Danai Gurira, 40, stars in “The Walking Dead” and is a playwright best known for “Eclipsed,” which received six Tony nominations in 2016. Her new play, “Familiar,” runs at Woolly Mammoth as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival through March 11. She plays Okoye in Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie.
How rad is it being in “Black Panther”?
It’s awesome. I was excited when I met with [director] Mr. Ryan Coogler, who I utterly adore. I told him the first time I met him, “I don’t know you, but I’m proud of you.” His work has a ferocity and a beauty and a power to it that comes from a stellar artistic mind. When he shared with me his vision for this world and how he wanted to tackle telling the story, it was an utter no-brainer. For me it has to be about that first. Do I have that excitement in me like a child on Christmas morn about stepping into a world creatively and helping to create something?
How does a play start for you in your brain?
It can start with outrage. Why is this story not being discussed, why these people are so underseen? Why is the perspective from those who are actually experiencing these things not heard from? Why are we only hearing from and seeing the perspective of the mainstream or those reporting on these unfortunate statistics? The horror at the lack is often where it starts, because all my stories delve into things that I feel are never given voice.
One of the plays you brought to Woolly, “Eclipsed,” is about something people want to look away from: sex slavery during war. How do you get people to look?
You create a story that throws people off of their guard. Those who say, “All right, fine, I’m gonna try this out, I’ll go watch it,” and they find themselves laughing and crying at the same time, or really connecting to characters that can’t get out of their soul. Getting people to look at the fullness of human beings. You see real characters when you see people struggling to survive. You don’t see real characters when you just portray victims. These are women who have figured out their various ways of navigating survival in a war zone. “How come I don’t know the stories?” And that was my outrage. I know the name of the warlords, how they’re going on in the criminal courts, but I know nothing about the women who had to endure that war.
You kill zombies with a samurai sword, and you’re a superhero’s bodyguard.
Well, I’m not his bodyguard. I protect him and his family, but I’m more his right-hand man.
Does anything still scare you?
A big fear I have is to not do what I know I can do, not getting it done, not complete what I am capable of completing.