Published November 14, 2022

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’: How Director Ryan Coogler and the Cast Conquered the Water for Talokan

“It was brilliant because the script called for all of our lead actors and supporting actors to get in the water, at some point."

black panther: wakanda forever namor

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent time on Terra (aka Earth), in space, in this Multiverse, and the next, but for the first time ever it’s going somewhere it’s never gone before: underwater.

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever introduces viewers to the underwater nation of Talokan — the secret underwater nation, that is. Much like Wakanda, the Talokanil have stayed hidden and out of sight from the rest of the planet, and very much want to keep it that way. Led by their fearless ruler, Namor, the people of Talokan live, work, and play all beneath the ocean’s surface but all of that is threatened when vibranium is detached in their watery home. Now, Namor will stop at nothing to keep his people safe, even if that means facing off with all of Wakanda.

And considering the underwater location, this meant that, yes, most of the cast — and even the crew — of the movie found themselves in and around the water at some point during filming.

“It was brilliant because the script called for all of our lead actors and supporting actors to get in the water, at some point,” returning writer/director Ryan Coogler tells “Whether that was on a set, whether they were submerging into a water tank, it was like a rite of passage for everybody.”

Not only that, but the production team needed to create this underwater world, too, which meant that giant set pieces and costumes needed to be submerged, which quickly created some demanding logistics. The team quickly realized that things needed to be different for the underwater environment.

“It was incredibly challenging,” Coogler continues. “[Costume designer] Ruth Carter built these incredible costumes, and then we put them in the water, and it just totally changed. [Production designer] Hannah [Beachler] would build the sets, and they submerge them and the concrete was producing all these air bubbles. Then we couldn't shoot. They had to rebuild it with a particular type of concrete.”

Coogler admits that he didn’t swim much growing up, and filming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever forced him to become an expert — he even learned to free dive while making the film. He cites the film’s aquatic team for creating an incredibly safe space for everyone, calling the whole experience “calm.”  Eventually, Coogler learned to love the water.

“The [water] tank became a safe space for me. I would hold my breath and go down to the bottom of the tank in between setups, and I'd feel relaxed. And those were the days when everybody had to focus. It was brilliant.”

The three actors who spend the most time in the water playing the Talokanil — Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who plays Namor; Alex Livinalli who plays Attuma, and Mabel Cadena who plays Namora — were game to take on this daunting task, too but even Livinalli admits that at times it was “scary.”

“I had somewhat of an idea, but when I actually showed up and started doing the work, I was not prepared for [it],” Livinalli explains. “It took a lot of training to get my body and my mental state into a state of relaxation in order to maximize my oxygen.”

Plus, the cast had to deal with the problem that many of them literally couldn’t see underwater.

“Visibility there is horrible, you can’t see well enough,” Livinalli recalls with a laugh. “There were scenes [with Mabel] that happened literally next to me, and she looked like a video game from the '90s. It was a lot of mental memory of what the set looked like, of where she's placed, where the camera is placed.”

Cadena, calling herself a perfectionist, asked her assistant to record just her underwater so she could study her facial and body movements to figure out exactly what she looked like to enhance her performance.

“I know how to do my job but I don't know how to do the job underwater,” she laughs. “It's completely different acting underwater and you need to change your mind. To me, the first time is like, ‘Oh, my God, this doesn't work for me.’ I'm a perfectionist so I needed to use the recordings for acting to make some corrections. I need to move my eyes or I need my lips or I start more like this way. It was a lot of time training about work under the water.”

Eventually, Cadena found herself excelling underwater — yes, she holds the cast record for holding her breath the longest, though she doesn’t want to brag about it — and asked Coogler to do more while filming the movie.

“I asked Ryan, ‘Hey, please let me do everything because I'm ready to do this.’ It was amazing to work underwater. But I think the [early] pre-diving gave me the opportunity to have mental strength. You don't need just the physical strength, you need the mental strength for a job like this.”

Another underwater overachiever was Huerta Mejía, who initially delivered Namor’s rallying monologue to Talokan completely underwater — shocking everyone, including Coogler.

“He performed a whole monologue, not his native language, underwater, 10 feet underwater in that giant megalodon throne!” Coogler excitedly recalls. “It was just for us to feel what it would feel like, what it would look like to see somebody actually speak underwater. He had this insane headdress on. I mean, it was bonkers.”

Though no one could hear him, considering the fact that he was underwater, Huerta Mejía loved every second of it.

“I was on that throne with the helmet and all the things around the people in front of me and it felt so good. It was a powerful sensation, and I was able to hold my breath for a long time…at that moment, the acting, the feelings all the things that are happening in his mind and his heart, I don't know, it was he was so, so great, such a great experience. I loved that scene.”

In the end, the cast discovered a newfound respect for the water, filming in and out of it, and Coogler knows he’s created something special.

“It was a blessing of an exercise because it kept us fresh, it kept us on point….It was fun to be able to do something like that,” he adds. “We did a lot of things that were definitely cutting-edge, for me. We did a lot of things that were definitely cutting-edge, for me as a filmmaker.”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing exclusively in theaters. 

Wakanda Forever! Follow Black Panther on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and find Marvel now on TikTok! 



SECRET INVASION (2008) #8 artwork by Leinil Francis Yu, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin


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