The underwater ruler Namor, as introduced in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is a radical revamp of his Marvel Comics incarnation, masterminded by director Ryan Coogler. In the comic books, Namor is king of Atlantis, just like Aquaman (created two years after him, for the record). But Coogler was intent on further exploring themes of colonialism by pairing Wakanda with an indigenous culture, so he and co-writer Joe Robert Cole made Namor ruler of Talokan, a kingdom of Mayans who escaped oppression hundreds of years ago by gaining the ability to breathe underwater. For the charismatic veteran actor and Narcos: Mexico star Tenoch Huerta, it was a chance to play a complex, regal character he loves after what he’s described as years of racist type-casting in his native Mexico. (This interview includes some Wakanda Forever spoilers.)
Were there things that changed about Namor — whether his role in the movie or his background — between the time when you signed on and when you began shooting the movie?
Since the first time Ryan told me about his plan for the character, it was just adjusting this narrative — because they added this group of advisors and scholars who helped him to create this world. So basically, I will say it improved. All the world, all the narrative, everything around Namor was [growing] through the time we were waiting and everything. It was just an improvement process.
They changed some of the dialogue. It was more accurate, and more grounded. The dialogue was more human, more realistic. So I think that that was a wonderful process. On each new version of the script, it was changing and getting better and better and better, more human and even more related with the culture of Namor. It felt less Western and more in its own kingdom.
When you were offered the role, had Chadwick passed away, or was he still with us?
No, he already passed away, several months before that.
Of course, there would’ve been another version of the movie, where it was you against Chadwick. And it’s hard not to mourn for that version of the movie a little bit, right?
Yeah. I think so. I would’ve loved to have met him. But this is the new version, and I love this version, and I love what Letitia [Wright] did with the character. I think she’s perfect for this role. Even though I wanted to meet him, the person they chose is the best person.
The line that everyone keeps quoting is when you’re floating above the palace, and you say: “Mourn your dead and bury your mother. You are queen now.” That is some bad-ass shit, man.
Yeah, I know. [Laughs]
Tell me about filming that scene and bringing the proper gravitas to a moment like that. Were there a lot of takes?
I was in the wire [suspended in the air] for a long time, multiple times, and so I don’t remember exactly how many times we did it. Remember, he had been trying to create this alliance with Shuri before she became a queen. And Namor is thinking about the future — not because he was planning to kill the queen. But he’s 500 years old. So for him, it’s just a blink. The time goes. In the future, she will be a queen.
So to kill Queen Ramonda [Angela Bassett] was never his plan, it was a reaction because they killed a couple of girls of Namor’s kingdom, and it was just a punishment. It’s like: You kill people, I kill your people. But, yeah, I swear to God, first he tried to make an alliance the best way he possibly could! Then things happened.
Obviously, on a representation level, your role has meant a lot to people. What have you seen so far that has made that really sink in?
I think there is something weird in Latin America…well, it’s not weird, it’s normal. In Latin America, especially in Mexico — to be white in Mexico is exactly the same as being white in the States, exactly the same to be white in London, England, or to be white in Europe. The only thing is when the white people from Mexico moves to the States, they are Latins. But if they come back to Mexico, they reserve all the privilege, exactly the same as in United States. So speaking from that point, the representation is important for all the people in Latin America. I hate to say Latins, because America’s a continent. But you take the name for you, and then you make the difference calling us Latin Americans [laughs]. But all of us, we’re Americans.
The thing is, Latin America’s a region, we share the language — and that’s it. We have different cultures, we have different ways of life, we have different points of views, and we solve the problems of our life in a different way. That is the diversity in Latin America, and I love it. It’s beautiful. But I think it’s more about the brown-skinned people because being white in Latin America, as I mentioned before, is the same as being white in States. So the people who live in Latin America, all of them feel represented and that’s beautiful for me. It’s an honor.
But something different is happening for the brown-skinned people in Latin America, whether we are mixed or indigenous — it doesn’t matter too much. Of course, Indigenous peoples have another history and they have other oppressions, other experiences. But I think in general terms, the brown-skinned people feel more attached [to] the character. That’s my perception, because a lot of messages are coming from social media and most of them are from brown-skinned people saying, “Hey, man, finally I feel proud of my color of skin. Finally, I can feel represented. Finally, I can see someone like me. He’s not just a superhero, he’s a person like me in a powerful role, in a powerful movie making this strong representation.”
So even though all the Latin Americans, white or Black or brown or whatever, feel represented, I think what is happening with the brown-skinned people is something different. I think it’s more powerful, it’s more intimate, and it affects all of them in a different way. That’s my perception and, of course, my perception is it comes from social media and all these beautiful expression they are making about the character. They have [already] made a couple of murals of the character, and there’s even a torta store that has the image of Namor now. Because it became something cultural, and people are embracing this character. That’s pretty fantastic. I don’t want to be disrespectful with all the people in Latin America, of course. And I feel proud to be an inhabitant of this region of the world. But yeah, I’m thinking the impact to the brown-skinned people is different.
On another note, some viewers felt that there was romantic chemistry between Namor and Shuri when she was in your city. Did you play that romantic chemistry deliberately?
I don’t feel it was a romantic touch [between them]. I think it was more a human, intimate touch. I mean in the history of their kingdoms, the history of their people, they share the same root, and the threat comes from the same place for both of them, for the same reason. They both face threats from Western countries like the United States and France in the story, because of vibranium, natural resources. I think they connect in that aspect.
I mean, when you meet someone and you have a good relationship, whether this person is the gender that you prefer or not, you always have this ambiguous relationship. It’s normal. It’s human. So, I think this happened with both of them. If that can evolve into a romantic relationship or not? I don’t know. It wasn’t our intention. It could happen or not.
The beautiful part of this relationship is, it doesn’t need to be romantic to be deep. It doesn’t need to be romantic to be beautiful and bright and intimate. And this connection between a man and a woman in different levels doesn’t need, necessarily, to end in a romantic relationship. And that’s beautiful, you know? Because I hate the romantic love. I think it’s poison. [Laughs] These characters, they create something… I don’t know. It was magical, but not necessarily romantic.
Sometimes there’s things from the comic books that the movies are afraid to translate. The fact that Namor has ankle wings could most certainly have been one of those. But they gave you little wings on your feet, and you pulled it off. Did you have any doubts about that detail?
That detail for me always was beautiful and interesting. His people name him Kukulkan, the Feather Serpent, right? And he has these little wings. So it’s logical. But they don’t overuse the wings. It’s a resource in the story, and the narrative of the character. But they didn’t use it too much, and that’s good. Because if you have a skill in your life, or a talent, you are not talking about your talent all the time, and you are not showing off your talent all the time. Otherwise you are an asshole.
He’s a human being with some troubles, with some concerns, trying to protect his people, and he has this superpower. [But] Namor is not a superhero all the time. That’s beautiful.
Namor is one of the very first superheroes ever created, back in 1939, by writer-artist Bill Everett. That was two years before Aquaman. But until this year, Aquaman was a more famous character — and in their original incarnations, both characters were underwater heroes or anti-heroes who were kings of Atlantis. How aware were you of that comparison, even down to Jason Momoa’s performance as Aquaman? How much, if at all, was that ever in your mind?
[I’m] honored to be compared with that guy. He’s a wonderful actor, a fantastic human being. He’s a Hollywood movie star and they are comparing me with him. It’s like, “Oh my, God, Mom! Mom! They are talking about me and Jason!” It’s fantastic! I love it.
But, yeah, talking about the characters, I think they are totally different. It’s like trying to compare Shazam and Superman, or, I don’t know, Thanos and another villain just because they are villains, you know? For me, it’s like, okay, they are two superheroes, they come from the water, and that’s it. One is Mayan, Mesoamerican, and the other is Atlantean, from a Greek myth, but it’s different cultures, different backgrounds…even different powers, you know? Aquaman can communicate with animals, with whales and everything and Namor can’t.
So, yeah, for me, it’s different characters. But if they compare Jason and me, oh! It’s an honor. That guy is so handsome! Come on!
But of course Namor could take Aquaman in a fight, though. I think we know that.
You now have a shared dilemma with someone like Hugh Jackman, who loves playing Wolverine, but he’s in his 50s now. Every time he has to play Wolverine, he has to get into this impossible shape. And you now have a similar problem. Now, every time you play Namor, you know you’re going to be walking around in your Speedo. How do you feel about that?
Concerned! I actually worry about it. No, it’s a big problem, man. I can’t cut off my amount of tacos from now on. But, yeah, it’s funny. I don’t know. It’s something that my trainer told me. “Okay, man, now you can rest, you can chill and take your time. But not too much, because if you have to play Namor one more time, you need to go through the same process all over again. So it’s better you take care of yourself and don’t get crazy with tacos.”
For me, one of the most iconic Namor roles in the comic books is his involvement with the Fantastic Four. He’s a romantic temptation for one of the characters, for Sue Storm, pulling her away from her husband. Is that something you’re aware of and possibly looking forward to getting to do on screen?
Well, basically, I don’t know what’s in the plan for Namor in the future. Me, Tenoch, as a person, I want to play this character many times, but it’s not up to me. I think it’s up to Ryan [Coogler], and Nate [Moore], and Mr. Kevin Feige.
To put this delicately, there was a viral tweet with two photos in it that suggested maybe they did some CGI in your Speedo to make everything less prominent in the movie. Are you okay with that?
[Laughs] The only thing that I can say is: the original was the photo in the right. Without [the bulge]! That’s original. No, I mean, I’m not going to lie to people. Every man in the world, we have fragile masculinity, but not in that issue. I will say, the right one, the real one is the photo on the right.