Winston Duke has been on the cusp of breaking out in a major way for several years now, having made his feature film debut as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s M’Baku in Black Panther. He followed up his popular turn as the leader of the Jabari tribe with another well-received performance in Jordan Peele’s Us, before a scene-stealing outing in Spenser Confidential, one of Netflix’s biggest-ever original films.
Edson Oda’s upcoming feature directorial debut Nine Days isn’t just the actor’s first big screen leading role, but his first executive producer’s credit, and he’s nothing short of phenomenal. Duke stars as Will in the supernatural drama, who oversees the selection process that deems which unborn souls are worthy of being granted the opportunity of life.
It’s a striking and singular film, driven by the conflict between Will and Zazie Beetz’s Emma, who slowly gets under the arbiter’s skin before changing his entire perspective and worldview. In an exclusive chat with We Got This Covered, Duke and Beetz spoke to us about the movie, which you can check out below.
Nine Days is not just your first major leading role, but your first producing credit as well. Were there any extra nerves going in with what was a new kind of pressure for you as an actor?
Winston Duke: Thanks for that question, Scott. Yeah, it was really great to just be on the other side of things, and see how much a lot of things aren’t personal! So now, I know if I don’t get a job, it’s not because I’m terrible! There are other things that go into making a movie that I might not be right for in a lot of different ways, so it just allowed me to see that there are a lot of decisions being made outside of just looking at an actor. It allowed me to have so much more onus on a project than I’ve ever had before, so I got more ownership on how things are made. Not just as an actor in my work, but just how it came together, so it was a really fun and beautiful experience.
Nine Days isn’t a romance, but by the end of the movie you can definitely feel the love between Will and Emma. Was that always the intention or did that come about naturally through your performances?
Zazie Beetz: I think a little bit of both. I think, for the moment that we have in the end, there has to be a little bit of mutual respect and trust, and there’s a level of vulnerability that I think doesn’t really come without love. But, you know, I think we both really tried to support each other, and give each other what we need in order to be vulnerable, and to act, and to play. And so, yeah, there was a nice development into it, and it was also something Edson [Oda, writer and director] had envisioned.
Nine Days is obviously a very personal film, but it also deals with universal themes that everyone can relate to. As an intimate character-driven piece, it must have something of a palate cleanser before you each moved onto much bigger projects, like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Bullet Train.
Winston Duke: You know, it felt so much to me, closer to a large movie than a smaller one. Where it was palate cleansing in the idea that it was so character-driven and so argument-based, that I feel like part of the strength of this piece is that it exists in argument. It’s, ‘What point of view do you have?’. The characters really hash it out, and we don’t have big fight scenes and big scenes like a chase scene with a car. What we have is verbal dialogue and verbal conflicts that feel like one person is winning and one person is getting punched, and another person is getting slugged and you leave going, ‘Man, that was a really cool scene’.
You know what I mean? Because it was argument-based, but it felt like a large movie, because all the same tropes are there. All those same big movie tropes, like where it’s a world we’ve never seen before, it’s rules that we’ve never really thought about in certain ways, it’s right there. And like I said, our action scenes aren’t physical action scenes, they’re verbal. So in many ways, it felt like a really big movie.
It’s definitely the most emotional movie I’ve ever seen that’s got a monologue about a giant poop in it, that’s for sure.
Winston Duke: [Laughs] That’s perfect!
Zazie Beetz: [Laughs] I’ll take that!
That concludes our interview with Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz. Nine Days is coming to theaters on July 30 in a limited release, before rolling out nationwide on August 6.