being around a storytelling culture—a very vibrant storytelling culture,” he says. “Caribbean people make a story out of anything.” (Jokingly, he goes on about an epic journey of a man who went to the corner store, for not one, not two, but THREE scoops of pistachio ice cream.)
Conquering his nerves
Duke’s passion and heart-driven desire to bring these stories to life was strong, but the process was far from easy. Early on, he was apprehensive. “I was pretty shy because of not knowing the United States and not knowing a lot of people, I became a bit retreated.” But that all changed after a presentation in Spanish class. “The teacher said, ‘It wasn’t until you got up here that I actually saw your personality. You like being in front of people. You kind of come alive when you’re in front of people,” he recalls of their conversation. Shortly thereafter, she signed him up for the theatre club, and the rest is history. Since then, acting has been his life and he never looked back.
Finding his balance
Even with shyness dissipating, Duke still considers himself an introvert, but with extrovert tendencies. “I need to recharge as an introvert,” he says. “I need my time to meditate, to be alone, sometimes at the gym or being physical or something like that. It helps me sit with my thoughts and become better,” he explains. Now, when it’s time to shine, Duke believes it’s all about your inner circle and the balance you strike with them. “To be social doesn’t mean that you have to do all the talking. It’s really great to listen and be attentive. You’ll meet a lot of great people that way and you’ll learn how to discern if those people are people you want to be around or want in your life, or whose company serves you and does your company serve them and how, if you just listen,” he says.
Pushing his body
After a long audition process which ultimately resulted in Duke getting the job as M’Baku, his next challenge got physical. He was tasked with gaining an additional 20-25 pounds, but with a specific look. “He’s not a glamorous, gym-bodied man. He’s functionally strong. He’s a warrior, and a man who knows how to wield and use his weapon effectively,” he says. To prepare, Duke was eating approximately 3,500 calories per day over the course of eight meals. His time in the gym was focused on functional circuit training and total body spits, instead of the isolation exercises of bodybuilders and fitness models. “It’s more about function and intimidation instead of just aesthetics and appearance.”
Redefining his body
Now that shooting is long over, Duke isn’t held to any standards for his conditioning. “I’m in a cool place, kind of figuring out where I want my body to go next,” he says. He’s started by experimenting with intermittent fasting and low-carb variations to lean out a little bit. He’s switched to three meals per day which can be unlimited veggies and seafood, but cutting chicken, pork, and beef. “I want more of a natural, manageable diet,” he says. And it seems like it’s working out. “I feel I don’t have any kind of exhaustion from consuming too many carbs and producing too much insulin,” he explains.
For the introvert-extrovert movie star, it’s going to be a busy end of summer and start of spring. The Black Panther buzz in full swing, then comes another shot with the release of Avengers: Infinity War in March 2018. “Black Panther really creates a brand-new dialogue, a new world, and a new atmosphere and landscape for the MCU, and then I would say the Avengers: Infinity War really rocks and shakes that new landscape to its core.”